In some cases, a kidney stone diet may be enough to prevent stones from occurring and giving you kidney stone pain. While it is not complicated, it may take some dedication.
If you have ever had a kidney stone before, I am sure you remember the pain. According to the National Kidney Foundation 1 in 10 people will develop kidney stones in their lifetime. For most people, kidney stones are not a one-time occurrence and another will appear within seven years – without preventive measures.
Kidney stones form when certain chemicals become concentrated in the urine-forming crystals. Those crystals turn into stones that can make their way through the urinary tract. If they get stuck along the way they can block the flow of urine and cause unique kidney stone pain.
The good news is that there are multiple natural ways to prevent kidney stones from occurring. In some cases, dietary changes may be enough to prevent stones from occurring again. But in other cases, additional medication or surgery may be needed.
If you have passed a stone before, it is helpful to get it tested to learn what type of stones you have and what prevention tips may work best for you.
Below are the seven most common kidney stone diet tips to stay stone free.
Staying hydrated helps prevent kidney stones
The number one natural way to prevent kidney stones is to drink more water. If you are not hydrated, you will not produce enough urine. This can increase the chances of kidney stones because low urine output means the urine is concentrated and less likely to dissolve urine salts that cause kidney stone.
I recommend that you drink around eight glasses of water each day. If you sweat a lot, exercise or have a history of stones, you may benefit from additional fluids.
A good way to tell if you are drinking enough water is to look at the color of your urine.
Orange juice and lemonade are also good options to drink because they contain citrate, which prevents stones from forming.
Get enough calcium from a balanced diet
By increasing the amount of calcium-rich foods you eat, you may reduce your chance of the most common type of kidney stone, a calcium-oxalate stone. Good calcium-rich options include low-fat cheese, low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt.
If you already have an adequate calcium intake, this may not be helpful to reduce your chances of stones. The amount of calcium you need depends on your age and gender. Check with your primary care provider or urologist on what is right for you. Also, make sure you have vitamin D in your diet to help the body absorb the calcium.
While you may think it would be helpful, taking calcium supplements does the opposite and may increase the risk. If you need to take supplements, be sure to take them with a meal to try to reduce that increased possibility of stones.
Limit oxalate-rich foods
Oxalate is a natural compound found in food that binds with calcium in the urine and can lead to kidney stones forming. By limiting these types of foods, you can help prevent kidney stones from forming.
Oxalate and calcium bind together in the digestive tract before reaching the kidneys. If you would like to eat foods that contain oxalate or the mineral calcium, it is best to consume them at different times.
Foods to reduce or stay away from that are high in oxalates include:
- Sweet potatoes.
- Wheat bran.
- Soy products.
Reduce sodium intake
Sodium is a natural mineral found in some foods and also makes up 40% of table salt, with chloride making up 60%. We get most of our sodium from table salt. A person with a history of kidney stones should consume less sodium/salt, because the salt in urine does not allow the calcium to be reabsorbed into the blood. This can lead to urine with high levels of calcium, which may lead to stones.
For someone whose sodium consumption has contributed to their stones in the past, I recommend reducing your sodium intake to 1,500 mg each day (one teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 mg of sodium).
When trying to have a low-sodium diet, it’s important to read food labels. Foods that you should stay away from include:
- Canned soups.
- Canned vegetables.
- Chips, crackers, pretzels and other processed foods.
- Lunch meat.
- Hotdogs, bratwurst and sausages.
- Pickles and olives.
- Foods that contain monosodium glutamate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium nitrate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good guide on how to reduce sodium.
Eat less animal protein
Animal protein can be high in acidity and lead to increased urine acid. This can lead to both calcium-oxalate and uric-acid kidney stones.
Foods you should aim to limit or avoid are:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
I recommend that all people who form kidney stones should have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This will help by providing fiber, potassium, magnesium, phytate, antioxidants and citrate, all of which can help keep stones from forming.
If you are worried about knowing how to eat the right amounts of fruits and vegetables, talk to your doctor about what will be best for you.
Don’t take vitamin C supplements
Vitamin C supplements, also known as ascorbic acid, have been linked to kidney stones especially in men. A 2013 study out of Sweden followed men for 11 years and found that those who took higher doses of vitamin C supplements doubled their risk of kidney stones.
Foods that are high in vitamin C do not seem to carry the same risk.
What to do when a kidney stones diet doesn’t work
Dietary choices may not be enough to stop kidney stones from forming for all people. If you have recurrent stones, we recommended you talk to your urologist about what role medication can play to prevent them in the future.
Each type of kidney stone has a different type of medication that can help reduce the amount of that material present in the urine causing the stone.
For example if you get calcium stones, a urologist may prescribe phosphate or thiazide diuretic. A person who gets uric acid stones may benefit from allopurinol (Zyloprim) to reduce the acid in the blood or urine. Those with struvite stones may be prescribed a long-term antibiotic to reduce the bacteria in the urine. Lastly, a doctor treating someone with cysteine stones may prescribe capoten (Captopril) to reduce the level of cysteine in the urine.
Some prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you are taking could lead to kidney stones. Those include:
- Protease inhibitors.
- Chemotherapy drugs.
- Uricosuric drugs.
If you are taking any of the medications listed above, you should talk to your doctor about alternatives. Do not stop any medically prescribed medications without discussing it with your doctor first.
I do not recommend my patients use herbal remedies that are not well-researched or well-regulated for the prevention and treatment of kidney stones. It is best to head to a doctor to discuss your options.
Stones still forming
Even with medication and a proper diet a person may still get kidney stones. People may be able to pass smaller stones on their own. For other cases, medication such as tamsulosin (Flomax) may be prescribed to relax the ureter, making it easier to pass the stone. For large or painful stones, surgery may be needed to remove the stone from the ureter or kidney.
At Urology Associates we go over with each patient the risks of surgery and find the best option for those who need to have a stone surgically removed.