Taking a smoothie is a great way to start the day. Smoothies give a healthy dose of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, positively improving your health. However, adding certain ingredients in higher proportions can provide minerals and other compounds in quantities exceeding the daily recommended intake, overworking the kidneys and affecting their health.
High Oxalate Levels in Smoothies
People taking green smoothies have a higher risk of developing kidney stones. The most common ingredients for making these smoothies, such as spinach, fresh parsley, watercress, Swiss chard, purslane, rhubarb, and kale, have relatively high levels of dietary oxalate.
Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds in specific foods. The body usually excretes them via the kidneys and in the urine. It also eliminates a proportion of these plant-based substances in feces when they combine with calcium in the stomach to form calcium oxalates.
Taking foods rich in oxalates without adequate calcium levels significantly increases your risk of developing calcium-oxalate kidney stones. Theoretically, lacking sufficient calcium levels in the diet makes oxalate available for absorption. It is then transported to the kidneys for eventual removal through the urinary system. This excess oxalate is broken down into oxalic acid, which reacts with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals grow in size over time, turning into kidney stones.
High Potassium Levels in Smoothies
Oxalates are not the only dietary components that cause kidney problems in those taking smoothies. As noted, some ingredients added to smoothies such as bananas, oranges, avocado, and spinach have high levels of potassium. Excessive amounts of this mineral can present a problem for people who have kidney disease. They can overwork the kidneys and subsequently lead to hyperkalemia if the body cannot eliminate the surplus. Consequently, hyperkalemia can cause life-threatening complications or, worse, death.
High Phosphorous Levels in Smoothies
Smoothies also often contain high phosphorous levels. Excessive amounts of this mineral lead to an abundance of phosphate ions that combine with calcium, leading to the formation of calcium phosphate crystals. These crystals increase in size in the presence of supersaturated phosphate and calcium ions in the renal system, forming kidney stones. Calcium phosphate stones usually grow larger than calcium oxalate stones.
Preventing Kidney Problems While Taking Smoothies
Preventing kidney stones is of paramount importance, especially for people susceptible to this problem. For instance, caution is advised for those taking smoothies despite a family history of kidney stones. Take the steps below to minimize your risk of developing kidney stones, whether you have a family history of this disease or not.
- Make a kidney-friendly smoothie – You can include fruits with relatively low potassium, such as strawberries and blueberries, to make a nutritionally balanced smoothie. You might also consider adding a smaller portion of fruits or vegetables rich in oxalates, potassium, or phosphorous. For instance, you should avoid putting too much spinach in the smoothie owing to its high oxalate levels. Reducing the amount of dairy products used to make a smoothie can also help limit potassium intake. In addition, mixing your smoothie with celery juice can benefit you because celery promotes kidney health and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Substituting potassium-rich ingredients such as bananas with horned melon and other less nutritionally dense fruits might also help.
- Take adequate levels of calcium – You can also reduce your risk of developing kidney stones while taking smoothies by increasing your calcium intake. Including sufficient calcium in your daily diet helps eliminate most of the phosphate and oxalate right in your intestines. As a result, only a small amount of this substance will reach the kidneys for eventual removal. You should take calcium-rich foods or a calcium citrate supplement alongside high oxalate smoothies to reduce your susceptibility to kidney stones.
- Reduce salt intake – As noted, limiting sodium or salt intake can minimize your risk of developing kidney problems. Generally, having a high concentration of sodium prompts the body to excrete this mineral. As the body removes the excess sodium, it concurrently expels a significant proportion of calcium, creating the right conditions for kidney stone formation. However, reducing salt intake decreases the need to excrete excess sodium along with the calcium in the body. On this note, you should restrict your daily salt intake to about 2-3 grams. Cutting your consumption of processed foods such as fast foods might help decrease your salt intake.
- Drink enough fluids – Taking at least two liters of water can help prevent kidney stone formation for those taking smoothies containing high levels of oxalate or phosphate. Sufficient fluid intake ensures urine does not become highly saturated with these substances, preventing the development of calcium phosphate or oxalate crystals in your kidneys.
- Take smoothies in moderation – Too much of anything can have unintended consequences. The same applies to smoothies, with the green ones posing a more significant problem. For instance, consuming excessive oxalate-rich green smoothies can increase your risk of kidney problems. Therefore, exercise caution with these beverages and only take a small amount everyday as part of your weight loss diet or for other health benefits.
- Rotate your ingredients – You should also consider rotating your smoothie ingredients to ensure you do not exclusively take fruits or vegetables containing high amounts of substances that encourage kidney stone formation. This move enables you to control your daily nutrient intake in the smoothie, keeping your kidneys healthy.
- Limit your vitamin C intake – You should further not take larger doses of vitamin C because its metabolism leads to the development of oxalate as an end product. This oxalate, coupled with the one taken in a smoothie, can combine with calcium in the kidneys, leading to calcium oxalate stones. On this note, you should not concomitantly take oxalate-rich smoothies and vitamin C supplements in doses exceeding 500 mg.