How To Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
We don’t think about our kidneys very often. But those two dark red, bean-shaped organs on either side of your spine do major heavy lifting 24 hours a day.
Your kidneys filter about half a cup of blood every minute — or up to 200 quarts every day — removing waste and flushing out toxins and extra fluids through the bladder. Learn what your kidneys do and how you can keep them in tip-top shape.
How They Work & What They Do
The kidneys’ primary purpose is to remove waste from the body through filtering the blood and removing excess fluids. Carried into the kidneys by the renal artery, blood circulates through the kidneys about 400 times per day and is cleaned by over one million tiny filters, called nephrons.
But your kidneys don’t just filter your blood and rid your body of waste. They also perform many other significant duties, including:
- Removing acid naturally produced by your body’s cells
- Maintaining a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals in your bloodstream
- Helping to control your blood pressure
- Releasing the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates new red blood cell growth
- Keeping bones healthy and strong by producing Vitamin D
- Controlling metabolism
- Regulating the blood’s pH balance
How To Keep Them Healthy
Since your kidneys work hard to remove waste from your body, the less toxins you consume, the easier their job will be. Cutting out obvious toxins, like those that come from eating heavily processed foods and smoking, is one huge step. Here are more ways to keep your kidneys clean and healthy:
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important to your health for countless reasons, but especially for your kidneys, as they regulate fluid in your body and flush out toxins through urine. Not drinking enough water can lead to kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs). A good way to tell if you’re drinking a sufficient amount of water is by the color of your urine — it should always be close to the color of straw.
- Reduce your sodium intake. Excess sodium can cause uncomfortable bloating, water retention, and more serious health conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure). It can also be hard on your kidneys because they can’t fully eliminate heavy amounts of sodium. That means it’ll stick around inside your body, possibly leading to chronic health conditions. A safe rule of thumb is to keep your sodium intake under 1,500 mg per day. Eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods is one easy way to accomplish this without giving it too much thought.
- Mix up your proteins. Animal-based proteins are “complete proteins,” as they contain all nine essential amino acids. But they can also be high in dietary cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat — factors that tax the kidneys. Mix up your protein intake to include heart-healthy, plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts, tofu, seeds, and quinoa.
- Increase calcium through leafy greens. A diet rich in calcium helps maintain kidney health by warding off the formation of kidney stones. Leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, chard, and kale are all high in calcium and also contain plenty of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Choose the right medicines. Try to use OTC anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, only when absolutely necessary. If you’re taking these on a regular basis or overusing them, it can up your risk of kidney disease. Keep in mind that this risk is even higher if you consume alcohol on a regular basis, too.
- Exercise and lose any excess weight. Regular exercise, along with weight loss through proper nutrition and portion sizes, improves every aspect of your health. Being overweight raises your blood pressure, which is particularly hard on kidney function. Be sure to stay active and keep your BMI within normal range.
Now that summer is in full swing, take advantage of all the fresh, healthy food you’ll find at your local store or Farmer’s Market. Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups has plenty of tips and ideas on how to prepare delicious, nutritious summer meals!