I know people with kidney disease are frequently bombarded with all the foods they should avoid so today I wanted to flip the table and instead focus on something to add into your diet. And don’t worry, it’s something that tastes good too………..
Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re delicious, nutritious and provide a number of impressive health benefits. Berries are great sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals but that’s not all, they are also loaded to the brim with phytochemicals which are largely responsible for their many health benefits.
Phytochemicals are literally plant (phyto) chemicals, compounds in plants that contribute to their colour, taste and smell. Phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, boost immunity, protect against toxins and defend against illness.
When we eat, we have a daily opportunity to either boost our health or contribute to the development of disease. I know which of these I’d prefer and I’m sure I’m not alone. Let’s have a closer look at some of the health benefits of berries.
Berries help to reduce inflammation
Inflammation is our body’s defence against infection or injury however, modern lifestyles often lead to excessive long-term inflammation due to increased stress, inadequate physical activity and unhealthy food choices. When you have chronic inflammation, your body’s inflammatory response can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues and organs.
Inflammation also plays a big role in the development and progression of kidney disease and studies have demonstrated that inflammation is also linked to many complications of CKD such as malnutrition, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, heart failure and increased mortality.
There are lots of things that contribute to inflammation in the body and one that we are all exposed to multiple times a day is the foods we eat. A really important way to reduce this inflammation is to focus on eating less inflammatory foods (processed foods, high sugar foods, dairy, red meat) and more anti-inflammatory foods like berries (as well as other fruit and vegetables).
Berries lower oxidative stress throughout the body
Oxidative stress has been recognised as a contributing factor in several diseases including high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease. Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body and is frequently observed in CKD. High levels of oxidative stress have been found in the early stages of CKD and they increase with progression to ESRD.
In the kidneys, oxidative stress (like inflammation) contributes to progressive kidney damage and is also a contributing factor to several conditions considered as risk factors for CKD such as diabetes, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
One way to reduce oxidative stress is to increase the levels of antioxidants within the body and there’s an easy way to do this- through your diet! Foods, and particularly fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants and can help to boost your bodies in built antioxidant systems.
Berries are a great source of a variety of different antioxidants, in fact one study showed that blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity of commonly consumed fruits (next to pomegranates) so adding them to your diet daily will help to reduce the damage oxidative stress does to your body.
Berries may help lower blood pressure
High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney disease and can also develop as a consequence of kidney disease. Berries, and blueberries in particular appear to have significant benefits for people with high blood pressure, with one study showing a 4-6% reduction in blood pressure after eating 50 grams of blueberries a day.
Berries may lower cholesterol and protect cholesterol in your blood from being damaged
Berries can also benefit cholesterol levels. Black raspberries and strawberries have been shown to lower cholesterol in people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome. What’s more, berries can also protect cholesterol in your blood from being damaged.
Oxidative stress isn’t limited to your cells and DNA, it’s also problematic when LDL cholesterol is oxidised. In fact, oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a crucial step in the heart disease process. The antioxidants in berries are strongly linked to reduced levels of oxidised LDL which is largely responsible for the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and contributes to heart attack and stroke risk.
Berries may improve the function of your arteries
The cells that line your blood vessels are called endothelial cells. They help control blood pressure, keep blood from clotting and perform other important functions including making sure organs like the kidneys are getting enough blood flow and oxygen.
Excessive inflammation and oxidative stress can damage these cells, inhibiting their function. This is referred to as endothelial dysfunction, a major risk factor for heart disease. Berries have been found to improve endothelial function in studies in healthy adults, people with metabolic syndrome and people who smoke.
Berries may reduce cardiovascular disease
People with CKD are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and vice versa and what many people aren’t aware of is that people with CKD are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from their kidney disease.
There have been a number of studies that have shown that diets high in anthocyanins (found in high amounts in berries) is associated with a reduction in heart attacks and cardiovascular mortality. In fact, a study of 93,600 nurses found that those with the highest intake of anthocyanins were at a 32% lower risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intake.
Berries may improve insulin sensitivity and protect against diabetes complications
Research shows that the anthocyanins found in berries have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism so can help to control blood sugar levels. Add this to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and they also may be useful in preventing diabetes complications (of which kidney disease is one) by protecting blood vessels and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
The great thing about berries is that they all score low on the glycaemic index so even those who have been diagnosed with diabetes can still enjoy plenty of fresh berries in their diet.
Berries may improve dysbiosis
Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the multitude of bacteria that live in our gut. Our gut bacteria are responsible for a number of different functions in our body and are key to our overall health. An imbalance in gut bacteria and poor intestinal barrier function has been found to have a relationship with the occurrence of CKD. Specifically, dysbiosis can trigger the immune system to cause inflammation, increase the production of uraemic toxins and further worsen kidney health and function.
The fibre and phytochemicals found in berries can improve gut health by promoting the development of beneficial bacteria, balancing the immune system and help to maintain a healthy intestinal barrier, all of which provide important anti-inflammatory benefits. Changing the balance of our gut microbiota also helps to reduce the production of uraemic toxins which are known to promote CKD.
Berries may help fight urinary tract infections
It is widely known that cranberry juice or supplements can help prevent UTIs. Because blueberries are closely related to cranberries, they boast many of the same active substances including proanthocyanidins that reduce the adhesion of certain bacteria to the urinary tract wall so may also assist in reducing infections. Berries are also a good source of vitamin C which also plays a role in preventing against urinary tract infections.
Berries are low in sodium, potassium and phosphorus
One of the great things about berries is that they are low in sodium, potassium and phosphorus so they are appropriate for everyone, even those who need to follow a low potassium or low phosphorus diet.
Berries are alkaline forming foods
Maintaining a more alkaline pH is incredibly important, not just for the proper functioning of your body but research shows that unless the body’s pH level is slightly alkaline, the body can’t heal itself. The kidneys are particularly dependent on the body’s acid:alkaline balance and acidosis is associated with a faster decline in kidney function.
The primary and number one thing you can do to reduce acidity or make your body more alkaline is by changing your diet. The addition of berries to your diet can help to improve your acid:alkaline balance and help take the load off your kidneys.
Now, it might sound like berries are a cure all and all you need to eat to look after your health- if only it was that easy! Unfortunately, no one food alone is going to keep you (or your kidneys) healthy but when included as part of a kidney friendly diet, berries can certainly help.
Which berries should you eat?
When choosing which berries to add into your diet, I’d recommend eating as many different varieties as you can. Each type of berry contains a different variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals so their health benefits also differ slightly.
When buying berries, consider freshness- the fresher the berries the more nutrients they retain so if you can, choose locally grown, in-season berries. Frozen berries are another good option if berries aren’t in season. And pick organic when you can, raspberries and strawberries are particularly high in pesticides.
Hopefully I’ve given you some good reasons to add more berries to your diet, if you’re still not sure here’s one more reason- they also taste really good! If you’ve found this article helpful, I’d love you to let me know by clicking the ‘SHARE’ button below or leave me a comment on Facebook letting me know your favourite ways to eat these berry delicious fruits!