How Can I Help Prevent Kidney Stones?
by Richie Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT
Last Updated: July 8, 2021
It’s been said that passing a kidney stone is one of the most painful experiences a human can have. Once you have a kidney stone, there’s a high chance of getting another one. The late Greek Doctor Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “Let thy food be thy medicine.” Let’s look at how we can eat to promote good health and put ourselves in the best shape to prevent kidney stones.
Types of Kidney Stones and Occurrence Rates
According to one analysis, the occurrence of kidney stones has doubled since the 1990s. In a survey of over 12,000 participants, nearly 20% of men and 9% of women age 70 or older reported a history of kidney stones. It was most common for white and Hispanic individuals to experience kidney stones. Calcium oxalate stones were the most common ranging from 70-80% of all cases, followed by calcium phosphate at 15% and uric acid stones at 8%.
Overall Diet and Kidney Stone Risk
Studies have shown an increase in serum and urine uric acid levels after consuming a diet higher in animal protein, with beef increasing higher levels of calcium oxalate compared to fish and chicken. This is not to say that animal protein should be avoided, as animal protein can still be part of a healthy diet as recommended in the USDA’s MyPlate Plan.
Another study suggested five ways to help lower the risk of experiencing kidney stones:
- Maintaining a good BMI
- Drinking an adequate amount of fluid
- Avoiding excessive sugar-sweetened beverages
- Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products
- Consuming an adequate amount of calcium
Drinking adequate water ensures that the urinary system will have enough fluid to dilute the substances that can lead to kidney stones. For adults over the age of 19, The National Academy of Sciences recommends consuming 3.7L/day or approximately 120oz of total water from food and drinks for men and 2.7L, or 95oz, for women. About 80% of the recommended intake tends to come from fluids (drinks or beverages), or about 3 L/day for men and 2.2 L/day for women, with the remainder of water intake coming from the water found in food. Your individual fluid needs may vary based on your age, gender, weight, activity level, environment where you live, and altitude.
Vitamin C Supplementation
While vitamins and minerals are important to optimal health, excess amounts can often lead to problems as byproducts from their breakdown can build up in our bodies. Studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation of 1000mg or more a day can lead to excessive oxalate in the urine. As we just learned, excess oxalates in the body can promote kidney stones. We encourage getting vitamin C from your food because food-based vitamin C usually comes in amounts that the body can handle. Further, vitamin C found in food comes in a complex form optimal for absorption and usage by the body. Some great food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
Other Dietary Considerations:
Low citrate levels have long been known to be a risk factor for developing kidney stones. While berries and citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and clementines contain citrates, limes and lemons have the highest citrate concentration. Apple cider vinegar is also high in citrate and can be used in salad dressings and other dishes. If you’re using apple cider vinegar by itself, make sure to dilute it with water. It’s potent and can irritate the throat if not diluted.
As outlined above, the low sodium DASH diet can help prevent stone formation. Instead of using salt to season, try adding flavor to your meals with low sodium options like vinegar, citrus, fresh herbs, and flavorful, fresh fruit like kiwis or pineapple.
A diet low in oxalate-rich foods may be recommended for those with a kidney stone because calcium oxalate stones are the most prevalent kidney stone composition in the US.
If you have a history of kidney stones, be sure to speak with your medical provider and registered dietitian to determine the best diet for you. For those without a kidney stone or a history of stones, the benefits of whole foods high in oxalates far outweigh any increased risk for stones. Following a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and maintaining a healthy weight will help you avoid stones while supporting your overall health. For more information about personalized nutrition, book a telenutrition appointment with a Kroger Health dietitian today.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.