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Committing to better eating habits is a great start. In order to understand how your diet can affect your health, let’s start with an overview of carbohydrates, protein and fat and why each is necessary in maintaining a healthy body when you have kidney disease.
Carbohydrates should be the bulk of your daily diet because they’re the primary energy source for the body. The body burns energy constantly, even while at rest. The body needs energy not only for physical activities, but also for a number of automatic functions like breathing and blood circulation. Without energy, your major organs cannot do their jobs.
Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: simple and complex. Fruit is considered a simple carbohydrate and it’s packed with energy, fiber and vitamins your body needs. Complex carbohydrates are found in breads, grains and vegetables. These carbs also provide needed vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and energy.
The key is choosing carbohydrate sources that don’t have “empty” calories, that is, a carbohydrate food that has nutritional value. If a food doesn’t have nutrients or vitamins that can support your body, it is a waste of calories. People with diabetes should be even more concerned about carbohydrates because balancing carbohydrate foods can help in managing blood sugar levels.
Protein builds muscle and repairs tissue. The body also uses protein to build antibodies, which are your body’s weapons against disease. Other body chemicals like enzymes and hormones are manufactured from protein. Protein is found primarily in animal sources (chicken, beef, pork, eggs, milk), but also can be found in plant sources, especially legumes, soybean products and nuts. Most vegetables contain smaller amounts of protein, and fruit is practically protein free.
Protein is important for good health, but in later stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD), your doctor and renal dietitian may recommend cutting back on the amount of protein you eat in order to reduce the stress on your kidneys as well as the buildup of protein waste in the blood.
Fat is a necessary component in our diets. It helps transport vitamins like A, D, E and K to our cells. Fat is also used to make hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Certain dietary fats that have essential fatty acids are good for our skin, make up linings of the body’s cells and help with nerve transmission. But too much fat, and too much of the wrong fat, can lead to heart disease, weight gain and other health problems.
Fats come in two categories: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are found in meat and dairy products. These types of fats can raise cholesterol, in particular the LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol associated with clogged arteries and heart disease. The FDA recommends reducing the amount of saturated fats in your diet. Unsaturated fats are found in fish, nuts and certain oils. These types of fats can help reduce cholesterol. Sometimes food is processed so that an unsaturated fat (like soybean oil) becomes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. This process increases a type of fat called trans fatty acids. Like a saturated fat, trans fat can raise LDL and total cholesterol levels. The FDA recommends choosing foods low in both saturated fats and trans fats for a healthy diet.
These three minerals help the body to work and are carefully balanced by the kidneys. As CKD advances, certain foods may need to be limited because the kidneys can no longer get rid of excesses of these minerals taken in from the foods eaten. Your doctor will order blood tests to monitor your levels of these minerals.
Proper nutrition for people with CKD is extremely important. For patients in the early stages, a lower sodium diet may be prescribed if blood pressure is high. Major changes in food intake may not be the primary focus of treatment. But this doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to be as healthy as you can be. Food is the fuel we put into our bodies. A balanced diet helps our body function efficiently. Also, a balanced diet gives us enough energy to sustain our activity level. Too much food leads to a calorie surplus, which is stored as fat and leads to weight gain. Too few calories lead to weight and muscle loss.
If you’re the in the later stages, your doctor will refer you to a renal dietitian. Your dietitian will create an eating plan designed to help keep you healthy and lengthen the life of your kidneys.
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