Your Diet and Kidney Health

One in three Australians is at risk of developing kidney disease, yet most of us don’t do anything to prevent it. We explain how to make sure your kidneys last a lifetime.

Most of us don’t give our kidneys much thought, but we can’t survive without them. According to Kidney Health Australia, one in 10 Australians over the age of 18 have at least one clinical sign of chronic kidney disease, and this is on the increase. At the end of 2016, more than 12400 Australians were receiving dialysis and in January 2018 almost 1000 Australians were waiting for a kidney transplant.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to keep our kidneys functioning as they should.

The facts

  • You can lose up to 90 per cent of kidney function before you have any symptoms.
  • By the time you realise there’s something wrong, it may already be too late.
  • Once the kidneys are damaged, this usually cannot be reversed. But if detected early enough, the progress of kidney disease can often be slowed and sometimes even halted or reversed.
  • Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most common causes of kidney disease.

What is kidney disease?

The main role of our kidneys is to remove waste from the blood and return the cleaned blood back to the body. They do this via tiny filtering units, called nephrons. Each kidney contains about one million nephrons which filter and clean about 200 litres of blood every day. When blood passes through the nephrons, fluid and waste products are filtered, with the waste products concentrated in any extra fluid and removed from the body as urine.

When the kidneys are damaged, however, waste products can no longer be removed from the body so they build up and become toxic. Urea (produced when the body breaks down protein), creatinine (a waste product made by the muscles) and minerals including sodium, potassium and phosphate can all build to dangerous levels. The kidneys also become unable to remove excess fluid from the body, resulting in fluid retention.

Eating to protect your kidneys

Fruit and vegies. Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads – these are packed with important vitamins and minerals, are low in kilojoules, fat-free (apart from avocados) and contain little sodium. Research has shown that eating more fruits and vegetables can help to reduce blood pressure, which in turns reduces the workload on the kidneys.

Wholegrains. Choose wholegrain breads and cereals, particularly those with a low glycaemic index (GI). These are a good source of important vitamins and minerals to help keep blood pressure in check and are high in fibre, which can help to lower cholesterol. Low-GI foods also help manage blood glucose levels in those with diabetes, and can reduce the risk of diabetes in those who don’t have it.

Healthy fats. Limit saturated and trans fats – these are found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, biscuits, pies, pastries and many fast foods. Trans fats increase cholesterol levels in the blood and can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Instead, choose foods rich in healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil, which also have other health benefits.

Animal protein. Avoid excess protein, particularly from meat. Research has shown that a high intake of animal protein can accelerate the loss of kidney function in those with early kidney disease. Since most people have no symptoms in the early stages, this means that following a high-protein diet could be unknowingly damaging your kidneys. If you want to follow a high-protein diet, have your kidney function checked first. For those with early kidney disease, appropriate protein restriction may slow down the progression but should always be done under the supervision of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Plant protein. Swap some animal protein for plant protein such as legumes and soy foods including tofu, tempeh and soybeans. Research suggests that high intakes of animal protein increase the workload on the kidneys, while soy protein has a lesser effect. A number of studies of people with diabetes have found that diets in which animal protein is replaced with soy protein can reduce the progression of kidney disease.

Water. Drink water – but there’s no need to overdue it. According to Kidney Health Australia, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that most of us need to drink water in excess of our thirst, unless we are living in hot climates or exercising excessively. Instead, they recommend drinking water according to thirst, limiting drinks containing sugar, caffeine and alcohol which may cause or worsen health problems.

Reduce salt intake. Skip the salt shaker – salt increases blood pressure, and estimates suggest that high blood pressure causes around 15 per cent of new cases of chronic kidney disease. High blood pressure damages the blood vessels in the kidneys, which prevents the kidneys from doing their job of removing waste and extra fluid from the body. The extra fluid in the blood vessels can then raise blood pressure even further, becoming a vicious cycle. High blood pressure can also develop as a result of kidney disease or a narrowing of the main artery to one or both kidneys, called renal artery stenosis. Replace salt in your cooking with flavoursome herbs and spices and choose no-added salt or low-salt foods when shopping, particularly when it come to canned foods and sauces. As a rough guide, look for foods with less than 120mg sodium per 100g.

Keeping your kidneys healthy

  • Exercise regularly – regular activity can help with weight control and managing blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet based around plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, moderate amounts of lean protein foods and only small amounts of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink plenty of water and limit sugary drinks.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation – this means no more than two standard drinks per day for men and one for women, with a few alcohol-free days each week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are major risk factors for kidney disease.
  • Keep your blood pressure well controlled – this means a blood pressure reading below 120/80.
  • Maintain a normal cholesterol level – under 5.5mmol/L.
  • Keep blood glucose levels under control if you have diabetes.

How can I tell if I have kidney disease?

One of the problems with kidney disease is that there are often no symptoms in the early stages. However, some early signs are:

  • Changes to urine, such as the quantity passed, especially at night.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Foaming urine.
  • Puffy eyes and ankles due to fluid retention.
  • Back pain (under the lower ribs, where the kidneys are located).
  • Pain or burning when passing urine.

Once the kidneys begin to fail, the build-up of waste products and extra fluid in the blood can lead to:

  • Tiredness and poor concentration.
  • A general feeling of being unwell.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.

Consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms – early detection is key to managing kidney disease. For more information, see

This article has been updated from an article originally published by Australian Healthy Food Guide. The original article appears here.

10 Secrets of Successful Weight Loss

Are you sick of setting your New Year’s resolution to lose weight every time January 1st rolls around?

Do you start the year with good intentions, enthusiasm and the latest diet (there are plenty on offer!) but after the initial few kilos come off, motivation seems to wane, life gets busy and you find yourself back to your old habits, and your old weight, or even a few kilograms more?

If you want to break the dieting cycle, then forget the fads and work on building the habits that we know help not only with losing weight but also keeping it off for good.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) in the USA began in 1994, aimed at identifying and investigating the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers are tracking more than 10,000 Americans who have lost significant amounts of weight (ranging from 13 to 136kgs) and kept it off for at least a year. The average registry participant has lost 30kgs and kept it off for 5.5 years. One participant has maintained their weight loss for 66 years!

The participants in the NWCR are asked to complete questionnaires and annual follow-up surveys to examine the behavioral and psychological traits which have helped them to lose and maintain their weight loss.   Almost 40 research papers have now been published, describing the findings from this study.

According to the NWCR researchers, here are the habits that count:

Habit 1: Forget fads. It seems there’s a new diet out every week promising miraculous results but anyone who has tried these would know that, at least in the long term, they are not the answer. The majority of clients we see at NND who are seeking help to lose weight have tried many ‘diets’ and have usually lost weight but have been unable to keep this weight off.  Unfortunately there are no secrets to long-term weight loss. Those who lose weight and keep it off do so by eating less and moving more.

Habit 2: Get help. Losing weight isn’t easy so having support, both from professionals and from friends and family, is important. In the NWCR less than half lost weight on their own – the others got help from commercial programs, a doctor or a dietitian.

Habit 3: Move more. Exercise not only burns kilojoules but also helps to build muscle, which in turn increases your metabolism. It also has plenty of other health benefits.  In the NCWR successful losers reported an average of 60 minutes or more of activity at a brisk walking pace each day.

Habit 4: Combine diet and exercise. To lose weight you need to use up more energy than you take in each day.  It is much easier to do this by working on both sides of the equation rather than using diet or exercise alone.  The alternative is likely to be a very restrictive diet or hours of exercise each day.  Amongst NWCR participants, 98% modified their eating habits and 94% increased their activity levels.

Habit 5: Reduce fat and energy. Most successful NWCR participants ate a relatively low-fat, reduced-energy diet. The women were consuming around 5500 kilojoules and men around 7000 kilojoules, with about 25% of their energy from fat. While a low fat diet isn’t the only way to lose weight, gram-for-gram, fat provides more than double the energy of carbs and protein, so it is easier to add up the kilojoules quickly with high fat foods.

Habit 6: Be consistent. Most NCWR participants had a consistent eating pattern across the week and over the year, meaning that they didn’t let weekends and holidays get them off track. This doesn’t mean you can’t fit in treats and indulge a little on special occasions, but dieting strictly during the week and letting it all go on the weekends or holidays is unlikely to lead to success.

Habit 7: Track your progress. The majority (93%) of NWCR participants reported tracking their weight, diet or exercise. This included the use of calorie counter and weight monitoring apps.  The researchers also found that those who checked their weight more often were less likely to regain weight. This doesn’t mean being obsessive, but an increase in the numbers is a signal to get back on track well before you clothes start feeling tight.

Habit 8: Don’t skip breakfast. You might think skipping a meal will help you to lose weight but several studies have now shown that breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight than those who skip this meal.  In the NWCR, 78% of successful losers reported eating breakfast daily and only 4% reported never eating breakfast.

Habit 9: Limit screen time. There’s increasing evidence of the problems of sedentary behaviours, particularly television watching, when it comes to our health and our weight. Around two-thirds of NCWR participants watched less than 10 hours of television per week and more than one-third watched less than 5 hours per week.  Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that television watching is the most prevalent sedentary activity among Australian adults, averaging 13 hours per week,

Habit 10: Set a limit for regain. The NWCR participants tended to be better at dealing with regains. Successful losers still had lapses but seemed to be more vigilant than others at identifying them and making adjustments to get themselves back on track.  In those who did relapse, the ones who gained less weight were more likely to recover from their relapse and re-lose this weight.

Remember, successful long term weight loss isn’t about going on a diet, losing your weight, and going back to your old habits.  The only way to lose weight permanently is to build new eating and exercise habits you can stick to in the long term.

The good news?  According to the findings from the NWCR, it seems the longer you’ve kept your weight off, the easier it gets and less effort is needed to maintain your new weight.


Your Healthy 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Plan ahead for the festive season

This time of the year tends to get busy and it’s easy to let good habits slide.  Even if there’s plenty of festive eating over the next few weeks, you can still stay on track by making sure you are eating well the rest of the time and staying active.  Check out our tips for Surviving the Festive Feasting.

On the second day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Keep food safe!

Christmas is a time to get together with your family but it can also be a danger time for possible food poisoning.  Hot weather, an overloaded fridge and cooking for more people than we’re used to all add up to make perfect conditions for food poisoning bacteria.  Check out these tips on Christmas and holiday entertaining from the Food Safety Information Council to keep you and your guests safe.

On the third day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Give healthy gifts

A healthy cookbook or magazine subscription (such as Healthy Food Guide or Diabetic Living), gym memberships or exercise equipment, a healthy cooking class, massage vouchers, a collection of herbs and spices, veggie seeds or seedling….there are plenty of options.  Check out some of our favourite recommendations.

On the fourth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Eat mindfully

Eating out is a great time to enjoy the company of friends and family so don’t rush through your meal – relax and take your time to eat and enjoy your food, listen to your appetite, and be selective about what you choose.

On the fifth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Don’t overdo the Christmas Cheer!

The end of each year is a time when many people have one (or two) too many when it comes to alcohol.  So what can you do to still enjoy yourself without the negative effects of too much celebratory cheer?  Check out our seven tips to help avoid overindulging.

On the sixth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Go for sustainable seafood

If seafood is on your Christmas menu, then give some thought to choosing species which are not overfished or are farmed using sustainable and low environmental impact practices.  These include Australian wild-caught salmon, crabs, flathead and whiting and Australian farmed barramundi, oysters, prawns and crabs.  Download the free Sustainable Seafood Pocket Guide or app to help you when you shop, and help protect our oceans from overfishing.

On the seventh day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Keep active

Don’t let your exercise habits fall apart as you head into the festive season.  Keeping active can help to manage stress and to balance out the effect of those extra eating indulgences. Even if time is short, there are plenty of ways to incorporate more activity and it all adds up.  Catch up with friends for a walk rather than a coffee, organise a game of cricket or touch football with friends and family rather than sitting around after a big lunch, park further from the shops and take the stairs rather than the escalators when shopping, take an evening walk with the kids to see the neighbourhood Christmas lights or put on your favourite music and get a good workout cleaning the house in preparation for visitors.

On the eighth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Beware of nibbles!

It’s often not the main meals that are our undoing at this time of the year, but all the extra snacking that comes along with festive celebrations.  Many snack foods are high in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugars so serve up some healthier options or offer to take them to a party or gathering.  Some good options include unsalted nuts, roasted chickpeas, vegetable or legume-based dips with vegetable crudites, fresh fruit platters and berries.

On the ninth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Reduce food waste

While we all enjoy sharing a meal with friends and family over the festive season, food waste is particularly rife at this time of year.  Planet Ark’s 12 Do’s of Christmas campaign includes tips for reducing food waste and excess packaging, buying green gifts and recycling.

On the tenth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Make a healthier version

Enjoying the festive fare doesn’t have to mean undoing all your good habits built throughout the year. There are plenty of nutritious tasty options available and many recipes can easily be modified to make them healthier.   Check out the recipes we have hand-picked in this Christmas book or visit our Christmas recipe collection on our new Pinterest page.

On the eleventh of Christmas my dietitian said to me….

Manage stress

Stress isn’t good for our health or our weight so remember to schedule in some relaxation time amongst all the business of Christmas and enjoy the opportunity to catch up with friends and family!  If the stress of the festive season is getting to you, check out this article from Health Direct for Beating Christmas Stress and Anxiety.

And on the twelfth day of Christmas my dietitian said to me…..

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Pin It on Pinterest