Our kidneys have a vitally important function in that they detoxify the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average set of kidneys filters an astonishing 200 quarts of blood per day and produces about 2 quarts of waste. In the process, the important nutrients that we need to maintain the function of all bodily processes are sent back into the bloodstream. Kidneys work around the clock to keep us healthy, and even play a role in blood pressure.
The quality of our diets very much affects how hard the kidneys need to work to accomplish this goal. Certain foods put a lot more pressure on these bean-shaped organs, and should be eaten in moderation to avoid developing kidney disease. Luckily, it’s never too late to improve the health of your kidneys, even if you already have a kidney disorder. (Of course, at that point, your doctor will need to be involved.)
Here are 8 foods that put enormous strain on your kidneys. Some of them do have redeeming health value and should simply be eaten in moderation, while others should be avoided completely. Stick with us to find out exactly how to balance a kidney-friendly diet.
1. Red meat
The value in red meat is its protein content. Our bodies need protein to grow and build muscles, but it is challenging for kidneys to metabolize. Red meat is also quite high in saturated fat. Again, our kidneys need some fat to work properly, but too much can cause the formation of cells called macrophages in kidney tissue. That ultimately damages the kidneys and leads to a build-up of acidic residue in the body.
Red meat, especially organ meat, contains a high amount of something called purine, which stimulates the production of uric acid. The kidneys typically process out uric acid, but when you get too much purine, painful stones tend to develop.
Alcohol is basically a toxin that your kidneys have to filter. Moderate drinking doesn’t make this job too terribly difficult, but excessive drinking puts a real strain on them. Too much alcohol actually changes the function of your kidneys, much like it changes the function of your brain, and makes them unable to effectively filter your blood.
Alcohol is also quite dehydrating, and water is critical to the function of kidneys as well as every single cell in our bodies. This internal struggle is one reason that hangovers hurt so much. It is really important to drink plenty of water whenever you’ve consumed alcohol.
3. Table Salt
Sodium is actually an important ingredient that helps our bodies maintain the proper fluid balance. Working in conjunction with potassium, sodium keeps our blood hydrated enough to filter through the kidneys efficiently. However, when you have too much salt in your diet, kidneys are forced to hold onto more water to dilute it. That ultimately raises blood pressure and can even damage the microscopic structures within your kidneys that do the actual filtering work – they are called nephrons.
Salt is positively jammed into processed foods of all kinds, even sweet ones. To limit your consumption of sodium, eat as much freshly prepared whole food as possible so that you can control the amount of salt that goes in. At the same time, make sure you are getting plenty of potassium-rich foods to improve the sodium-potassium balance that’s so critical to hydration.
So many of us need a daily hit of caffeine to really get going in the morning, plus an evening dose or two when we have to work late. But because caffeine is a stimulant, it accelerates blood flow and can increase blood pressure. It is also a mild diuretic, which means that it affects the kidney’s ability to absorb water and can lead to dehydration.
In small amounts, caffeine does not put too much stress on your kidneys. Overconsumption, however, may worsen kidney disease and cause kidney stones due to chronic dehydration. As long as you stick to 2 or 3 caffeine beverages per day and drink plenty of water in the interim, you shouldn’t need to worry. Just make sure to get your fix from coffee or tea rather than sodas or energy drinks. We’ll talk more about that next.
5. Sodas and Energy Drinks
They taste good and deliver a blast of sugary energy, but these beverages are extremely problematic. There is no redeeming health value to sodas and energy drinks, so eliminating them from your diet entirely is one of the best things you can do to immediately relieve strain on your kidneys and improve your overall health.
These drinks are simply loaded with caffeine and sugar or artificial sweetener, as well as some dangerous colorings and chemicals. Not only is caffeine a diuretic, but the insane level of sugar you consume with just one soda or energy drink is simply too much for any one day. The kidneys are forced to excrete a lot of it in urine – which is a good failsafe – but over time, high blood sugar levels will damage kidney tissue and affect their ability to filter blood.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet sodas, were meant to reduce our dependence on unhealthy sugar, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Studies show that using products with artificial sweetener doesn’t actually lower our overall consumption of sugar. This could be a factor of a kind of psychological justification we tend to make – “I chose diet soda with lunch, so it’s okay to eat a couple of brownies with dinner.”
Research has also concluded that just two diet sodas per day will result in a decline in kidney function. Really, it’s best to break the soda habit all together. If you are still looking for a better substitute for sugar, try all-natural stevia or honey.
7. Dairy Products
Dairy products are rich in calcium and other nutrients as well as protein. They can be a healthy addition to your diet, but should not be consumed in excess. Too much calcium can lead to kidney stones as your kidneys struggle to dump the excess into your urine.
Overworked kidneys will also not be able to process protein waste and it will reach a dangerous level in your body. Studies have shown that limiting dairy for people with kidney disease can delay the need for dialysis, a process that filters blood when kidneys become unable to.