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Will a Diet of Mostly Plants Help Your Kidneys?

Plant-based diets similar to a DASH diet reduced chronic kidney disease among study volunteers. Eating this way might help your kidneys, too.
Will a Diet of Mostly Plants Help Your Kidneys?
Female hand holding model of human kidney organ at back of body

Chronic kidney disease has been increasing in the United States and now affects 14 percent of adults. This might be explained by the widespread use of medications such as NSAIDs or PPIs that can cause kidney damage. You might help your kidneys by following a plant-based diet (Kim et al, CJASN, April 25, 2019).

Will a Vegetarian Diet Help Your Kidneys?

A new study analyzed data from 14,686 middle-aged adults over more than two decades. They were participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARC) study. People who followed a healthy plant-based diet were 14 percent less likely to be diagnosed with chronic kidney disease compared to those who ate more meat. The researchers scored the volunteers’ diet records according to how well they approximated a healthy plant-based diet.

The benefits of concentrating on vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes were especially clear for people of normal weight. Among those who had kidney disease already, those who followed a healthy plant-based diet maintained their kidney function longer.

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Many healthy plant-based diets have been tested scientifically. These diets focus primarily on foods from plants and minimize meat and poultry. Vegetarian diets contain no fish. Some vegetarians follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that includes milk products and eggs. On the other hand, vegans avoid such foods as well. In previous research, diets rich in fruits and vegetables seem to help your kidneys (Gutierrez et al, American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Aug. 2014). This study found that a Southern dietary pattern full of deep-fried and processed foods was linked to early mortality.

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The DASH Diet:

The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy products. It downplays meats and sweets. People following a DASH diet have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop depression, diabetes or kidney stones. A recent study looked at more than 1,000 people with kidney disease (Banerjee et al, Kidney International, March 4, 2019). Those whose diets least resembled a DASH diet were most likely to have their kidney condition worsen.

The Mediterranean Diet:

While there are many variations on a Mediterranean diet, all of them emphasize vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes over meat and processed foods. Studies show that people following a Mediterranean-type diet have healthier hearts. In addition, they are less likely to come down with dementia or diabetes. While the Mediterranean diet you choose might not be vegetarian, it is likely to be closer to a healthy plant-based diet than not. French scientists have evaluated the Mediterranean diet as the best choice for people with kidney disease (Chauveau et al, Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation, May 1, 2018.)

Learn More:

Would you like to know more about how to follow a Mediterranean or DASH diet to help your kidneys? If so, you may be interested in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. You can find it in your local library or purchase it here.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Kim H et al, "Plant-based diets and incident CKD and kidney function." Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, April, 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2215/CJN.12391018
  • Gutierrez OM et al, "Dietary patterns and risk of death and progression to ESRD in individuals with CKD: A cohort study." American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Aug. 2014. DOI: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2014.02.013
  • Banerjee T et al, "Poor accordance to a DASH dietary pattern is associated with higher risk of ESRD among adults with moderate chronic kidney disease and hypertension." Kidney International, online March 4, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.kint.2018.12.027
  • Chauveau P et al, "Mediterranean diet as the diet of choice for patients with chronic kidney disease." Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation, May 1, 2018. DOI: 10.1093/ndt/gfx085
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