Excess protein can cause undue stress on the kidneys, and those suffering from various forms of kidney disease or renal failure should be extra careful when consuming foods that are rich in protein. The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from the body and maintaining a balance of all the nutrients that pass through the bloodstream. They remove excess potassium and phosphorus, control the body’s sodium levels, and are also in charge of processing compounds such as uric acid, which is a by-product of protein. Substituting foods that are gentler on the urological system for certain foods that are high in protein may help to keep your kidneys healthier for longer.
The kidneys cleanse the blood as it passes through using tiny filters known as glomeruli, and then expel toxins from the body via the urinary tract. They are also responsible for keeping proteins contained in the bloodstream rather than passing into the urine. Those suffering from kidney disease are unable to stop proteins such as albumin and proteinuria from leeching into the urine along with other important molecules such as enzymes and immunoglobins. If the body loses more than 3 grams of protein from the blood in 24 hours, then the patient will be diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome. Consuming high protein foods will increase the chances that an individual with kidney disease will also be diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome.
As protein molecules are much larger than the majority of others that are filtered through the kidneys, they can do serious damage to the glomeruli as they pass through. The National Kidney Foundation advises diabetics and those suffering from kidney disease to consume a diet low in protein to avoid aggravating their existing conditions. High protein foods speed up the effects of kidney disease by putting unnecessary stress on the glomeruli.
One way to slow kidney degeneration is to consume only 0.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body weight. The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse claim that doing this for one year will improve the levels of phosphorus, urea nitrogen and bicarbonate in the bloodstream
High Protein vs. Low Protein Foods
Almost every type of meat is high in protein including beef, chicken, lamb, pork and game. Most fish has a high protein content including tuna, salmon and halibut, and dairy products including eggs and milk contain protein as well as high levels of phosphorus, which may also be a problem for certain types of kidney disease.
These can easily be substituted with low protein foods such as organic fermented tofu and other soy products such as miso and tempeh, legumes, alfalfa sprouts and almost every type of vegetable including cauliflower, broccoli, celery, asparagus and Brussel sprouts. Consuming vegetables raw in a freshly blended smoothie allows them to retain most of their nutrients, and steaming them is a healthy cooking method that does not damage all the enzymes contained within. Keep in mind that certain types of kidney stones and other kidney conditions may require that various vegetables be limited in the diet. Consult your health practitioner for your particular situation.
Making Low Protein Palatable
Those who are used to a diet rich in meats and dairy may struggle to make the switch at first, but there are a few ways to make the transition smoother. Try deep-filled sandwiches that contain only a thin slice of turkey or chicken, and then pile on a mountain of fresh vegetables. Whole grain bread will help you feel fuller for longer, and sourdough and rye bread offer more flavor than plain white. Bulk up vegetable dishes with whole grain rice and pasta, and try substituting cow’s milk with coconut and nut milk. Organic foods and whole foods are always more filling and satisfying due to not being stripped of their fiber and nutrients, while being free of GMOs and pesticides.
Never begin any form of new diet without first consulting with your healthcare practitioner especially if you are undergoing medical treatment. Patients who are receiving dialysis are usually encouraged to eat diets rich in protein to counter muscle wasting, so suddenly switching to a low- protein diet on your own could do serious damage. Your doctor will be able to advise you if a low protein diet is right for you.
National Kidney Foundation; KDOQI Clinical Practice Guidelines for Chronic Kidney Disease: Evaluation, Classification, and Stratification; 2002
National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; Proteinuria; March 2009
National Kidney Foundation: Phosphorus and your CKD Diet
National Kidney Foundation: Potassium and your CKD Diet
National Kidney Foundation: Enjoy Your Own Recipes Using Less Protein
DaVita; Protein and Your Peritoneal Dialysis Diet
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse — NKUDIC: Nutrition for Later Chronic Kidney Disease in Adults
American Association of Kidney Patients: Eating Vegetarian
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