eating healthy is a big part of having healthy kidneys

Eating healthier is a big part of healthy kidneys. Image via Unsplash

Top tips to take care of your body this Kidney Awareness Week

South Africans across the country will be celebrating National Kidney Awareness Week. Here’s how you can take care of yours.

eating healthy is a big part of having healthy kidneys

Eating healthier is a big part of healthy kidneys. Image via Unsplash

From 5 to 9 September 2022, South Africa celebrates National Kidney Awareness Week. To highlight the importance of this week and help you make sure you are taking great care of yourself, two ADSA registered dietitians have shared their tips on making healthy eating choices for your kidneys, and how to better manage chronic kidney disease through nutrition.

How to take care of yourself this Kidney Awareness Week

If you haven’t ever paid much attention to the health of your kidneys, then today is the day to start!  Our hard-working kidneys are as important as any other vital organs, and the consequences of not looking after them are severe. 

Several health conditions, including hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, all of which are prevalent in South Africa, put the kidneys under serious strain. This can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD), and ultimately, renal failure.

The kidneys are responsible for filtering our blood, eliminating toxins and keeping the acid-base, water and electrolyte balances in our bodies constant.  They also play significant roles in hormone production and synthesizing Vitamin D. 

Even when they have taken some damage, our kidneys work so diligently that by the time we might feel the symptoms of CKD, they have already been significantly compromised.  The upside is that we can make lifestyle and healthy eating choices now that can help to prevent this from happening. 

According to ADSA, (the Association for Dietetics in South Africa), people suffering from hypertension and diabetes, and those who are overweight or obese, must pay particular attention to the impact of these conditions, not just on their hearts, but their kidneys too. 

However, all South Africans can make small lifestyle changes that will help protect their kidneys.

From 5 to 9 September 2022, South Africa celebrates National Kidney Awareness Week, and ADSA spokesperson, Dr Zarina Ebrahim highlights easy ways we can use nutrition to prevent CKD.  Dr Ebrahim is a Registered Dietitian and Lecturer at Stellenbosch University, and she says, “Overall, it helps to ensure that you keep your weight in the normal range through healthy eating choices, portion limits and regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, cycling, running or any other strength and aerobic exercises that you enjoy. 

“If you are diabetic, hypertensive or have heart disease, it is of utmost importance to take your medications regularly and monitor your blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose as the ideal control of these values are critical to kidney health.  However, even if you are not suffering from any of these health conditions, you can use nutrition to help maintain the health of your kidneys.”

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Dr Ebrahim’s tips for healthy eating

Eat a variety of food – Keep your diet as natural as possible by limiting foods with additives such as processed and convenience foods, for example, pies, pastries, polonies, sausages like Vienna, burgers, ready-packaged meals, take-away foods and packets of soups. Instead focus on a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, small amounts of healthy fats and lean protein.

Fibre is very important for kidney health – Fibre contributes to improving the gut microbiome profile.  It increases the healthy gut bacteria and reduces the unhealthy bacteria. Every day aims for at least 2-3 fresh fruit servings (avoid fruit juices) and 2-3 vegetable servings.  Increase your intake of legumes such as beans and lentils, as well as whole grains especially oats, wholegrain pieces of bread and cereals.

Reduce salt intake – Limit the addition of salt at the table and to food while cooking. Also avoid salty foods such as chips, biltong, packets of soup and other processed food products. Avoid using salty mixed spices such as BBQ and chicken spice.  Rather use natural spices to add flavour to your food, such as cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric, paprika, chilli powder, fresh garlic, ginger, lemon juice, parsley, celery and other herbs such as origanum, rosemary, thyme mint and basil.

Protein is important, but should be portion-controlled – If you want to prevent kidney disease, be careful not to regularly consume excessive amounts of protein. Choose low-fat protein options such as low-fat dairy, skinless chicken, fish and lean meats.  Incorporate more plant-based proteins from beans, lentils, soya, nuts, peanut butter and chickpeas in your family diet.

Focus on food preparation – Avoid takeaway meals and ready-made foods that are high in fats and salt.  Rather choose healthy cooking methods at home such as steaming, stir-frying, baking and boiling, and don’t fry foods.

Reduce excessive sugar intake – limit sugar and sugary foods in your diet especially coming from cold drinks, sweets and chocolates. These contribute to unnecessary energy to the diet and may lead to the progression of CKD.