The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. Your kidneys have several important jobs, and well-functioning kidneys are essential to your overall health.
Healthy kidneys help maintain a balance of water, salt, and minerals in your body and work to filter blood, removing waste and extra fluid to make urine. Your kidneys also produce hormones that help regulate your blood pressure. Coincidentally, blood pressure also affects kidney health.
This article discusses the surprising connection between your kidneys and blood pressure, as well as strategies to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Basics
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls as your heart pumps blood. There are two numbers in a blood pressure reading. The first number is called systolic pressure. Systolic pressure represents the pressure your blood puts on your blood vessels when your heart beats. Diastolic pressure is the second number in your blood pressure reading. This number represents the amount of pressure on your arteries between heartbeats. According to the American Heart Association, less than 120/80 mmHg is considered a healthy blood pressure.
Your Kidneys and Blood Pressure
High blood pressure takes its toll on the body over time – it can narrow and weaken blood vessels throughout your body, including in the kidneys. Damaged blood vessels make it difficult for blood to flow properly throughout the body, and can affect how well your kidneys work. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health consequences.
The good news: your lifestyle can make a big impact on your heart and kidney health.
5 Diet Tips to Support Heart and Kidney Health
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan is well-known for its blood pressure lowering benefits, and has also been shown to reduce the risk of other chronic conditions.
A Mediterranean-style diet has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Several studies have found that sticking to a Mediterranean style of eating may support heart health, promote brain health in older adults, and decrease the risk of certain chronic diseases.
The DASH and Mediterranean plans are quite similar. They both focus on plant-based whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts, combined with lean meats, fish, poultry, and heart-healthy fats. It’s no wonder that U.S. News and World Report chose Mediterranean and DASH as the best two overall diet plans for 2021, and there is now a plan called the DASH Diet Mediterranean Solution that combines the best of both worlds.
Check out these DASH- and Mediterranean-inspired nutrition tips to find out how you can support heart health and kidney health.
1. Focus on vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are the foundation of any healthy diet. They are rich in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and have numerous health benefits. Studies have linked diets high in vegetables and fruits to a decreased risk of some cancers, heart disease, stroke, and other diseases. One nutrient that may be particularly beneficial to support a healthy blood pressure is potassium. Potassium-rich foods include dried fruits, potatoes, beans, and avocado.
Aim to include vegetables and fruit at each meal. For example, add spinach or sliced tomatoes to eggs, have fruit with your whole-grain cereal or yogurt, or top your sandwiches with sliced vegetables.
2. Include heart-healthy fats
Focus on choosing the right types of fat, rather than the total amount of fat. The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated (think olive oil and avocados) and polyunsaturated (think salmon or other fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds) fats. Include a source of heart-healthy fats in each meal. For example:
- Slice half of an avocado on whole grain toast for breakfast.
- Have a handful of nuts, seeds, or a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple for a snack.
- Eat fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, or albacore tuna at least twice a week.
- Add a side of vegetables sautéed or roasted with olive oil, garlic, and other herbs and spices.
3. Choose whole grains
Whole grains, as the name indicates, contain all three parts of the grain – the germ, bran, and endosperm. Refined grains such as white rice, bread, and pasta, include only the endosperm. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are rich in fiber and other nutrients and have been shown to support a healthy blood pressure. Diets rich in whole grains may also contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Examples of whole grains include quinoa, oats, barley, brown rice, and whole wheat, or other whole grain bread, cereal, and pasta.
4. Go easy on sodium (salt)
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but the average American takes in more than 3,400 mg on a daily basis. High intake of sodium over time can contribute to high blood pressure, so staying within your sodium budget can help keep your heart and kidneys healthy.
Focus on a diet rich in whole foods (like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains) – these foods are high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, key minerals that help control blood pressure. Salt-free seasonings can add flavor to your foods while keeping your salt intake in check, but keep in mind that most of the salt in your diet is already in the foods you’re eating. Limit highly processed or pre-packaged foods to reduce sodium intake and support a healthy blood pressure. When choosing packaged foods such as nuts, look for unsalted or reduced salt options.
5. Limit sugar-sweetened foods and drinks
Recent studies have shown that diets high in added sugars may contribute to high blood pressure, and it seems that sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda are one of the main culprits. One study found that lowering sugary drinks by just one serving a day helped support healthy blood pressure levels.
To lower your intake of added sugars, pass on soda and other sugary drinks, and limit cakes, cookies, or other sweets to special occasions. Pay attention to nutrition labels on packaged foods, many of which now list added sugars.
Add more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats to your diet and reduce processed foods that are high in salt and sugar. These dietary practices will help support a healthy blood pressure and keep your kidneys in tip-top shape. Combine these nutrition tips with daily physical activity and stress management techniques for best results.
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