STOP Eating These 5 Harmful Foods For Kidneys!

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Over 37 million Americans have kidney disease, and 9 out of 10 don't even know it. Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of kidney disease, but certain medications, diseases like lupus, dehydration, and even genetics can also cause it, and this disease can actually be worsened by eating certain harmful foods for kidneys. If you could slow down the progression of your kidney disease and possibly prevent going on dialysis just by avoiding certain harmful foods, wouldn't you want to do it? Keep reading.

I'm Dr. Frita. I'm a board-certified nephrologist, which means I'm a kidney and high blood pressure specialist, and I want you to stop eating these five harmful foods immediately if you have kidney disease. The diet is so important in managing your kidney disease, and there are certain foods that you eat that can be harmful to your kidneys, and they can worsen the progression and lead you to dialysis. The thing to remember is this. Depending on your level of kidney function, foods that are harmful to one person with kidney disease may not be harmful to you. So be sure that you consult your physician before making any dietary changes.

5 Harmful Foods For Kidneys

1. Red Meat and Animal Protein

Now, protein in and of itself can be a good thing. It can help us to build strong muscles and help us to heal faster. But if you have kidney disease, then you should stop eating excess red meat and animal protein immediately. If you take a look at your labs and you see an eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate), of less than 60, then you likely have chronic kidney disease. And if so, a modest protein restriction can help to slow down the progression of that kidney disease.

red meat and animal protein

Certain patients with kidney disease should limit their protein intake, especially with red meat and animal protein because if you have a high load of it, this red meat and animal protein can do a few things.

  • One, it can increase the acid load.
    You probably already know that many individuals are purchasing alkaline water with the aim of improving their health by increasing the alkalinity of their blood. Well, if you have a high protein load and you have kidney disease, then your blood can be very acidic, which is not good for you.
  • Two, if you have excess protein, especially animal protein, then it can cause a buildup of kidney toxins in your blood, like that BUN lab, blood urea nitrogen.
    Limiting protein is also good for diabetic nephropathy, and animal protein specifically. If you limit the animal protein, that can help you to lower your cholesterol naturally. And we know that having lower cholesterol levels can help to decrease inflammation in your blood vessels and be better for your overall kidney health.

fried foods

2. High Sodium Foods or High Salt Foods

High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney disease. So if you have kidney disease and you're eating a lot of high-salt foods, then you will likely worsen your high blood pressure and worsen your kidney disease. That's something you don't want to do. So you really need to be a label watcher, and you want to eat no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day or even restrict it to 1.5 grams or 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. This is very important because, again if you have excess sodium, that gives you high blood pressure. It can also cause you to hold onto water and get swelling or edema. It's just not good for you.

Some foods you want to avoid that are loaded with sodium include:

  1. Fried foods like fried chicken and potato chips, especially salty potato chips.
  2. Pickles. When was the last time you took a look at the label of a pickle? They are loaded with salt! So you definitely want to avoid these things.

This is just a small sampling of high-sodium foods to avoid when you have kidney disease.  Click here to see additional high-sodium foods to avoid.

3. High Potassium Foods

Now, potassium can be tricky, so I want you to please listen carefully. If you have an early stage of kidney disease or if you have a form of kidney disease where you're actually losing potassium, then taking in a normal amount of potassium may be healthy for you, about two to five grams a day. Be sure to consult your physician before making any dietary changes as far as potassium is concerned. However, if you have advanced kidney disease, then you should stop eating high-potassium foods immediately in most cases.

harmful foods for kidneys

So here's how it works with the kidneys. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering out excess potassium. But if you have advanced kidney disease, then you may not be getting rid of potassium as you should, which will lead to a buildup of high potassium in your blood or hyperkalemia. If you have hyperkalemia, then it can cause a real problem. It can cause you to have abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias. It can even cause your heart to stop.

Also, if you're taking certain medications (a lot of people with kidney disease also have heart disease), so if you're taking certain heart medications or certain high blood pressure medicines that have a side effect of giving you high potassium, then you want to stop eating high potassium foods immediately. And some of the medications that can have a side effect of high potassium in your blood include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, spironolactone, and there are more, so it's very important to consult with your physician.

If you have kidney disease and your eGFR is less than 30, or if you are at stage four or five of CKD, on hemodialysis, or have end-stage kidney disease, you should avoid certain high-potassium foods.

high potassium foods

  • Bananas
    Bananas are loaded with potassium, so if you have kidney disease and you have too much potassium in your blood or hyperkalemia, you want to avoid eating excess bananas.
  • Avocados
    They are loaded with potassium.

There are even more high-potassium foods including tomatoes, kiwis, nectarines, and beans. All kinds of foods are loaded with potassium. Now, here's the trick. You notice that a lot of these foods that I'm listing are generally healthy foods, healthy fruits, and vegetables. The good news is that if you get to a place where limiting all of these foods that have health benefits is really causing a problem, there are medications that can also help to reduce the potassium in your blood. Meanwhile, you want to avoid high-potassium foods immediately if you are a patient with kidney disease who has high potassium in the blood or hyperkalemia.


4. Processed and Pre-Packaged Foods

What are processed and pre-packaged foods? Processed and packaged foods undergo manufacturing processes and come in pre-packaged containers for convenience and longer shelf life. They can include canned vegetables, frozen meals, breakfast cereals, and ready-to-eat meals. While they offer convenience, there are drawbacks. Processing can lead to nutrient loss, and additives like preservatives, artificial flavors, and sweeteners are common. Processed foods often contain high amounts of sodium and added sugars, which can contribute to health issues.

pre packaged foods

Certain processing methods can also lead to harmful compounds. However, not all processed foods are unhealthy. Some provide convenient and nutritious options when they contain whole ingredients and minimal additives. It's important to read food labels and prioritize fresh, whole foods. Balancing convenience and nutritional value is crucial, and a varied diet of minimally processed foods is recommended.

If you go into the grocery store, here's how to think about it. The foods that are usually along the perimeter or on the outside tend to be healthier, fresher foods. But the foods that are in the center, or in the middle of the aisle, that don't need refrigeration are typically processed foods, and they can be loaded with preservatives that are bad for your kidneys.

Dangers of Phosphorus with Kidney Disease

Phosphorus, specifically inorganic phosphorus, is something that can be found in processed or prepackaged foods. And if you have kidney disease, It's really not great for you because you need normal kidney function to help you to process or eliminate your phosphorus normally. If your phosphorus levels become too elevated from eating a lot of these processed foods, then it can cause some serious problems. It can cause you to have an elevated PTH level or hyperparathyroidism, which can lead to you having weak bones and increase your risk for bone fractures. And if you have really advanced kidney disease, then having this preservative can ultimately lead to you having a disease like calciphylaxis.

harmful foods and kidney disease

The other thing with these processed or pre-packaged foods is that they tend to have a lot of salt and a lot of sodium, and we know that having a high-salt diet can lead to hypertension, which is the second leading cause of people going on dialysis. A lot of processed foods are also loaded with added sugar. It's a problem. Make sure you read the labels when you are looking at processed and pre-packaged foods. Keep in mind that the first ingredients listed on food labels are usually the ingredients with the highest levels. Also, if you're seeing a lot of words that you can't even pronounce and a lot of preservatives, then it's probably not the healthiest food for you.


5. Sugary and Carbonated Drinks

Please stop drinking sugary and carbonated drinks if you have kidney disease.  When you are drinking sodas, they are loaded with added sugar. Just one 20-ounce bottle of soda can literally have as much as 65 grams of sugar! And just to put it in perspective, it's recommended that the average lady eat no more than 25 grams of sugar a day. The average man should have no more than 36 grams of sugar a day. But even if you're only drinking a 10-ounce soda, it can have as much as 42 grams of sugar! So this is no bueno! It's just not good mainly because, when you're eating sugar, it can increase your risk for diabetes, and diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease. Drinking sugary drinks can accelerate the progression of kidney disease and increase the likelihood of needing dialysis sooner, especially if you already have kidney disease. It's best to avoid them.

sugary and carbonated drinks

The other thing is that it's not just carbonated drinks, other sugary drinks like some of these delicious coffees are loaded with sugar!  That can be a problem because when you drink these drinks that are full of sugar, it's like empty calories. You drink them and they're loaded with calories, but they don't fill you up. And so you drink the sugary beverages, you get a really high insulin surge that causes your blood sugar to drop and so guess what? You're hungry. So you're drinking a lot of empty calories and then you go behind it and you're eating a lot of calories. So this can not only lead to diabetes, which of course can worsen your kidney disease, but it can also cause you to gain weight. And if you gain fat, especially belly fat, and you become a person who's living with obesity, that also can worsen your kidney disease.

Alternatives To Sugary and Carbonated Drinks

So what are the alternatives? Water. You want to drink a healthy amount of water and make sure you consult with your physician because depending on your stage of kidney disease, the amount of water you drink may differ. For example, if you're in the early stages of kidney disease, then you may be drinking two or three liters of water at your doctor's recommendation. But if you have advanced kidney disease and you're not making much urine, then you may need a fluid restriction.

drinking water and kidney disease

Also, if you have other diseases like chronic lung disease or congestive health failure, you may also be under a fluid restriction. Consult with your physician but in general, water is something that's no calories and that will be the best replacement for your sugary carbonated beverages. The other thing is the water doesn't have to be boring. You can spice it up. You can put lemons or strawberries in your water. I don't care how you drink your water, just get it in and make sure that you stop drinking sugary sodas and other sugary drinks immediately if you have kidney disease.


Always Consult Your Physician and Dietician Before Making Dietary Changes

Again, if you have kidney disease, what's harmful to one kidney patient may not be harmful to you. So always consult your physician and dietician before making dietary changes. Having kidney disease is not anything that someone wants to sign up for. But you're not helpless, because your diet can help you to slow down the progression of your kidney disease. If you found this article to be helpful and informative, please be sure to share it with the people you care about. As always, I appreciate your support and I want you to do your best to live your healthiest, happiest life!

Dr. Frita - Frita McRae Fisher, M.D.
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