Our hardworking kidneys are as important as any other vital organs. Consequences for not looking after your kidneys can be severe. Conditions including, hypertension, diabetes and obesity are known to put your kidneys under strain and may lead to chronic kidney disease.
This according to Dr Zarina Ebrahim, a spokesperson of the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).
“If you are diabetic, hypertensive or have heart disease, it is of utmost importance to take your medications regularly and monitor your blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose as the ideal control of these values are critical to kidney health. However, even if you are not suffering from any of these health conditions, you can use nutrition to help maintain the health of your kidneys,” she says.
From 5 – 9 September, Mzansi observes National Kidney Awareness Week.
“Overall, it helps to ensure that you keep your weight in the normal range through healthy eating choices, portion limits and regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, cycling, running or any other strength and aerobic exercises that you enjoy.”
Ebrahim is a registered dietitian and a lecturer at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape.
What should you do if you are suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD)?
Registered dietitian Zamantungwa Khumalo, who is also a spokesperson for ADSA, points out that people in any stage of CKD need specialised nutritional support to help them optimally manage their condition.
“It is recommended that people suffering from CKD pay attention to the protein, potassium, phosphate and sodium content of the foods they eat,” she says.
Khumalo adds that it is important to note that patients across the stages of CKD need an individualised approach to their nutrition, based on their health assessments. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”
Elements of the Mediterranean diet may be beneficial.
“The focus should be on reducing phosphate intake by avoiding processed foods, which usually contain phosphate additives. Whole foods and fibre-rich foods should be increased, regardless of potassium content, unless the patient is hyperkalaemic, which means that you have higher than normal levels of potassium in your blood.”
Eating to prevent CKD
The kidneys are responsible for filtering our blood, eliminating toxins and keeping the acid-base, water and electrolyte balances in our bodies constant. They also play a significant role in the production of hormones and makes vitamin D useful in the body. Ebrahim says that we can prevent CKD through changed lifestyle and healthy eating choice.
She shares six tips for healthy kidneys:
- Variety is the spice of life: Keep your diet as natural as possible by limiting foods with additives such as processed and convenience foods, for example pies, pastries, polonies, sausages like viennas, burgers, ready packaged meals, take-away foods and packets of soups. “Instead, focus on a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, small amounts of healthy fats and lean protein,” says Ebrahim,
- Fibre is lifesaving: Ebrahim says that fibre contributes to improving the gut microbiome profile. “It increases the healthy gut bacteria and reduces the unhealthy bacteria. Every day aim for at least 2–3 fresh fruit servings (avoid fruit juices) and 2–3 vegetable servings. Increase your intake of legumes such as beans and lentils, as well as wholegrains especially oats, wholegrain breads and cereals.”
- Reduce salt intake: Limit the addition of salt at the table and to food while cooking. Also avoid salty foods such as chips, biltong, packets of soup and other processed food products. Avoid using salty mixed spices such as BBQ and chicken spice. Rather use natural spices to add flavour to your food, such as cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric, paprika, chilli powder, fresh garlic, ginger, lemon juice, parsley, celery and other herbs such as Origanum, rosemary, thyme mint and basil.
- Keep protein portions controlled: If you want to prevent kidney disease, be careful not to regularly consume excessive amounts of protein. “Choose low-fat protein options such as low-fat dairy, skinless chicken, fish and lean meats. Incorporate more plant-based proteins from beans, lentils, soya, nuts, peanut butter and chickpeas in your family diet.”
- Focus on food preparation: Avoid take-away meals and ready-made foods that are high in fats and salt. Ebrahim says, “choose healthy cooking methods at home such as steaming, stir-frying, baking and boiling, and don’t fry foods.”
- Limit excessive sugars: Limit sugar and sugary foods in your diet especially coming from cold-drinks, sweets and chocolates. These contribute unnecessary energy in the diet and may lead to the progression of CKD, says Ebrahim.