Hi Amy - I was recently diagnosed with kidney stones and have been researching a healthy diet. Does cranberry juice help keep your kidneys clear? There are so many articles online, I don't know what to believe. Thank you for your help!

This question has excellent timing! I recently took on a new role at work and now counsel patients that have had kidney stones or are at risk for developing stones! You are right. There is an overload of information on the internet about kidney stones. Many of my patients tell me that they are overwhelmed by all of it and they don’t know where to look. There are several ways that kidney stones develop and there are various “types” of stones themselves. So the diet education I provide to my patients is based on the patient’s past medical history, type of stone, 24-hour urine analysis, and family history.

The first question that I ask you is: have you passed a kidney stone and if so, did your doctor talk to you about the stone’s analysis? There are several different types of stones: calcium oxalate stones, calcium phosphate stones, uric acid stones, struvite stones (result from infections in the kidney), and cysteine stones (resulting from a genetic disorder). If you have not passed your stone(s) or if you don’t know what type you possess, your physician may wish to collect a 24-hour urine litholink. This test is performed to determine why the patient is forming kidney stones. Results are reported to the physician on many different measurements in order to assist the physician in determining the best prevention treatment for each patient. Once those results are in, your doctor or a registered dietitian can analyze what part of your diet or medication regimen may be increasing risk of stone development.

Following a healthy and well balanced diet can help reduce formation of kidney stones. The first topic I generally tackle with patients is the subject of salt (sodium chloride). The United States recommended daily allowance of sodium is 2,400 milligrams (mg) per day. On Average Americans are consuming ~3,300 mg, which can definitely increase your risk of developing calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate stones. I encourage my patients to remove the salt shaker from the table and add little to no salt when cooking. It is important to limit foods with the highest sodium amounts (snack chips, soup, seasoned rice/pasta, lunch meat, French fries, condiments etc).

Fluid intake is another important step to help lower risk of kidney stones (and I will address cranberry juice here!) People who have kidney stones should consume enough water and other fluids to produce at least 2 quarts of fluid per day. Consuming enough fluid helps dilute the urine and helps flush materials that may form stones. Cranberry juice is (obviously) considered a fluid and is an excellent source of vitamin C. On the downside, cranberry juice is moderately high in oxalate. This is a compound that is found naturally in many foods and in increased amounts, oxalate may form into crystals and stones. Before you swear off cranberry juice forever, consider the addition of calcium-filled foods to your diet. Foods with calcium can bind with oxalate and keep it from entering the urine, where it could form stones. You asked for my opinion about cranberry juice: I would recommend drinking it in moderation (one glass a day) and be sure to increase your intake of foods high in calcium (milk, yogurt, calcium fortified cereals, etc).

Diets that are high in animal protein and low in fruits and vegetables can also increase stone risk. Eating too much animal protein, such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, boosts the level of uric acid and could lead to kidney stones. A high-protein diet also reduces levels of citrate, the chemical in urine that helps prevent stones from forming. On a positive note, the protective powers of citrate can be boosted by the addition of citrus fruits to the diet! I recommend adding 2-4 ounces of lemon or lime juice to your water next time you are going to take a sip. The flavor combination is great and you will get the double bonus of the water + the citrus!

So, now that you have been told you have kidney stones, I advise you to stay in close contact with your urologist. Follow the doctor’s advice and remember: drink you water, limit your salt, add calcium filled foods along with fruits and veggies to your diet! (oh, and cranberry juice. In moderation!)

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