Kidney stones are a common condition globally, with statistics showing that it affects about 1 in 13 women and 1 in 7 men worldwide. While several factors can contribute to this condition, it turns out that there are also foods that cause kidney stones. A high intake of these foods regularly, in addition to other risk factors, may increase your chances of developing stones.

See also Stage 3 Chronic Kidney Disease and Signs You May Have a Bad Liver.

For example, Foods high in oxalate, sodium, and animal protein has been shown to increase the risk of kidney stone formation. However, with a little awareness and careful planning, you can make dietary changes to help prevent or manage this condition. 

In this article, we will delve deeper into the most common foods that cause kidney stones and provide tips on how to incorporate healthy alternatives into your diet.

Kidney stones on a white background

What are Kidney Stones?

Also known as renal calculi, kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form inside the kidneys. They can, however, develop anywhere along the urinary tract. In terms of size, they can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, but on average, they are about the size of a chickpea. 

They often don’t cause permanent damage but can be painful when passed.

The pain can be described as sharp and cramping in your back and side and can sometimes move to the lower abdomen or groin. Other symptoms may include blood in urine, nausea and vomiting, fever, and chills. 

These symptoms can come on suddenly and may last for hours or even days until the stone passes through your urinary tract, reduce in size, or is removed.

There are 4 types of kidney stones: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine but kidney stones made up of calcium oxalate are the most common. The formation of kidney stones is often due to dehydration or an excess buildup of certain minerals in your urine. 

Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size and location. Small stones may pass through the urinary tract naturally with drinking plenty of water, while larger ones may require medication or surgery to remove them safely.

To prevent kidney stones from forming in the first place, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. 

Avoiding foods high in salt and limiting animal protein intake can also help reduce your risk. 

If you’re experiencing any symptoms related to kidney stones, it’s important to seek medical attention right away so that proper treatment can be given quickly before any complications arise.

Types of Kidney Stones

1. Calcium oxalate stones 

According to the National Kidney Foundation, calcium oxalate stones are a common type of kidney stone, accounting for up to 80% of all kidney stones.

These stones form when calcium and oxalate combine in the urine, creating small crystals that can grow over time.

Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds in many foods, such as spinach, nuts, seeds, and grains. When we consume these foods, our bodies break down the oxalate molecules into smaller particles that can travel through our system.

However, if there is too much oxalate in our urine and not enough water to dilute it, the particles can combine with calcium to form crystals that eventually become kidney stones. 

So why do some people have more oxalate in their urine than others? There are several factors at play here. Genetics may play a role – some people may have genetic mutations that make their bodies less efficient at breaking down oxalate.

Additionally, certain medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) may lead to higher levels of oxalate in the urine.

If you’re prone to kidney stones or just want to lower your risk of developing them, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is crucial for flushing out excess minerals like calcium and preventing them from forming crystals with oxalates. In addition, limiting high-oxalate foods can help.

2. Uric acid stones 

These are a type of kidney stones that form when there is an excessive amount of uric acid in the urine. Uric acid is a byproduct of the breakdown of purines, which are found in many foods, especially in meat.

When there is too much uric acid in the urine, it can crystallize and form stones.

3. Struvite stones 

Struvite stones are a type of kidney stone that form due to an infection in the upper urinary tract. They are composed of magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate crystals that clump together to create hard, jagged stones.

While anyone can develop struvite stones, they are more commonly found in women with recurrent urinary tract infections or individuals with a history of spinal cord injuries or bladder catheterization. 

This is because these conditions can cause urine to become stagnant in the bladder, providing an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and multiply.

When bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply, it produces ammonia as a waste product. The ammonia then reacts with magnesium and phosphate minerals in the urine to form struvite crystals. Over time, these crystals can accumulate and grow into larger stones that can cause pain and discomfort.

4. Cystine

Cystine kidney stones are a type of kidney stone that is caused by the buildup of cystine, an amino acid, in urine. These stones are relatively rare and account for about 1% -2% of all kidney stones. They are, however, common in children accounting for about 10% of all kidney stones in children.

Unlike other types of kidney stones, which are often formed from calcium or uric acid, cystine stones are hereditary. They occur when there is an excess amount of cystine in the urine due to a genetic disorder called cystinuria.

Cystinuria affects both men and women equally and can be passed down from parents to their children. If one parent has the disorder, there is a 50% chance that their child will inherit it.

Treatment for cystine kidney stones involves increasing fluid intake to help flush out the excess cystine from the body. Medications such as thiol drugs or alkalinizing agents may also be prescribed to reduce the concentration of cystine in the urine.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary if the stone is too large or causing significant damage to surrounding tissues. However, this is usually only considered if other treatments have failed.

Foods That Cause Kidney Stones

1. High oxalate foods

As I mentioned under the calcium oxalate kidney stones, oxalate-rich foods can be a great cause of oxalate stones in some individuals. 

While you can avoid these foods, most of them are common foods people are likely to consume on a daily basis. Again, not everyone is susceptible to calcium oxalate stones. So for those susceptible, such as those with a genetic mutation that affects how the body processes oxalate, their intake of high oxalate foods should be avoided.

High oxalate foods that cause kidney stones

  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Rhubarb
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Miso soup
  • Grits
  • Baked potatoes with skin
  • Beets
  • Cocoa powder
  • Okra
  • Raspberries
  • Stevia sweeteners
  • Sweet potatoes

With that in mind, there are things you can do to still enjoy your high oxalate foods. For example, spinach and Swiss chard are very high in oxalates, but cooking them can reduce their levels by up to 87%. 

This is because oxalates are water-soluble. So boiling any oxalate-rich vegetables will cause the oxalates to dissolve into the water. Ensure you discard the water; otherwise, you’ll still consume the oxalate.

Steaming has also been shown to lower oxalate levels by up to 5-53%. So boiling and steaming methods of cooking can be the best to help lower your risk of kidney stones.

2. Sodium-rich foods

Sodium is an essential mineral that our bodies need to function properly. However, when we consume too much of it, our kidneys have trouble processing it all. 

This is because high sodium in the bloodstream increases calcium excretion through the kidneys. In excessive amounts, too much calcium will build up in the kidneys and form stones over time.

Current guidelines recommend a daily sodium intake of not more than 3200mg for adults.

Sodium-rich foods that cause kidney stones

  • Canned food
  • Fast foods
  • Processed foods
  • Packaged meats
  • Most condiments
  • Animal protein

Animal protein, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, contains high levels of a compound called purine. 

When your body breaks down purine, it produces uric acid. Excess uric acid can build up in your kidneys and form crystals that eventually become kidney stones.

3. Animal protein foods that cause kidney stones

  • Beef and pork, especially organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Meat-based gravies
  • Eggs
  • Milk, cheese, and other dairy products
  • Fish and shellfish

4. Sugar-sweetened Beverages

Sweetened beverages, including sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, contain high levels of sugar and other additives that can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. These beverages can lead to dehydration, which is a major risk factor for developing kidney stones.

When we consume sweetened beverages, our bodies need to process all the sugar in them. This process requires water from our bodies to help break down the sugar molecules. As a result, we may become dehydrated if we do not drink enough water along with these sugary drinks.

Dehydration can cause urine to become more concentrated and increase the likelihood of mineral crystallization in the kidneys. The crystals then grow into larger stones over time if left untreated or if there’s no change in lifestyle. What Happens To Your Body When You Cut Out Sugar?

5. Caffeine

Caffeine is a popular stimulant that can be found in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks. Many people rely on caffeine to help them stay alert and focused throughout the day. However, excessive consumption of caffeine has been linked to the formation of kidney stones.

Like sugar-sweetened beverages, caffeine causes dehydration by increasing urine output and reducing water absorption in the body.

This can lead to concentrated urine which increases the risk of kidney stone formation. 14 Benefits Of Quitting Caffeine

6. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in maintaining good health. It’s known for its immune-boosting benefits, and many people take it regularly as a dietary supplement.

However, recent studies have shown that too much vitamin C may increase urinary oxalate excretion, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones.

Prevention Tips to Reduce the Risk of Kidney Stones  

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing kidney stones:

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is essential for preventing kidney stones. Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day to help flush out excess minerals and salts from your kidneys. Benefits Of Drinking Water.

Limit sodium intake

Too much salt in your diet can lead to the formation of calcium-based kidney stones. Try to limit your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams.

Eat calcium-rich foods

Contrary to popular belief, consuming calcium-rich foods can actually help prevent kidney stone formation. This is because calcium can bind to oxalates (a compound that forms some types of kidney stones) in the digestive tract before they reach the kidneys.

Avoid high-oxalate foods

Foods like spinach, beets, chocolate, and nuts contain high levels of oxalates which can increase the risk of forming certain types of kidney stones in some people. If you’re prone to kidney stones, avoid these foods, and if you choose to eat them, consider using proper preparation methods and consume them in moderation.

Increase Citrus Intake

Citrus fruits contain citrate, which helps dissolve crystal formations; therefore, increasing citrus intake can help prevent kidney stones from forming.

Lime and lemon are the best-known citrate sources, followed by oranges and grapefruits. 

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of developing kidney stones, so maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet is critical.

Monitor medications

Certain prescription medications like diuretics or antacids containing calcium or aluminum may increase your chances of developing kidney stones, so it’s important to speak with your doctor about any potential risks before taking them.

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Final Thoughts

Kidney stones can be an excruciatingly painful condition that can not only affect your quality of life but also lead to serious health complications.

While genetics may play a role in their development, what you eat and drink is equally important. It’s vital to limit the intake of foods high in salt, oxalates, and caffeine to prevent the formation of these painful stones.

Additionally, maintaining good hydration levels and incorporating low-oxalate foods into your diet can go a long way in preventing kidney stone formation.

By making smart dietary choices and avoiding certain foods that cause kidney stones, you can help keep this debilitating condition at bay and lead a healthier life.

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