How Salt Damages Your Kidneys and What to Eat Instead, According to Experts


Salt is a common ingredient in many foods, but too much of it can be harmful for your kidneys. Nephrologists, or kidney specialists, warn that eating foods high in salt can increase the risk of kidney disease, kidney stones, and other complications. Here’s what you need to know about the effects of salt on your kidneys and how to eat a kidney-friendly diet.

Salt and Kidney Disease

The kidneys are responsible for filtering blood, removing waste through urine, producing hormones, balancing minerals, and maintaining fluid balance. One of their main functions is to regulate the amount of sodium and water in the body. When you eat too much salt, your kidneys have to work harder to remove the excess sodium and water from your blood. This can raise your blood pressure and damage your blood vessels, including those in your kidneys.

How Salt Damages Your Kidneys and What to Eat Instead, According to Experts
How Salt Damages Your Kidneys and What to Eat Instead, According to Experts

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition where the kidneys lose their ability to filter blood properly. CKD can lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 37 million Americans have CKD, and most of them are unaware of it.

Salt and Kidney Stones

Another common problem that can affect your kidneys is kidney stones. These are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form in the urinary tract. They can cause severe pain, infection, and blockage of urine flow. Kidney stones can be caused by various factors, such as genetics, dehydration, diet, and medications.

One of the dietary factors that can increase the risk of kidney stones is salt intake. Salt can increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine, which are two of the main components of most kidney stones. Salt can also reduce the amount of citrate in the urine, which is a substance that prevents kidney stones from forming.

How Much Salt Is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting your salt intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. However, most Americans consume much more than that, averaging about 3,400 mg per day. The main sources of salt in the American diet are processed and restaurant foods, such as breads, cheeses, soups, sauces, snacks, meats, and pizzas.

To reduce your salt intake, you should read nutrition labels carefully and choose foods that are low in sodium or have no added salt. You should also avoid adding salt to your food at the table or during cooking. Instead, you can use herbs, spices, lemon juice, vinegar, or other salt-free seasonings to enhance the flavor of your food.

What to Eat for Kidney Health

Besides limiting your salt intake, there are other dietary changes you can make to support your kidney health. Here are some general tips from nephrologists:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant proteins. These foods are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that can protect your kidneys from damage and inflammation.
  • Stay well-hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day. Water helps your kidneys flush out toxins and waste from your body. Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day or more if you exercise or sweat a lot.
  • Manage your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. Diabetes is another leading cause of CKD and kidney failure. Keeping your blood sugar within a healthy range can prevent or delay kidney damage. Follow your doctor’s advice on how to control your diabetes with medication, diet, exercise, and monitoring.
  • Limit your intake of animal proteins if you have kidney disease or are at risk of developing it. Eating too much protein can make your kidneys work harder and worsen your kidney function over time. Choose lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry, eggs, or low-fat dairy products and eat them in moderation. You can also include plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, or seeds in your diet.
  • Control your intake of potassium, phosphorus, and calcium if you have advanced kidney disease or are on dialysis. These minerals are important for your health but can build up in your blood if your kidneys are not working well. This can cause serious problems such as irregular heartbeat, bone loss, or itching. Your doctor or dietitian can advise you on how much of these minerals you need and which foods to avoid or limit.

Eating for kidney health is not only good for your kidneys but also for your overall health. By following these tips from nephrologists and choosing foods that are low in salt and high in nutrients, you can prevent or manage kidney problems and enjoy a longer and healthier life.


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