Are you ready for not only a healthy habits check but a challenge, too? March is National Nutrition Month and it’s a great time to call our attention back to living a balanced lifestyle with both a high-quality diet and appropriate levels of exercise.
Now, nutrition is one of the main tools that a medical professional can use to help our health on a cellular level so that’s what we’re going to focus on here. Especially because Kidney “Stuff” supplements were designed to be nutrition-forward and intended to support our bodies systems naturally. There really are transformative powers to be found in healthy food choices! And it’s also why the old sentiment, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” still rings true today.
Get Out of the Aisles
Understanding how to make informed food decisions is a great place to start when it comes to your overall health. Here are a few tips:
- Go with a game plan. Pick out a few recipes that fit your unique health regimen and jot down all of the ingredients before you go shopping. This will help you make sure you know exactly what you need to get and you won’t have to spend extra time running back and forth to the store. This month, try some new health-food items at your local grocers, or perhaps even a new store altogether. You may even want to finally check out that local farmer’s market, the co-op grocer in your area, or start a garden of your own this year.
- Opt for the from nature foods. Whole-food and plant-based IS better for you. Avoid the center aisles filled with highly-processed foods, unnecessary preservatives, and toxic fillers. When our food is processed, important elements like the fiber content, are usually removed and things like fat, sugar, salt, and nutrients are added in. Too much saturated fat, added sugar, or sodium can actually increase your risk of developing a chronic disease. Stick to a variety of colors on the outside perimeter where the goods come straight from the ground with minimal human intervention.
- Always check your labels. Go for items labeled both organic and non-GMO. If you can’t read an ingredient (or research it), you might not want to eat it and your body likely doesn’t even need it. Food labels are filled with all kinds of extra gunk your gut can go without. If you are having difficulty locating animal products that are healthy for you, you may also want to consider steering away from consuming red meats so frequently and looking for products labeled “Free-Range/Pasture-Raised/Grass-Fed” or “Certified Humane/Certified Animal Welfare Approved/Global Animal Partnership” in lieu of that.
- Proceed to learn with caution. We’ve all heard about misleading products on the market, those labeled “natural” or otherwise. Do your due diligence and get to know what these marks and messages actually mean. This label claim isn’t a big one; it merely means that the product has no artificial ingredients and was minimally processed. The claim has no relevance whatsoever to how the animals were raised. The same goes for products that say “USDA Process Verified”. The USDA conducts audits to verify that companies follow its own standards in raising animals, but the meaning of a term such as “humanely raised” can vary widely among producers and all can receive USDA Process Verified approval for the claim. Even products from factory-farmed animals can carry the USDA PVP seal.
Talk to a Renal Nutritionist or Registered Dietician
This may come as a shock to you, but Medical schools in the United States are still not ensuring adequate nutrition education for competencies required in medical practice. Graduates often spend less than 1% of lecture time learning about diet. It’s surprising, we know!
- Explore your options. Your “main” physician may have given you a print out or pamphlet on general guidelines, such as foods to eat and foods to avoid, but this one size-fits all approach likely isn’t even the right advice for your particular needs. If you have not yet worked with a renal nutritionist or registered dietician, please consider setting up a free consultation or asking for a referral from your General Practitioner. These health professionals can use your bloodwork to create a custom plan designed only for you, help you track progress, and answer and burning questions you have as well.
- You are your own best advocate. If you feel strongly about changing your diet, do something about it. You may consider picking up a new book or taking an online course, but always verify the information you’re reading before you put new advice into action. As mentioned above, perhaps that’s taking a closer look at your one-page diet guidelines and recognizing, “Yes! I need salt or I need magnesium, but only a certain amount.” Getting clear on the grey areas can make all the difference for your health.
- Make it known. It’s vital that your nutritionist and doctors (particularly specialists, like Nephrologists) are working together as a team so your full medical history is taken into account and recorded in all areas. Anytime you’re making changes to your health plan, let them know and ask them to make a note of it. They’re going to be able to highlight possible benefits, potential symptoms you should expect vs. those to be alarmed of and more serious medical contraindications.
If you find yourself in a position where say, your nephrologist and renal dietician don’t agree on a supplement you want to take, ask them to work together on your health plan and come to a resolution amongst themselves. There’s likely a very valid reason why a health professional may not want you to take something, but sometimes it’s also as simple as they just don’t have the knowledge in that particular area.
Apply Your Learnings & Stay Consistent
Your health won’t “work” unless you do! Whether it’s what you eat, when you exercise or the supplements you’re taking…consistency matters. In terms of commitment, keep it simple, start small and build your habits up over time. And if you find yourself slipping, remember to give yourself grace and try again.
- Eat well and hydrate often. Food is the fuel that keeps your body running smoothly throughout your life, so give it the nutrients it needs in each season. Don’t skip meals, unless you’re on a fasting plan of course, and make sure you consume enough water every day. For those with kidney disease stages 1 and 2, it’s important to drink enough water—typically around 64 ounces, or eight glasses every day. For those in stages 3, 4, and 5 who are not on dialysis—you may need to limit the amount of fluid you consume due to fluid retention. Ask your doctor and dietitian how much fluid you should consume to make sure you hit the mark but don’t overdo it.
- Prioritize rest. Listen to what your body is asking for. Adequate rest is an important part in your CKD treatment. When we’re healing our bodies require more sleep and we sleep our body heals. That’s why getting REM sleep each evening is so important. Adults of any sex need 7 or more hours of sleep a day for optimal health and recent studies have shown that women need about 20 minutes more sleep a night than men. When we fail to meet these minimums, we increase our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You may even find that other modalities like meditation, breath work, sound healing, or yoga nidra are another way to allow your body to enter a rest phase other than sleep.
- Incorporate exercise. Regular physical activity can do wonders for your mind and body. Stretch, walk, weight lift or attend a class, but no matter what you do, make sure it works for you. More importantly, never feel guilty about honoring your body’s capacity or not being able to do high-intensity workouts. Even a daily walk can curb cardiovascular conditions, which are a major health risk for people with CKD and those on dialysis. Take your exercise journey day by day and do what you can with where you’re at.
From the Golden Standards Co. family to you, welcome to the March Health Challenge! We hope National Nutrition Month inspires you to prioritize your wellbeing throughout the year and find balance in your life.