It’s easy to forget about kidney health, but these two bean-shaped organs are incredibly important to your overall health, responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of water, salts and minerals in your blood, as well as filtering out waste and of harmful toxins. When the kidneys are not working properly, a person can experience a range of symptoms, ranging from high blood pressure and lethargy to persistent headaches, facial swelling and lower back pain.
The Meatless Monday team spoke with Gail Torres, MS, RD, RN, senior director of clinical communications for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) to better understand why more Americans are developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) and how individuals can reduce the risk of developing the disease by making some small changes in lifestyle. Answers have been edited for clarity.
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What is CKD and why is it increasing in the United States?
CKD stands for chronic kidney disease, which means you’ve had a kidney problem for three months or more that can damage the kidneys and lead to a gradual loss of kidney function. Kidney damage reduces the kidney’s ability to filter waste, fluid, and toxins from the blood, and it also impairs other kidney functions that cause high blood pressure, anemia, bone disease, poor nutritional health, and nerve damage. CKD also increases heart and blood vessel risk.
According to the 2021 United States Renal Data System Annual Data Report, increasing rates of risk factors that can lead to CKD, including obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, contribute to its continued prevalence. The report highlights that factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet may contribute to the increase in obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes that ultimately lead to CKD.
Why might people suffering from the disease not know they have it?
CKD is known as the “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms until it is very advanced. In fact, of the 37 million adults in the United States who have CKD, 9 out of 10 don’t even know they have it because they don’t feel sick. That’s why it’s so important to check your kidney count regularly. These simple tests are vital for early diagnosis of CKD when there are no symptoms, and timely treatments can be started soon enough to prevent further kidney damage. To learn more about CKD testing, click here: https://www.kidney.org/kidney-basics
What are the symptoms?
As CKD progresses to an advanced stage, symptoms may include:
How should people eat to reduce their risk of CKD?
Low-salt and low-sodium diets that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, low-fat/low-sugar dairy products, lean meats, and high-omega fish -3 fatty acids include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet, both of which have been linked to a reduced risk of CKD.
These unprocessed, whole-grain, plant-centered diets may help reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure and therefore CKD, while helping to maintain a healthy weight, which is also associated with a lower risk of CKD . Plant-based diets low in animal products have less net acid production, which may provide a healthier environment for the kidneys, especially for those prone to kidney stones and gout, two risk factors for CKD.
What are the top kidney health food choices to include in your diet?
The National Kidney Foundation’s (CRN) Council on Renal Nutrition has compiled a list of foods that are a good place to start, while also acknowledging that while completely preventing or managing kidney disease by eating certain foods is appealing, the reality is not so simple. While some foods are certainly more nutritious than others, no one food is the magic answer to good health. You can find many guidelines for meatless meals from Meatless Monday and the National Kidney Foundation.
The CRN list includes the following foods:
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Interested in learning more about the health benefits of a plant-based diet? Check out Meatless Monday for recipes, cooking tips and additional resources focused on incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains into your diet.