I recently had a person say to me “I have struggled with kidney stones my whole life.” Which I often translate as “I’ve never been big on drinking water and I don’t eat super healthy.”
Here’s the thing: it seems that the people that I’ve encountered who struggle with kidney stones often are searching for some kind of medical etiology. Although some people may very well have a genetic predisposition to be stone-formers, many (most?) are simply victims of inadequate hydration and improper nutrition habits. And, some aren’t THAT far off the grid of good nutrition; they just might be combing a slight genetic component with a tendency to “miss it” just a little bit with nutrition.
Here are some myths versus facts to help clear the sand (see what I did there) regarding kidney stones:
“I should increase my intake of fruit juices and lemonade to help prevent future kidney stones.”
Although citric-acid-containing foods and beverages can help prevent future stones from forming, obtaining citric acid from gallons of sugary beverages (yes, including large amounts of fruit juice) will create more harm than good. You may prevent stones but now you’re at risk for weight gain, increased blood sugars, increased triglycerides, and so on. A simple, healthier way to increase citric acid intake is through consuming lemon water (not to be confused with sugary lemonade!) and/or by consuming whole fruit like oranges and berries.
“I have to avoid oxalate-containing foods, like spinach, because I struggle with kidney stones.”
While there is a condition called hyperoxaluria, which entails dangerous levels of oxalate accumulating in the bloodstream, it is relatively rare. Most people who suffer from kidney stones do so because of other factors; their issue not so much related to oxalate intake as much as it is related to those other factors (keep on reading). Avoiding oxalate-rich foods is not usually necessary for prevention of kidney stones.
“Drinking Coca Cola, and lots of it, will dissolve my kidney stones.”
What the…? No. No, no, no. But seriously, this is something I have actually heard people try to claim. The reality is that it might relieve some pain and help pass stones because drinking gallons of any fluid will increase urine output. However, the risks of excessive sugary beverage consumption, especially cola, far outweigh any benefit to the stone-former.
“Decreasing calcium intake is necessary for prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones.”
WRONG. In fact, the opposite is true. Ensuring adequate calcium intake is critical for the prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones. Calcium can bind to oxalate in the gut, reducing how much free oxalate is absorbed and transported to the kidneys.
Some evidence-based advice for kidney stone prevention:
- Increase your water intake to AT LEAST 60-80 oz daily unless you have a medical need for a fluid restriction. Individual water needs vary.
- Limit animal protein to 6 oz or less per day (yep, you read that correctly) and try to obtain protein from omega-3-rich fish and/or whole food, plant-based protein sources. Also, do not exceed your recommended intake of protein. Individual protein needs vary; consult a registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Limit your sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day to the best of your ability. Your sodium intake comes from more than just the shaker – read labels.
- Consume adequate calcium from foods. If you need to take calcium supplements to achieve proper intake, use extreme caution and talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist first!
- Drink more water. Did I already say that? Yep I did…I know you think you drink “enough” water, but…
- Include a little lemon water and/or a couple whole fruit servings daily.