How to Prevent Kidney Stones With Diet and Nutrition

Kidney stones—now that’s something I hope to never experience in my lifetime, and I hope you won’t either. Unfortunately, kidney stones are becoming increasingly common. By 70 years of age, about 11 percent of American men will have had a symptomatic kidney stone. 

Meanwhile, the incidence of kidney stones in the U.S. jumped by nearly 35 percent between 1980 and 1994. Interestingly, this increase parallels the rise in obesity. Kidney stones are extraordinarily painful so it’s in every man’s best interest to consider how to avoid the dreaded stones. Here’s what you need to know.

What Kidney Stones Are

Our kidneys keep our blood clean by eliminating waste products through urine. When there is an excess waste or not enough fluid volume, urine becomes supersaturated and a stone can form. Stones can be tiny like a grain of sand or big like a golf ball.

Stones can hang out in the kidneys for years without obstructing any tubing. But when a stone obstructs the ureter, serious pain follows. The bladder tunnel is where most stones get hung up. Since stones may have sharp edges, they can draw blood into the urine. If you see blood when you pee, go to your doctor right away.

Doctors think that people who form stones lack specific chemicals in the urine to prevent them. Other factors like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, can also increase your risk. Luckily, you can limit your risk with these basic nutrition tips.

Drink Lots of Water

Getting enough fluid is vital for stone prevention. Without enough water, urine becomes more concentrated, potentially leading to stone formation. On the other hand, sugary fruit juices and cola drinks seem to increase the risk of forming stones. Stick to water and water-dense foods like cucumbers and watermelon.

Get a minimum of two liters of liquid per day; more if you’re exercising or sweating. Bonus tip: add a squeeze of lemon to your water; potassium citrate found in lemons can help protect against stones.

Balance Your Protein With Fruits and Veggies

Studies suggest that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to have a lower incidence of kidney stones (about 1/3 the rate). One reason may be that animal protein makes the urine more acidic, which can contribute to stones. Note: You don't have to eat less meat to prevent kidney stones. Rather, balance out the acidity by eating lots of alkaline-forming fruits and veggies. 

Get Moderate Amounts of Calcium

Higher levels of calcium in the urine can increase the chances of kidney stones for some people. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in kidney stones. But a low-calcium diet can be dangerous, too.

Calcium can help clean out waste products before they’re absorbed and travel to the kidneys and a lack of calcium can actually lead to calcium build-up in the urine. So look for whole food sources of calcium, just keep it moderate. Avoid over-supplementing.

Minimize Your Sodium

High levels of sodium in the diet can increase the risk of kidney stones. In the typical American diet, most sodium comes from processed foods. You can limit your sodium intake substantially simply by switching to unprocessed, whole foods. That alone can greatly decrease the amount of oxalate and calcium in the urine and therefore reduce your risk of stones.

Ditch the Yo-Yo Diets

Large meals and binge eating, especially at night, can lead to very concentrated urine. Further, yo-yo dieting repeatedly breaks down stored body fat, which creates metabolic by-products that must filter through the kidneys. These by-products tend to make the urine more acidic, which can lead to stones.

Meanwhile, low-carb, high-fat/protein diets can increase urinary acidity, lower urinary citrate, and raise urinary calcium, all of which can contribute to kidney stone formation. By now you might have noticed that all these tips are basic principles of a healthy diet. They probably even sound like good old common sense. And it’s true: even if you’re not at risk for kidney stones, a balanced whole food diet with lots of water will serve you well.

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