Our kidneys perform critical bodily functions such as filtering blood to remove toxins and excess fluids. While very important to our overall health, our bean-shaped organs don’t always get the same health attention as other organs, such as the heart or lungs.
And that’s a mistake. Not only do your kidneys keep your blood clean, they maintain your levels of potassium, sodium and other essential minerals for health. Your kidneys also create hormones that regulate important health factors like blood pressure and bone strength.
Long story short: Your kidneys do a lot.
Your kidneys do so much, in fact, that they can get overtaxed. Roughly 1 in 7 American adults has chronic kidney disease, which can cause waste and fluid buildup in your body. Worse yet, most people with CKD don’t know they have it.
Poor eating habits heighten your risk for CKD. But when you eat the best foods for your kidneys, the reverse can be true. Since certain foods are good for kidneys, what you eat can help to protect your kidney health.
13 best foods for healthy kidneys
These are our top picks for foods to add to your diet for optimal kidney health.
1. Fatty fish
Fish delivers protein, and when you choose a fatty fish like tuna, salmon or trout, you’re also getting omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats may help reduce fat levels (triglycerides) in the blood and may also lower blood pressure, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
If you have CKD, you may need to keep an eye on the phosphorus and potassium levels of the fish you choose. The National Kidney Foundation has a chart you can use to determine levels in specific types of fish. Although, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
This nutrient-dense vegetable is low in both potassium and sodium while packing in fiber, vitamins C and K and more.
Plus, cabbage is versatile. You can use it in salads and slaws, but you can also use it as a wrap for tacos, sandwiches and more.
3. Bell peppers
Like cabbage, bell peppers pack in lots of good nutrients with low levels of potassium. With them, you get vitamins B6, B9, C and K, plus fiber. And they deliver antioxidants, too.
You can slice them and eat them with dips or roast them up and add them to dinner.
Read more: 8 Things Your Body Is Telling You About Your Vitamin Intake
Cranberries help to prevent urinary tract infections. While these usually stay in your bladder, they can travel up to your kidney, making kidney problems worse. Fortunately, regularly consuming cranberries can help you avoid this unwelcome situation.
Plus, cranberries have antioxidants that can help to fight inflammation, and they can boost your heart and digestive health. It turns out, these tart berries aren’t just for the Thanksgiving table.
With high levels of antioxidants and loads of vitamin C and fiber, blueberries are all-around healthy. They can also help to reduce inflammation and support bone health, reversing some of the issues that can come with CKD.
6. Dark, leafy greens
There are plenty of reasons to turn to dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale. They deliver so many nutrients that they can help you get key vitamins and minerals, plus immunity-boosting benefits.
Be advised, though, that greens can come with a decent amount of potassium. If you have CKD, talk to your doctor before adding more of these to your diet.
7. Olive oil
Rich in antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, olive oil can boost your overall wellness. A study from Harvard University found that olive oil may lower cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and some types of cancer.
Beyond all this, it can help you add flavor to dishes without turning to salt or butter.
To get more antioxidants, choose unrefined or cold-pressed olive oil that’s virgin or extra virgin.
Another antioxidant-rich, inflammation-fighting food, garlic also contains a specific compound called allicin. For people with CKD, allicin — an active compound found in garlic — worked just as effectively to help protect kidney health as a prescription drug. If you’re looking for the best foods for your kidneys, garlic has to make the list.
Plus, it’s an excellent way to add flavor even when you’re skimping on salt.
From the same family as garlic, onions give you another excellent and salt-free way to add flavor (bonus points if you saute them in olive oil). Onions also deliver important nutrients like vitamins B6 and C, manganese and copper.
They also contain quercetin, a chemical that can help your body fight cancer, and organic sulfur compounds that can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
Cauliflower brings the crunch, paired with plenty of vitamins C, B6, B9 and K, along with fiber. It also contains compounds your body can use to neutralize certain toxins — a big help when your kidneys aren’t doing their best filtration work.
Cauliflower does contain some potassium and phosphorus, though, so while it makes the list of foods good for kidneys, people with CKD may want to moderate their intake.
11. Egg whites
Egg whites are specifically recommended for people with kidney problems. They give you a way to increase your protein levels — which can be important with later-stage CKD, especially if you’re on dialysis.
Arugula is packed with nutrients your body needs like magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamins A, B9, C and K. Plus, it’s antioxidant-rich and has glucosinolates, which can help your body protect itself against a range of cancer types.
You can eat arugula raw (it’s a great salad base), but you can also sprinkle it over whatever you’re whipping up. It’s great on pizzas, in omelets and with pasta, for example.
Apples deliver the cancer-fighting quercetin and fiber that can help to keep your cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels. And they’ve got plenty of antioxidants.
Better yet, they’re easy to work into your diet. Leave a bowl of apples on your counter and you’ll have a kidney-healthy grab-and-go snack whenever you need one.