It’s not always easy to make lifestyle changes. Lots of things can get in the way, such as the cost of some healthy foods, and finding the time and energy to cook from scratch and take exercise. But do what you can – even small changes can make a difference to your kidney health. And the good news is these simple steps benefit your overall wellbeing, too.
It’s important to note the following tips are for helping to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD).
If you’ve already been diagnosed with CKD, follow any guidance your healthcare team have given you.
Healthy habit 1: Eating lots of fruit and veg
Why? A balanced diet can help to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at a healthy level and may help lower your risk of kidney disease. Ideally, we should all be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, with some starchy foods like potatoes, dairy or dairy alternatives, and some protein in the form of beans, legumes, eggs, fish or meat. You should also try to cut down on the amount of saturated fat and sugar you eat.
How? It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Tinned, dried and frozen fruit and veg all count. You could try chopping some fruit onto your breakfast cereal, making a quick stir-fry or having a side salad with a ready-meal, for example. Talk to your GP if you want to know more about how to have a balanced diet.
Healthy habit 2: Not smoking
Why? Smokers are four times more likely than non-smokers to develop kidney failure. Smoking raises heart rate and blood pressure, and causes fatty deposits in your blood vessels and blood clot formation. All these things increase your risk of kidney disease. Smoking also doubles your chances of kidney cancer. But quitting helps you reduce all these risks, and the benefits start as soon as you stop.
How? Talk to your GP about getting help to stop smoking – research shows you’re four times more likely to quit successfully if you use medication and support.
Healthy habit 3: Slashing the salt in your diet
Why? A high-salt diet can contribute to high blood pressure, which can be a factor in kidney disease. Eating too much salt can make you more likely to develop kidney stones, too.
How? Aim for no more than 6g of salt daily, around a teaspoon. Around 75% of the salt in our diets is hidden in processed food – and not just obviously salty foods. Get into the habit of checking labels for salt content, always choose lower salt options, and snack on fruit and raw veg instead of crisps and crackers. When you’re cooking, flavour dishes with pepper, spices, herbs, lemon and garlic instead of salt. Stick with it – your tastebuds quickly adjust to having less salt.
Healthy habit 4: Drinking alcohol in moderation
Why? Over time, drinking too much can cause your blood pressure and cholesterol to rise, which can be factors in kidney disease.
How? Try to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over different days. One unit equals a small glass of standard-strength wine, half a pint of normal-strength beer or cider, or a single measure of spirits.
Healthy habit 5: Avoiding over-the-counter painkillers
Why? In the long term, regularly using high doses of common painkillers can damage your kidneys. This includes over-the-counter ones like aspirin and ibuprofen, which are from a group of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS.
How? It’s safe to use these medicines occasionally but take them exactly as prescribed, at the lowest dose possible and for the shortest time you need them. If you have to take painkillers regularly for a condition, speak to your doctor about how to minimise the risk to your kidneys.
Healthy habit 6: Moving more
Why? Being active helps support your general health, which may help your kidneys.
How? You don’t have to go to the gym – walking, cycling, dancing and gardening can all count. You should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity. This can be broken into small chunks and you can fit it into your day – for example, choosing cycling over driving or getting off the bus a stop early and walking some of the way to the shops. If you haven’t exercised for a while, check with your doctor before you start.
Healthy habit 7: Keeping ultra-processed foods for occasional treats
Why? Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are ones that are high in sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, additives and saturated and trans fats, and low in nutrients like fibre and vitamins. Recent research has found people who eat a lot of UPFs are at higher risk of CKD.
How? Try to cut down on foods and drinks such as fizzy soft drinks, crisps, processed meat and cheese, cakes, instant soups and noodles, and sweets. Researchers found swapping one UPF for a less-processed food each day cuts your risk of CKD a little (by 6%). Try to prepare fresh food from scratch as much as possible, and keep UPFs for treats.
Healthy habit 8: Staying hydrated
Why? Drinking plenty of fluids helps all your body’s cells work better. Staying hydrated helps to flush out crystals that can form kidney stones and the bacteria that are linked with urinary tract infections (UTIs). These can sometimes lead to kidney damage.
How? Aim for six to eight glasses a day so your wee is a pale straw yellow. Plain water is a good choice as it’s cheap and calorie-free but it doesn’t have to make up all your fluid intake. Fizzy water, tea, coffee, herbal and fruit teas and lower fat milk can also count towards your quota.
Healthy habit 9: Cutting down on sugar
Why? Having a lot of sugar in your diet doesn’t directly damage healthy kidneys. But it’s high in calories, so it can lead to weight gain. Keeping to a healthy weight can reduce your chances of conditions that affect your kidneys, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
How? Healthy foods like fruit and vegetables contain natural sugars but you don’t need to worry about those. It’s the ‘free sugars’ in your diet that you need to reduce, which means any sugar added to food, either by you or a manufacturer, in any form, including table sugar, honey and maple syrup. Adults should have a maximum of 30g of free sugars daily – about seven sugar cubes. Check labels and choose unsweetened or low-sugar versions of food. Satisfy a sweet craving with fruit instead, and reduce the amount of sugar you use in recipes.
Healthy habit 10: Making time for sleep
Why? Getting plenty of sleep allows your body to rest and repair. And some research has suggested sleeping for five hours or less a night may have a direct impact on kidney function. Like other body functions, your kidneys’ function is regulated by your sleep-wake cycle, so poor sleep may impact their ability to do their job.
How? Most of us need seven to eight hours’ sleep a night. We all have the occasional bad night. But if you regularly struggle to get enough rest, check your sleeping habits and environment. Your room should be cool, dark and quiet. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and take time to unwind before you go to bed. Exercising during the day can also help. If you’re still having problems, see your doctor.
AstraZeneca has contributed to the funding of this material as part of a Patient Advocacy Group Partnership between Kidney Care UK and AstraZeneca UK Limited. AstraZeneca has had no editorial input into or control over the content which has been independently owned and created by Kidney Care UK.