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Can You Improve GFR With Diet?

author image Stacey Phillips
Stacey Phillips is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer. She has had articles and patient information handouts published in the "Renal Nutrition Forum" and the "Journal of Renal Nutrition." She holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and a Masters degree at Central Michigan University.
Can You Improve GFR With Diet?
A woman and her son are preparing a fresh, home-cooked meal. Photo Credit MIXA next/MIXA/Getty Images

GFR, or the glomerular filtration rate, is a blood test that measures how well your kidneys remove waste products from your body. A GFR level below 60 is indicative of kidney disease, while a value of 15 or less signifies kidney failure. While chronic kidney disease is irreversible and GFR cannot be improved, certain dietary changes can prevent further kidney damage. Meet with your doctor and registered dietitian to individualize a diet specifically for you.

Limit Sodium Intake

Limit salt in your diet to promote kidney function, help maintain your current GFR and a healthy blood pressure. Individual sodium restrictions will depend on your GFR lab value. Aim for a daily average intake of 2,000 to 3,000 or less milligrams of sodium. Try to eat fresh instead of processed foods to limit sodium intake. When going out to eat, request sauces and seasonings be served on the side to avoid hidden, added sodium. Identify sodium content in packaged foods by reading labels. Cook with herbs and pepper in place of salt. Also, avoid salt substitutes, which have potassium chloride in place of sodium chloride, if you have been told to limit dietary potassium.

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Manage Blood Sugars

If you are diabetic, managing your blood sugar can help you maintain a stable GFR level. In a 2012 "Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology" article, a quicker GFR decline was seen in individuals with a diabetic history requiring insulin and those with a hemoglobin A1c greater than or equal to 7 percent. A dietitian can help you determine calorie and carbohydrate goals on your diabetic diet. Milk, starches, fruit, starchy and nonstarchy vegetables, along with certain beverages and desserts, all have carbohydrates. Blood sugars can be managed by controlling portions of these foods and eating them at consistent meal and snack times.

Limit Protein Intake

Limiting your dietary protein intake may help to maintain a stable GFR. Your stage of kidney disease will determine the appropriate amount of protein for your diet. In Stages 1 through 3 of chronic kidney disease, it has been found that restricting your protein intake to 0.75 gram per kilogram of body weight may slow GFR decline. For a 150-pound individual, that would be 51 grams of protein per day. Too much protein intake causes an accumulation of waste products that unhealthy kidneys are not able to filter from the body. Foods high in protein are meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and soy products. Consult with your doctor or dietitian to determine the right amount of protein for you.

Other Tips for Healthy Kidneys

Choose a balance of healthy foods for optimal kidney health. As your GFR worsens, your may be advised to monitor the amount of potassium and phosphorus in your diet. For example, you may need to replace whole grains with white flour substitutes and limit intake of dairy and certain fruits and vegetables. Additionally, support your GFR with a healthy weight and regular physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity along with at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises.

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