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Renal Diet: How to Make It Work for You

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Our body needs different nutrients in varying amounts to carry out daily internal functions. Our health is almost entirely dependent on what we consume each day in the form of food and drinks. Often, people consume anything and everything – disregarding whether an ingredient is suitable to their body – thus causing a lot of health problems. As everyone’s body is different, so are nutritional requirements. Our diet must be customized to suit any food allergies, deficiencies, or chronic ailments we may have. A renal diet is one which ensures optimal kidney functioning and reduces further damage in patients suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Table Of Contents

What Is a Renal Diet?
Types of Kidney Ailments

Functions of the Kidney
Factors a Renal Diet Depends On
Foods to Eat

What Is a Renal Diet?

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People who suffer from various health conditions require a specific diet that does not allow the condition to worsen and even helps reverse some health risks. Similar to how patients with heart conditions are asked to consume a low-cholesterol diet, people diagnosed with reduced kidney functioning need to increase their intake of certain nutrients and reduce the amount of some others. A renal diet provides patients with the required nutrition and keeps low the number of nutrients that may further create problems in smooth kidney functioning.

Types of Kidney Ailments

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Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a health condition in which there is a gradual loss of kidney function over a period of many months or years. Chronic kidney disease is hard to detect as there are hardly any symptoms in the beginning, and those present later are common to other illnesses too, making it difficult to link them to CKD. Common symptoms, when observed, are itching, muscle cramps, swelling in limbs, nausea, and over or under-urination. People suffering from health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease are more prone to CKD. 

End Stage Renal Failure

An extreme case of chronic kidney disease can result in ESRD or end-stage renal failure. This means that your kidneys have completely stopped functioning and that you need dialysis (artificial filtration) or kidney transplant immediately.

Functions of the Kidney

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When you consume any food or liquid, the body absorbs the nutrition. Any waste in the blood is filtered by the kidneys and then flushed out of the body in the form of urine. If the kidney cannot function properly, waste will remain in the blood which will cause the person to fall ill. A renal diet helps patients keep to the minimum amount of waste in their body and thus avoiding potential kidney failure. There is no standard renal diet. Doctors and dieticians tend to customize a renal diet depending on various factors related to the patient’s condition.

Factors a Renal Diet Depends On

A renal diet will be different for different patients depending on the stage of kidney disease, age, dietary needs, and history of past illnesses. The objective of a renal diet is to lower the number of toxins in your body so there is less stress on the kidneys while at the same time providing your body with the required nutrition to function optimally. This is a complicated, yet realistic, balance to achieve.

Foods to Eat

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The human body needs certain amounts of fats, proteins, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and other nutrients for its various functions. A renal diet ensures that the dietary requirements for CKD do not deprive you of any necessary minerals.

Irrespective of your health conditions, the body needs a good amount of protein and less of fats and sodium. Protein aids in the growth and maintenance of body tissue. It also provides energy, heals wounds, and fights infections. Meat and eggs are the highest stores of protein and must be included in your daily diet. However, protein is difficult for faulty kidneys to process. Hence, a dietician must be consulted to understand the exact amount of protein required and the foods that one may consume.

You will want to pick steamed, boiled, or grilled food items over deep fried ones. Removing the skin of certain fried foods like potatoes can also aid in lowering sodium intake (very important for people suffering from CKD).
You may consume fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and fiber.

Nutrients to Avoid

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There are three main nutrients that patients suffering from kidney ailments must avoid or at least try to keep to a minimum – sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Sodium

Sodium is the most common and widely present mineral in the foods we consume. It is found in regular table salt (as sodium chloride) that is used in cooking. It is also present in other forms in many processed foods. Along with potassium and chloride, sodium is one of the body’s main electrolytes. 
 
Electrolytes control the fluids entering and exiting the body’s cells and tissues. High amounts of sodium are harmful for people with kidney ailments as the kidneys do not function well enough to be able to flush out the extra fluids and waste that the body does not require. If sodium and other fluids keep accumulating in the body, they cause high blood pressure, shortness of breath, increased thirst, or even heart failure. Hence, patients having CKD are advised to avoid sodium by choosing fresh foods, avoiding salt in their diet, and staying away from processed foods.

Potassium

Potassium, the second electrolyte in the body, regulates the heartbeats and muscles. Healthy kidneys use the required amount and flush out the extra potassium from the body in the form of urine. Kidneys that do not function correctly are unable to do so. High potassium levels in the blood is known as hyperkalemia. This can result in muscle weakness, a slow pulse, irregular heartbeats, or heart attacks. Patients following a renal diet can restrict their potassium intake by limiting consumption of milk and dairy products, avoiding salt, and eating fresh foods.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is critical for bone development. Small intestines absorb phosphorus from foods consumed and store it in the bones. Weak kidneys do not remove extra phosphorus from the body which results in lower calcium in the bones, making them weaker. Calcium depositing in blood vessels, lungs, and heart can also occur. Foods like meat, cheese, milk, and fish are high in phosphorus, so consumption of these must be kept low.

Fluid Intake

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We have often heard that drinking a lot of water is essential for a healthy body. Although this is quite true, it can also cause harm to your kidneys if you drink more fluids than what the kidneys can process – especially for patients who have kidney disorders. These patients with lower urine output and a high fluid intake will put unnecessary pressure on the kidneys. This must be avoided, especially if the patient is undergoing dialysis. Amount of fluids consumed in a day should be based on the advice of a doctor. Fluids do not mean only water, soft drinks, or beverages, but even foods that melt at room temperature such as popsicles.

Slowing Down the Progression of Kidney Disease

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Kidney disease is not detected very easily. But once diagnosed, you can take precautions to slow down the rate of kidney damage. A renal diet is one of the main steps to be taken in order to reduce the intake of all the substances that are harmful to your kidneys. Apart from this, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol, avoiding smoking, and controlling body weight is very important. If you are diabetic, maintain your blood glucose levels, take all prescribed medication regularly, go for timely health check-ups, and monitor blood pressure.

Patients following a renal diet must adhere to the prescribed foods recommended by their dietician. They must also read food labels and nutrition charts carefully before consuming anything. Fresh, home-cooked food must always be preferred over processed or frozen varieties. Consult a doctor and a dietician in case you need or wish to take any dietary supplements, artificial sweeteners, or alternative medicine and therapies. These steps will help your kidneys function better for more years and avoid the renal failure stage.

Conclusion

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The importance of kidneys in the smooth functioning of bodily processes goes highly unnoticed. But they perform the most important function of flushing out waste from our bodies that can otherwise cause us a lot of harm. A proper diet and an active lifestyle can help avoid any kidney problems. But in case you are diagnosed with a kidney disorder, consult your doctor and undergo all the tests. Your treatment options, medication and renal diet depend on the stage of kidney disease you are at.

A renal diet is important not just for those suffering from CKD or those undergoing dialysis but also those who may have had a kidney transplant. Protein requirements are higher after a transplant to hasten the healing process. Steroid and blood sugar levels might be high in the body. A certified dietician is the best person to guide you towards healthy kidneys, no matter what problem you have.

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