By Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN
You hear time and again that plants like beans, fruits, vegetables and nuts are good for you because of all the fiber and vitamins they contain. But did you know that they can also be healthy sources of protein? They can also protect kidneys from too much acid. A recent study shows that eating more protein-rich plant foods could help improve the health of people with kidney disease.
Kidneys are filters for our bodies. When toxins enter our body, the kidney filters them out through urine so that we do not get sick. When someone has kidney disease, their kidneys do not filter as well as they should. This means that the toxins that enter their bodies may stay in their blood and cause health problems such as:
- heart disease
- anemia, or a low red blood count, that may make you feel very tired
- high blood pressure
- weak bones
- nerve damage
You may be at risk for kidney disease if you:
- have diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have family members that have kidney disease
- are an older adult
Reports show that heart disease is the number one cause of death in those with long-term kidney disease, so it is very important for these people to eat a heart-healthy diet
Vegetable proteins and kidney disease
A recent study followed 1,100 people with chronic kidney disease. The study looked at the diet and health issues. Those who ate more protein from plants, such as beans and nuts, had fewer health problems and lived longer. For every 10 grams of vegetable protein a person ate, they had a lower risk of death.
These findings are similar to those from a 2012 study that looked at eating vegetables and acid levels in the blood. Too much acid in your blood can damage your kidneys. This study found that:
- when people with long-term kidney disease ate more fruits and veggies such as apples, raisins, potatoes, and spinach instead of meat, the acid in their blood decreased
- animal proteins (chicken, beef) raise acid levels in the blood while protein-rich plant foods (beans, nuts, veggies) lower acid levels in the blood
- kidneys were less likely to be damaged with low acid blood levels because they did not have to work as hard to remove large amounts of acid from the body
- less kidney damage lowers the need for dialysis treatment
So what does this research mean for me?
Even if you do not have kidney disease, this study shows that eating more protein-rich plant foods can help your body to stay healthy from the inside out. It might be helpful to eat less chicken or beef, and eat more beans, nuts, and veggies, at least one day a week.
To add plant-based protein to your diet, you can:
- top your salad with pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, or sliced almonds instead of meat
- replace beef or chicken in tacos or burritos with ½ cup of black beans
- replace breakfast meat with a cup of yogurt or cup of oatmeal topped with diced nuts
- sprinkle chia seeds on pizza for flavor instead of beef sausage or pepperoni
- top pasta with protein-rich peas and low-fat cheese instead of meat sauce
- add beans and quinoa, a type of grain-like seed, to chili or soup instead of meat for a protein-packed meal
- combine tofu, beans, and spices to make homemade veggie burgers
Reviewed by Fran Daniel, MPH