March is National Kidney Month. The kidneys are the organs in the body that are responsible for cleaning the blood and maintaining the blood’s chemical balance. They are also in charge of filtering urine and removing wastes from the body. When the kidneys become damaged by disease or another condition that affects their ability to function, they can cause pain. In addition to taking National Kidney Month to spread awareness and educate people on the importance of kidney health, today we are looking at the ways in which food can be used to help prevent and manage kidney pain.

Causes of kidney pain

The first step to healing with food is to understand what causes kidney pain. National Kidney Month allows us a time to discuss this. Chronic kidney disease generally has no symptoms in the early stages, but as the condition progresses it can be accompanied by kidney pain. There are many diseases or conditions that can cause kidney pain.

They include:

  • Kidney infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Malformations in the renal system that can block urine

It is important to note that chronic drug and alcohol abuse are highly damaging to the kidneys as well.

High blood pressure and diabetes are the top two causes of kidney failure, but kidney stones and urinary tract infections are the most common cause of kidney pain. Kidney pain can be different for each person, but in general there are four main types of pain.

  • Sharp, constant, and acute (also called renal colic): Usually caused by kidney stones or blockage in the urinary tract
  • Dull and chronic: Trademark pain of high blood pressure, diabetes, and polycystic kidney disease
  • Dull and chronic with episodes of sharp pain: Can be present in any of the kidney diseases that causes pain that is sharp and episodic
  • Flank pain: Felt in the region of the kidneys, this may or may not be related to kidney diseases, as there are many organs in this area of the body

This treatment for kidney pain varies tremendously based on the underlying cause of the pain. The best way to treat kidney pain is to use what foods you can to prevent the diseases and conditions that cause it. National Kidney Month is a great time to jump start changes in your diet. Kidney-friendly foods include the following.

Antioxidant-rich foods

The kidneys benefit tremendously from foods that contain high levels of antioxidants, the blood-cleaning nutrients found in many deep red, bright orange, and deep purple fruits. The best news is that they retain their antioxidants no matter how they are prepared, so feel free to incorporate them into your diet in as many ways as possible. Try these foods during National Kidney Month:

  • Cherries: Try a handful of cherries daily as a snack to reduce inflammation and protect your heart. Or mix it up and try pickling fresh cherries to add to sandwiches (or eat straight from the jar!!).
  • Blueberries: Add blueberries to your oatmeal in the morning or bake into muffins for extra vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.
  • Strawberries: Fresh with some whipped cream or added to a smoothie, strawberries are not only anti-inflammatory, but they also have two different types of antioxidants and are a cancer-fighting fruit.
  • Cranberries: Think of cranberries as a year-round, delicious addition to morning breakfast breads or lunchtime turkey sandwiches.

Spices instead of salt

Too much salt can be taxing to the kidneys, and a low-sodium diet is best for those suffering from kidney pain. This does not mean that food has to be without flavor. Garlic adds a ton of flavor with zero sodium. Try roasting garlic for a nutty, smooth spread for whole grain toast or crackers or to add to pasta.

To roast an entire head of garlic until it is sweet and creamy, use a muffin tin to keep the whole bulb of garlic upright. Preheat your oven to 400˚. Peel the papery outer skin off the garlic, and then cut off the top ½ inch of the whole bulb (you will see into the end of each garlic glove). Place whole head of garlic in the muffin tin (you can prepare several of these at a time), and rub with a teaspoon or two of olive oil (also great for kidney health!). Cover with aluminum foil and roast for about 30-35 minutes until the cloves are brown and spreadable. Other antioxidant spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and oregano pack in so much flavor you won’t miss the salt.

Plenty of onions

Onions contain flavinoids called quercetin that help clear fatty deposits out of the blood. Pickled or sprinkled raw on salads or sandwiches, onions are another great way to add flavor to meals and help maintain kidney health. They can also be included in a kidney-cleansing cabbage slaw for a quick and tasty side dish.


Proper hydration is essential for kidney function. Make sure you stay properly hydrated by drinking plenty of clear fluids throughout the day. This includes water but can also include some juice (try cranberry or tart cherry for added benefit) and tea (hot or iced). Soda and coffee can be dehydrating, so they should not be included in your daily tally. To add water easily to your day, wake up each morning and start your day with eight ounces of water before anything else. This will jump start your body and replace fluids lost overnight.

Give your kidneys a fighting chance starting with National Kidney Month by managing your diet for optimal kidney health. For more dietary guidelines and suggestions for managing kidney pain with diet, visit the National Institute of Health’s kidney diet page.

Image by Hey Paul Studios via Flickr


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