VA dietitian offers tips to keep your kidneys healthy through nutrition


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World Kidney Day is Thursday, March 8 and your kidneys are important organs that have many essential tasks that impact your health. Some of these include removing toxins from your blood, making urine, playing a role in blood pressure control, and helping to maintain healthy bones.

There are many risk factors that contribute to chronic kidney disease, several of which can be managed with healthy eating and physical activity. These risk factors include poorly-controlled diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and being overweight or obese. Risk factors that we can’t control include advanced age, family history of kidney disease and being of African, Asian or Aboriginal origin.

While we can’t change our age or genetics, there are many lifestyle changes we can make to protect our kidneys.

Maintain healthy blood pressure.

  • Whether it’s table salt, sea salt or Himalayan salt, it’s all high in sodium and too much of it can raise blood pressure. Salt is an acquired taste, meaning if you cut back gradually, your taste buds adapt.
  • Try adding flavor with low-sodium alternatives such as spices and herbs instead of salt. Limit salty seasonings such as adobo, tartar sauce and soy sauce.
  • Choose canned products that are low-sodium, reduced sodium or have no added salt. Draining and rinsing canned items (such as beans and vegetables) can remove up to 40 percent of the sodium.
  • Read it before you eat it. Many foods (soups, frozen meals, breakfast cereals, snacks) contain sodium. Look for items that contain 5 percent or less of the daily value for sodium or less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Cook at home more often. When you cook, you control the ingredients. Fast-food and restaurant meals are very high in sodium, so be cautious with how often you choose to eat out.

Maintain healthy blood sugar levels for those diagnosed with diabetes.

  • It’s not just soda, cookies, and candy that raise blood sugar levels. Many foods contain carbohydrates, which turn into sugar in your body, including milk, starchy vegetables (like corn, beans, peas, and potatoes), cereals, juices and bread.
  • Plan your meals using the healthy plate method. Limit carbohydrates to a quarter of the plate. Try choosing high-fiber whole grains such as unsweetened oatmeal, whole wheat pasta or brown rice. Or, choose starchy vegetables like baked potatoes, kidney beans or butternut squash. The higher fiber content may help you feel full longer.
  • Choose low-sugar beverages. There is a lot of sugar in regular sodas, lemonade, bottled smoothies and sweetened bottled teas. Try unsweetened or diet versions of these drinks. Another option is to fill half of your glass with water and the other half with the sugary beverage to dilute it.

Maintain or achieve a healthy body weight. Consider joining the MOVE! Weight Management Program at your local VA.

Be more active. Exercise (after discussing it with your doctor) on a regular, consistent basis. Stand while you talk on the phone, walk around your house during commercials, park far away from the store – every little bit helps!

Ask your provider about your risk for developing chronic kidney disease. Then, talk with your PACT team or MOVE! registered dietitian about how you can reduce your risk by building healthier eating habits, even while still choosing foods you enjoy. If you have kidney disease, you may need to monitor specific nutrients, depending on what stage you are in. Contact your PACT today to learn more.


Image: Michelle HymanMichelle Hyman is an outpatient registered dietitian working primarily with the MOVE!®  Weight Management program at the VA New York Harbor Health care system. In addition to face-to-face group and individual counseling, she enjoys using telephone and video technology to help Veterans reach their nutrition and health goals.

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