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Eating for Kidney Health: 5 Tips for Kidney Cancer Awareness Month

March 04, 2020 | By: Dr. Patrick Wirtz

Kidneys come in pairs, but these organs are so hard-working that most people need only one to live a healthy life. So, this month, National Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, let’s be twice as good to our kidneys by eating smart foods for both of them.

The kidneys work with every beat of the heart, cleaning our blood of waste, toxins and excess water at a rate of half a cup per minute. That adds up to 150 quarts of blood a day. For context: Picture your refrigerator filled with nearly 38 gallons of milk. (And in the time you have taken to read this so far, your kidneys have cleaned about ¼ cup of blood.)

All that work stimulates an appetite for blood-healthy foods that protect your kidneys from cancer. In 2020, 73,750 cases of kidney cancer are expected to be diagnosed – about 62% in men and 38% in women – according to the American Cancer Society Society. Nearly 15,000 people will die from the disease.

The most common form of kidney cancer, called renal cell cancer, occurs when malignant tumors form in the tiny filters that clean blood. Symptoms include blood in the urine, back or side pain, and a lump in the abdomen.

5 Diet Tips for Cancer-Fighting Kidneys

Everything we consume passes through our kidneys and affects their health. In fact, leading contributing factors of kidney cancer are cigarette smoking and obesity. This is why what we eat is instrumental to good kidney health.

So be ready to serve your kidneys well. Following are five diet tips to treat your kidneys well during Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, and every month.

  • Fish for low phosphates. Damaged kidneys have trouble removing phosphates, a mineral found in many fish, egg yolks and certain grains. Sea bass carries relatively low levels of phosphorous while delivering high levels of healthy omega-3 fats. Bulgur (a cereal food) and buckwheat are tasty alternatives to high-phosphorous whole grains, and they also provide beneficial vitamin B and magnesium. These are good options for people at higher risk of kidney cancer.
  • Be berry radical. Berries are packed with antioxidants that could protect cells from cancer-causing free radicals. Blueberries, in particular, contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may protect against cancer. Red and purple grapes carry flavonoids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, a cancer contributor. 
  • Don’t go bananas. Potassium, found in bananas, avocadoes and potatoes, helps regulate fluid balance and support the nervous system. However, diseased kidneys may not be able to remove enough potassium from the blood before it circulates, and too much of it can cause heart problems. Instead of potatoes, try roasting or mashing some cauliflower or turnips. Pineapple is a sweet alternative to bananas that also helps reduce inflammation.
  • Go lean on protein. Ailing kidneys also struggle with clearing out the waste from metabolized proteins, including meat. In addition to low-phosphate fish, eggs whites are an easy-to-metabolize protein (the yolks are high in phosphates). A skinless chicken breast contains less phosphorous and potassium than skin-on chicken. And tofu and shitake mushrooms are highly versatile savory meat substitutes.
  • Make manly salads. Nearly twice as many men as women are diagnosed with kidney cancer, which means the meals they eat should get extra attention. For those at risk, make salads with arugula or cabbage (rather than high-potassium spinach or kale) and load them with a rainbow of veggies – think carrots, radishes and vitamin C-rich red peppers.

A Good Diet Keeps Cancer Patients Strong, Too

A balanced diet benefits everyone, but especially those at higher risk of kidney cancer, including men and African Americans. For those diagnosed with kidney cancer, the right food choices could help maintain strength, prevent infections and support the regeneration of normal body tissues.

The key is staying as true to the diet as your two kidneys are to you. Kidney Cancer Awareness Month comes once a year, but the kidneys do their double duty every day.

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