Reduce the salt and fat you eat. Increase your water intake. Eat more fruits and veggies.
Sounds like a recipe for heart health, right? Actually, many of the most common dietary tips for a good heart help your kidneys function too.
“We have to treat the patient as a whole. Everything is connected,” explains Timothy Suttle, MD, with ProMedica Genito-Urinary Surgeons. He often sees patients with kidney stones—some of which also live with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. While there are many factors that can contribute to a patient’s likelihood for this often painful affliction, what we eat and drink plays a role.
“Dietary changes that treat stones may also increase your overall health. Exercise, weight management and a healthy diet will go a long way to help protect you from stones and other health problems,” says Dr. Suttle. His dietary advice depends on the patient and what kind of stone the patient has passed, but there are some general tips that are universally regarded as good practice.
Drink the right beverages
He says the number one thing people should do to avoid stones is drink at least two liters of water a day. Pushing fluids allows our kidneys to continually filter out fluids and any waste materials our bodies can’t use. Dr. Suttle says stones often form when patients become dehydrated, because a decrease in fluids increases the concentration of materials that can form kidney stones. You’ll know you’re dehydrated if your urine is yellow or dark orange.
“Drinking two liters of water is pretty daunting for people, so I recommend adding low-calorie or no-calorie water enhancers, or infusing their water with real fruit,” he says. Patients are also encouraged to drink lemonade for its increased citrate content, which helps protect against stones, but are cautioned against other items with high amounts of vitamin C, like orange juice. “If you take more vitamin C than the body requires it naturally converts it to oxalate, which is a component of some of the more common kinds of kidney stones people make.”
And then there’s the question of soda.
“Avoid colas and dark sodas because they also increase acidity of urine, but if people are going to drink soda, lemon limes are acceptable,” says Dr. Suttle, noting sodas aren’t ideal for replacing fluids lost, not to mention their link to obesity and diabetes.
“People love salt, but it actually increases the delivery of calcium to the urine. Let’s say you have a small stone that’s not moving. If you’re not drinking enough water, you’re allowing all of the components that contribute to stone growth to increase in concentration. If you add salt, it dehydrates you further and also increases the calcium load to the stone that’s forming.”
If it sounds like calcium is a dietary culprit, that’s actually a misconception, Dr. Suttle notes, and recommends patients stick to their normal daily allowance.
Limit your consumption of meat
“For the general public, decreasing animal proteins is also very important,” says Dr. Suttle. “Animal proteins make your urine more acidic which increases your likelihood for forming kidney stones. That’s not to say people need to completely remove meat from their diets. They just need to increase the vegetable-to-animal protein ratio.”
Patients working with a physician to pinpoint the source of their stones follow these guidelines too, but get more specific instructions according to what kind of stone they’ve made in the past.
“We look at anything they eat a lot of. Generally, if you’re eating steak and eggs for breakfast, a steak sandwich for lunch and two chicken breasts for dinner, you need to cut one of those out.” Dr. Suttle adds excessive intake of spinach and nuts can also increase the risk in some patients. “Many of these things don’t have to be removed entirely, just moderated.”
For anyone with kidney stones, the list of dos and don’ts can seem daunting, but Dr. Suttle offers his patients some advice that’s a little easier to swallow.
“I don’t expect you to make all of these changes over night because that’s not realistic. What’s important is you keep working on adding positive changes to your lifestyle.”