What We Did
One of my main motivators for starting this site was to connect with other kidney disease sufferers or others with chronic conditions. I’ve been able to do that and it really brings me joy.
I’m not a doctor nor do I have a medical background but I feel I can relate on a more personal level with others who might be going through a similar situation. I was like them and had to figure it out too.
When I speak with people, they really just want to find out "what we did". How were we able to start reversing Jim's chronic kidney disease and more precisely, what did we do? I’m going to outline it for you. You will see that none of it is rocket science and it’s most likely things you already know. The hardest part is putting what you know into practice and changing habits. Let’s face it, when we’re overworked, tired or stressed, we revert back to old habits. We all do it. However, the key for my husband was that he was motivated enough to actually change habits that he’s been able to stick with. Now that he’s made progress, he doesn’t want to go back. The proof is in the pudding.
Again, I must disclose that I’m not a medical doctor. Before making any dietary changes, you should consult with your own doctor. I also don't purport to tell you what to eat or not to eat! I am just sharing what we chose to do. After much personal research, trial and error, this is what we did that worked.
1. We first and foremost, met with a doctor and got a complete blood workup done. This way, there was a baseline for comparison. Jim was able to see improvements in his lab results which was a great motivator.
2. We cut out meat and dairy. Entirely. That included beef, chicken, fish, milk, cheese etc. Anything that came from a mother. Animal protein contains cholesterol and saturated fat and can be hard for the kidneys to process. It also has no fibre. Think of fibre as the brush that cleans out your insides.
We switched to plant proteins such as beans, legumes, whole grains, quinoa. With Jim’s kidney condition, he even limited his bean intake. He was never nor is he now protein deficient! See my blog on protein to get my take on the whole protein thing.
3. We eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. We reduced refined processed foods like white rice, white sugar, white flour, cookies, crackers etc (not rocket science - we all know these are bad for us!)
4. We minimized oils. We water saute our food instead (easy to do). This is a contested topic even within the plant-based community. We’ve heard that oils like olive and coconut are good for us. Jim attended TrueNorth Health Center where they treat people from all over with varying conditions. They state that all oils are inflammatory (yes, even the beloved olive and coconut). They maintain that oils are highly dense fats that have been stripped of nutrients and can slow arterial blood flow which, in turn, can lead to inflammation. Weighing in at a whopping 1300 calories per ounce, oils may also impact weight loss if that is part of your disease management. In the end, you should do your own research and come to your own conclusions about the use of oil. However, I don't think anyone would dispute that we should not be overusing it.
5. We blended green smoothies every morning. It’s a good way to start the day and get extra greens in. Jim would make extra, put it in a container and bring it with him as snack. We have a Vitamix. It’s expensive but worth every penny. I use it a few times a day to make smoothies, smooth sauces, dressings and fruit “nice” cream.
6. We got rid of the junk in the house. This goes without saying. This can be difficult if you have kids in the house but remember, they don’t need it either. If the junk isn't around, you won’t eat it. We would throw together raisins, pepitas and seeds for a quick trail mix. We always have veggies and hummus on hand. A microwaved potato can be a snack.
7. We got the family on board. It’s so much harder to stick with dietary changes if you’re the only one eating this way. This is why I decided to do it with Jim and started getting the kids on board. It benefits everyone anyway. If you can't get the family completely on board, see if they will eat even a couple of plant-based meals a week with you. Find yourself a community ie. Forks over Knives or a plant-based Facebook group.
8. We take a B12 supplement (we use one where you just spray on the tongue) and vitamin D supplement. Those are the only supplements we take.
9. We watch intake of nuts and nut butters. Yes, they are healthier fats but Jim needed to lose some weight. I give our kids healthy doses of nut butters. They need the fat. We buy raw, unsalted nuts.
10. We watch sodium intake. As a general rule, I don't cook with salt. However, I do sprinkle some on the surface of foods from time to time.
11. We watch intake of sauces. They are usually full of not-so-healthy ingredients like sodium and sugar. Eventually, we started making our own healthy sauces but at the beginning, we kept it simple.
12. We exercise. It doesn't have to be strenuous. Just move your body. A walk with the dog or on the treadmill to get the heart rate up and the blood pressure down.
13. We ate simple meals. It's okay to eat the same things. In fact, Jim preferred that. We found 1 or 2 good options for each meal especially at the beginning. It made it easier for him to stick with and we weren't left scrambling at the last minute trying to figure out what to eat (which leads to reverting back to old habits).
14. We meditate (or try to). My husband didn’t do this at first. We were more focused on the food. However, there is so much science backing up the benefits of meditation. Find some way to incorporate it. Stress is not good for kidney disease or any chronic condition for that matter. There are some great apps that make it easier.
We didn't achieve everything on the list right away. It was a process and still is. We certainly haven't perfected them all but cumulatively they have all played a part in helping Jim's road to recovery.
If it seems daunting, try tackling 1 item on the list first. Blend a green smoothie. Give up meat first, then dairy later. Definitely get bloodwork done. How much or little you tackle probably depends on the state of your health. Any little step in the right direction is a good step.
Finally, I will say this again because it’s worth saying. Don’t worry about protein! This is the biggest concern people have. If eating WFPB and combining fruits, veggies, beans and grains, you’re fine. There’s protein in potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, tofu and beans. We have never been protein deficient. At first, we were concerned about protein and added powders to our smoothies. We stopped doing that a long time ago.
The following are some good resources we used and continue to use:
-Forks over Knives and What the Health documentaries on netflix. The newest documentary, The Game Changers, is a great family film especially if you have active kids involved in sports. Forks over Knives has a good app with recipes (all WFPB and oil-free).
This is a go-to site for me whenever I have questions that need answers. Dr. Michael Greger is well-known in the WFPB community. He has well-researched peer-reviewed articles on almost every medical/nutrition topic. He’s the author of How Not to Die.
I earned my plant-based certificate through this Cornell affiliated site. Dr. Colin T. Campbell wrote 2 excellent books, The China Study and Whole.
Dr. Neil Barnard is well-known in the plant-based community and considered the authority on diabetes. He also founded the podcast, The Exam Room. It's excellent! You might want to start there - it's entertaining and breaks down information in and easy, digestible way.
Rip Esselstyn, a former triathlete and firefighter and son of Caldwell Esselstyn, is an important voice in the plant-based community. Caldwell is a cardiologist famed for his work in reversing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.