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Preventing Kidney Stones: It’s All About Your Diet

April 27, 2015

Summer in Florida usually means visits to beaches and sun-filled vacations.

But for urologists it has traditionally led to more visits from patients who develop kidney stones from dehydration.

In recent times, however, kidney stones have become less of a seasonal occurrence. Due to changes in the common American diet, including the increase of fast food consumption, we are seeing more cases of kidney stones all year long.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones, which affect 1 in 11 people in the United States, are small pieces of mineral and salt that form inside the kidneys. Most stones occur when calcium combines with either oxalate, an organic compound, or phosphate, a mineral. Uric acid stones can also form from the breakdown of protein in the body.

If you have a kidney stone, you’ll likely experience severe pain in your side or back, painful or frequent urination and shooting pain from one area of the body to another. These occurrences can be so intense that some of my female patients tell me the pain is worse than childbirth!

Most small stones will pass on their own, but others may require surgery.

You can reduce your risk of kidney stones with the right diet and lifestyle habits. Here are several tips for how to stay healthy:

Drink more fluids:

The more fluids you take in, the more dilute your urine will be. Concentrated urine gives the substances that form kidney stones a better chance to come together. The goal should be to have at least two liters of urine output per day. To accomplish this, you may have to drink more than two liters of fluid on a hot day.

The bare minimum should be eight cups of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free fluids daily. Avoid getting your fluids through soda, since most sodas have high phosphate levels that can contribute to stones. The easiest way to tell if you are adequately hydrated is to look at the color of your urine—if it is not clear, then you are not drinking enough water.

Eat more citrus:

Adding some citrus to your diet can help. Citrus fruits increase your citrate levels, which can block the formation of stones. You don’t have to get carried away with drinking sugary fruit juices. Instead, eat a few wedges of orange or grapefruit each day—or even just squeeze a little lemon into your water!

Go easy on the oxalate:

As mentioned previously, oxalate is an organic compound that can bind with calcium to form kidney stones. Unfortunately, it is found in many common foods, such as nuts, tofu, chocolate, tea, strawberries, kale and many more. (Yes guys, this is a good excuse to not buy chocolate covered strawberries on Valentine’s Day!)

Hold the salt:

Salt increases calcium in your urine. It’s best to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Unfortunately, the current national average is 3,400 mg per day.

In order to keep your salt intake down, you should get in the habit of reading labels. Processed foods contain high amounts of sodium. A burrito, for example, can have up to 1,000 mg of sodium. That’s almost half your daily sodium intake! Decreasing your salt intake also has significant benefits for your blood pressure and heart health.

Limit animal protein:

A diet rich in meat is a diet rich in protein. The breakdown of this protein increases your uric acid levels, which could lead to stones. Eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables to prevent stones. If you do eat meat, try to limit it to less than 6 ounces a day.

Say yes to dietary calcium:

There is a misconception that calcium increases kidney stones. In reality, your daily calcium intake is vital to the prevention of stones. Within your gut, calcium binds with oxalate, preventing it from increasing your urinary oxalate levels. I suggest that you get calcium through food rather than supplements whenever possible, as supplements may increase your risk of stones. If you do take calcium supplements, then take them when you eat.

Most of what I mentioned also is not only good advice for kidney stone prevention, but also for your overall health. If you already eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of fluid every day, avoiding kidney stones will be much easier.

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