Shana Tatum RD, LD

By Shana Tatum RD, LD

We continue touring the body and sharing nutrition tips as we go. This month we look at the urinary system: the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.

It has three major functions in the body: 1.) removal of waste products from fluids; 2.) elimination of the wastes into the environment; and 3.) regulation of volume and concentration of proteins and minerals in the blood.

Did you know the urinary system plays a role in maintaining blood pressure and assisting the liver in detoxification as well as helping to conserve valuable nutrients? We have a lot to thank our urinary system for, so let’s keep it healthy.

Starting with the kidneys, a focus on the amazing network of vessels can help us better understand the complexity and need for a good diet to support this system. Maintaining a diet low in sugar keeps these vessels and micro vessels working optimally. A high-sugar diet over time can lead to damage to the wall of the vessels and create a narrowing. This leads to a change in the ability to filter needed proteins and minerals.

Many patients with uncontrolled blood sugar and diabetes have chronic kidney disease. If end-stage kidney disease is present, then a change in diet with regard to the amount of protein consumed should be addressed. The average protein intake for healthy adults is 0.6-0.8 gram protein per kilogram of body weight.

For the bladder, it can be helpful to avoid the following if you experience chronic bladder infections or an overactive bladder:

  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Overly spicy foods

Be sure to include plenty of water to keep hydrated and to help with the process of elimination. Aim to drink half your weight in ounces each day. For a 150-pound female, that would be 75 ounces of water each day. Also, include adequate fiber in the form of leafy greens, oats, beans, lentils, berries and nuts and seeds. The average American only consumes about 12-14 grams of the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber daily. While this does not directly affect bladder health, constipation may. With added pressure on the bladder from the intestines, constipation may cause frequent urination.

Some patients that complain of frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) or interstitial cystitis may actually have too many oxalates in the diet. Oxalic acid can form a crystal-like compound and over time may cause tissue irritation. Oxalates are in many plant foods that we eat and that are good for us. Foods like spinach, bran flakes, beets and beet greens, potatoes, nuts and seeds.

Calcium-rich foods may help to usher out these oxalates by binding to them. Milk, cheese, yogurt and kefir are examples of foods high in calcium. No need to limit high-oxalate foods unless you suspect a problem and are exhibiting symptoms. Speak with your healthcare provider to learn more.

Certain classes of flavonoids that act as antioxidants have shown to be of benefit in urinary health as demonstrated by Avorn, Monan and Gurwitz. Examples include cranberry, blueberry and lingonberry. Limited evidence shows probiotics to also be of benefit to urinary health. Lactobacilli in particular have demonstrated a reduced risk of UTI in women, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Many probiotic strains can be purchased over the counter. Or better yet, make your own cultured or fermented foods. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are all examples of probiotic foods. Benefits of eating your probiotics go well beyond urinary health.

Foods high in Vitamin C have also exhibited antioxidant power for good urinary health. It acts to help maintain a good pH level as well. Examples of foods high in Vitamin C include red, yellow and orange bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and citrus. High-dose Vitamin C in the form of supplements may contribute to kidney stones in some populations. Try to get your daily dose from food first.

Eating healthy for our kidneys, ureters and bladder have numerous benefits. These organs work hard to keep us balanced and healthy each day. Eating a low-sugar diet, balanced protein, one full of Vitamin C and fermented foods will give a boost to your urinary system.

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