Bad Kidneys? Stop Eating These 17 Foods and Improve Your Renal Health

8 minute read

Kidneys are important to your overall health. You may be able to live without one, but they are essential and need to be taken care of.

Healthy kidneys protect you from kidney disease and supports efficient filtering of blood to prevent the buildup of harmful toxins. There is a known connection between diet and kidney health, which means there are certain foods you should avoid if your kidneys are compromised.

Your Kidney’s Enemies

Special diets have been devised for individuals with kidney problems and kidney disease. Dietary restrictions help support kidney function, enabling them to remove waste and filter body fluids with as much ease as possible.

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Sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and protein levels all impact kidney function, so these are nutrients to watch for if you have kidney damage or any stage of renal failure.

Phosphorus is a difficult mineral for your kidneys to remove. High levels can thus remain in your blood causing damage to your body. In small doses, phosphorus is beneficial, but too much pulls calcium out of your bones and can weaken them.

Excess potassium is another potential problem, and this can build up when your kidneys are not working at optimal levels. Because your heart requires a delicate balance of potassium, too much can lead to dangerous changes in heart rhythm.

Sodium and potassium work together to pull water from your bloodstream into your kidneys as part of the filtration process. Too much salt or sodium alters the delicate balance and causes your kidneys to have reduced function.

For damaged kidneys or those in renal failure, any less function could be deadly. With low kidney function, water is not removed as efficiently from the blood and you end up with hypertension.

What Not to Eat

1. Apricots: Great for fiber but full of potassium, apricots are not ideal for those with kidney disease. The potassium content is even higher in dried apricots, so those need to be avoided entirely as part of any renal diet.

2. Avocados: For a healthy individual, avocados are nutritious and beneficial, but for those with kidney problems, these fruits can be harmful. Avocados contain almost double the amount of potassium of bananas.

3. Bananas: Full of potassium, bananas can reduce kidney efficiency. Tropical fruits in general are high in potassium, but pineapples prove to be more kidney-friendly.

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Keeping potassium levels low prevents hyperkalemia, a dangerous condition where your blood has too much potassium. When combined with renal failure, hyperkalemia can cause serious damage to your heart.  

4. Brown Rice: Brown rice contains more potassium and phosphorus than white rice, so it can place unnecessary strain on already damaged kidneys. With portion control, some brown rice can be consumed as part of a balanced renal diet.

5. Canned Foods: Soups, as well as canned vegetables, are popular because of their convenience. The high sodium content is what gives these items a long shelf life but also makes them dangerous for impaired kidneys.

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It is best to look for low-sodium options if you do purchase canned foods.

6. Dairy: While dairy foods contain potassium and phosphorus, it is the protein content that is concerning when it comes to renal failure. Too much protein in the diet leads to excess protein waste in the bloodstream, because impaired kidneys have trouble filtering the byproducts of protein metabolism.

The removal of excess protein is very strenuous to kidneys and can lead to digestive problems, heart complications, and weight gain.

7. Dark-Colored Soda: The additives in these drinks contain phosphorus, which helps prevent discoloration, adds flavor, and extends shelf life. While these additives are great for the soda, they are bad for you.

In this form, it is easily absorbed which makes it more readily available in your blood. These increased amounts are difficult for compromised kidneys to remove.

8. Dried Fruits: The drying of fruit concentrates all nutrients, and in the case of dates, raisins, and prunes, potassium is one such nutrient. Almost five times as much is found compared to their raw versions, meaning dried fruits should never be part of a renal diet.

9. Leafy Greens: The high potassium content of greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens is not ideal for impaired kidneys. Even when cooked, the potassium content remains high, so it is best to cut them out completely from your diet.

10. Oranges: As a fruit or in juice form, oranges contain potassium, making them dangerous for patients with kidney disease. Try apples, cranberries, or grapes instead.

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11. Packaged Meals: Sodium is the culprit in ready-made and instant foods. It is best to avoid these altogether because not only is the high sodium content dangerous for your kidneys, but these foods typically lack nutritional value.

12. Pickled Foods: Pickles, olives, and relish are all examples of highly salted foods that need to be limited when following a renal diet. Choose lower sodium options if they are available.

13. Potatoes: Both potatoes and sweet potatoes contain a lot of potassium. You can reduce the potassium content, however, by soaking them in water before cooking.

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While this “leaching” process does not remove all potassium, it cuts it down considerably, making it more suitable for those with weakened kidneys.

14. Processed Meats: These have been linked to more than one serious health problem and should be avoided by everyone, not just those with a kidney condition. The amount of salt used to preserve these meats is unhealthy for your kidneys and interferes with their ability to filter correctly.

15. Snack Foods: Pretzels, crackers, and chips taste good but are full of salt. Keep sodium levels low and protect your kidneys from additional stress, by avoiding these snacks.

16. Tomatoes: Tomatoes are dangerous because of potassium, and unfortunately these fruits are part of many meals and products. A more kidney-friendly alternative is to replace tomato sauces with red pepper sauces.

17. Whole Wheat Bread: The high fiber content of whole wheat bread makes it a more nutritious option when it comes to choosing bread. However, more bran and whole grains also means more potassium and phosphorus.

White bread is therefore advised for those with kidney disease. Too much phosphorus weakens your bones, increasing your chances of fractures.

The Bottom Line

Kidney damage can be caused by any number of factors, but with the right support, your kidneys can still function. Depending on the severity of your condition, dietary changes can help support the health of your kidneys.

There are a lot of foods to avoid, but a kidney-friendly diet should not be daunting. With the right attention and commitment, you can eat well and protect your kidneys from getting worse.

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