They might not be a part of the body we think about very often, but our hard-working kidneys need all the help they can get.
Every year, around 57,000 people in the UK are treated for kidney failure, and according to experts, some three million are under threat of chronic kidney conditions.
These crucial organs play a key role in filtering waste from our blood, before turning it into urine, and factors including high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes (the biggest cause of kidney failure) can all accelerate kidney damage.
Although for some people, certain kidney conditions are not preventable, generally speaking, there are a number of things we can do to reduce the risk of developing kidney-related diseases.
“Keeping active, being a healthy weight, eating loads of fruit and veg, having a diet that’s low in fat, low in sugar, enjoying your food and having a variety of foods can all help,” says NHS renal dietician Harriet Williams, who often works with the charity Kidney Research UK (www.kidneyresearchuk.org).
Here, she shares some of her top tips for keeping kidneys healthy and avoiding problems further down the line...
REDUCE SALT INTAKE
Cutting back on the amount of salt in your diet will help your kidneys do their jobs properly.
“The maximum recommended intake is 6g a day,” says Williams. “One of the reasons to keep your salt intake low is to maintain a good blood pressure, and to try and prevent problems with your kidneys.” (Salt is a major factor in high blood pressure.)
Fresh and dried herbs, onions, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and spices are all good salt substitutes and will enhance flavour in dishes. Try to make food from scratch where possible, so you can track how much salt you eat - a lot of the ‘hidden’ salts we consume come from processed foods.
DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
Making sure you drink water regularly (but not excessively), especially when exercising or in hot places, will help your kidneys function properly.
“For most people, two to two-and-a-half litres of fluid a day is enough, but that can include tea, coffee and fruit juice,” says Williams.
“Water is the ideal, because it doesn’t contain any calories. Squashes can be added to help make them more interesting. Limit fruit juice to a small glass; 150ml is about all you need.”
Bear in mind that your pee should be straw-coloured. If it’s darker, it could be a sign that you’re dehydrated. Other signs are headaches, fatigue, dry or chapped lips and, if you’re very dehydrated, mental confusion.
PACK IN PLENTY OF FRUIT AND VEG
By upping the amount of fruit and veg in your diet, you’re giving your body - and in turn your kidneys - the nutrients and minerals it needs to run smoothly.
Fresh is perfect, but if opting for tinned varieties, ri nse the veg in water before you cook or eat it, to remove excess salt. The same goes for tinned pulses, too.
Make a habit of reading food labels in the supermarket, so you know exactly what you’re eating. “A lot of manufacturers are getting much better now at reducing salt content,” says Williams. “Just bear in mind that the recommended salt intake is 6g a day. If one of your main meals is a ready meal that has 2g of salt in it, it might be reasonable [to eat it] within the balance of things.”
She suggests comparing brands too, to see which is healthiest.
“Two brands of the same product might be different in their salt content, and i t’s not always the most expensive ones that are better. Using the traffic light food labelling that we have now, and going for products in the green and amber range rather than red, in terms of salt, would be a good thing.”
MANAGE YOUR WEIGHT
It’s recognised that being overweight can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which in turn puts pressure on your kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Keep your blood sugar stable by eating well-balanced meals, and exercise regularly - walking and gardening all count.
“There’s a statistic that if you’re overweight and you lose 10% of your body weight, that’s the magic number where you can make a significant difference to your health and your risk of diabetes,” says Williams. “It would be ideal to get your body mass index in the healthy range, but we’ve got to be realistic too. Losing 10% of your body weight if you’re overweight is a realistic aim.”