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High-Salt Diets and the Risk of Kidney Disease


Any discussion of the risk of kidney disease being increased by a high-salt diet should explain what sodium is and the effect it has on the body. Sodium is among the most plentiful elements on our planet. Sodium chloride is the mineral compound we know as salt.

A person’s diet contains foods that have varying levels of salt or other forms of sodium. Table salt, sea salt and kosher salts are all forms of the compound that home cooks and gourmet chefs alike add to enhance the flavor of food. However, like most things in life, moderating your consumption of sodium is a practical thing to do. In fact, your physician or dietitian may recommend that you stick to a low-sodium diet if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), high blood pressure or heart problems. Such a diet limits your salt intake and reduces your consumption of sodium in other forms as well.

Sodium’s Effect on Your Body

Your body has three major electrolytes, including chloride, potassium and sodium. These electrolytes regulate the fluids entering and leaving your body’s cells and tissues. Sodium has the following effects on the body.

• It aids in transmitting the impulses for muscle movement and nerve function.
• It balances the acid to base pH balance in your blood and other fluids within your body.
• It regulates your blood volume and blood pressure.

The Effect of Sodium on Kidney Disease

Even though sodium is critical for regulating certain body functions, an excess of sodium can cause harm if you have kidney disease. That is because your kidneys cannot eliminate surplus fluid and sodium from your bodily systems. An excessive amount of sodium and fluid in your blood and tissues can cause your blood pressure to elevate, which will result in various levels of discomfort, depending on how much extra sodium and fluid you are retaining.

If your kidneys are already unhealthy, the last thing they need is to suffer further due to the complications of high blood pressure. More damage lessens kidney function, which increases the amount of waste and fluid that builds up in your body. There are also other complications that can arise from excessive amounts of sodium in your body, such as the following.

• Swelling in your face, hands and legs called edema
• Heart failure due to excess fluid in the bloodstream that makes your heart work harder and become weak and enlarged
• Difficulty breathing due to a build-up of fluids in the lungs

Renal Diets

If you have recently been diagnosed with CKD, your physician and dietician will keep a close eye on your blood pressure. If you are retaining fluids or have high blood pressure, it is likely that they will advise you to go on a renal diet with restricted sodium intake. If you have advanced renal problems, you may be forced to undergo regular dialysis treatments in addition to following a low-sodium diet. This type of diet will help avert blood pressure drops and cramping while you’re having dialysis. Your dietitian will recommend your daily sodium intake and explain how you can work this reduced sodium intake into your diet.

Substitutes for Salt

You should not switch to salt substitutes unless you consult with your dietitian. Some salt substitutes contain potassium, which you may not be permitted to consume on a renal diet if your potassium level is already over normal levels. Let your dietitian know if you have already begun taking a salt substitute.

Managing Your Sodium Intake

You should consult with your dietitian before you undergo any diet changes if you have CKD. You will be given advice on how much sodium is in your favorite foods and how you can regulate the amount of sodium you consume. Your dietitian will also recommend how to season your meals with less sodium and how much sodium you may include in your diet to be on the safe side. To help adjust to your new low-sodium diet, you should follow these tips.

• Beware of beverages that have sodium added to them.
• Take care when eating in restaurants. Ask for your condiments and seasonings on the side. Avoid cured meats and soups with cured meat.
• Start a food diary. Be as accurate as possible to achieve your goals.
• Reduce or eliminate processed, canned and frozen foods from your diet.
• Season your foods with fresh herbs and spices.
• Check the label on your food to see how much sodium it contains. Some foods have high amounts of sodium but do not taste salty.
• Tell your doctor if you gain or lose weight or if you notice swelling in your hands, legs or face.
• Stay away from fast foods that frequently contain high levels of sodium.
• Make your own meals, and freeze them for a later date.