Healthy plant-based diet may protect kidneys

May 6, 2019 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News

Healthy plant-based diet may protect kidneys

While a healthy-plant based diet is tied to a lower risk of kidney disease, people who fill their plates with starchy, sugary vegetarian fare may actually increase their risk of kidney damage, a new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore suggests. 

Researchers examined data on eating habits and kidney function for 14,686 middle-aged adults, following half of them for at least 24 years. Overall, 4,343 participants developed chronic kidney disease. 

People who most closely adhered to a diet of healthy plant-based foods were 14 percent less likely to develop kidney disease than individuals who rarely ate these foods.

At the same time, participants who consumed the greatest amount of unhealthy vegetarian foods were 11 percent more likely to develop kidney disease than people who ate the smallest amounts of these foods. 

Healthy versus unhealthy plant-based diet

A healthy plant-based diet includes whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts and nut butters, and beans and lentils. 

Study participants who had the healthiest plant-based diets consumed an average of nine to ten servings a day of these foods.

An unhealthy plant-based diet limited meat but loaded up on potatoes. This type of diet might also include juice instead of whole fruit, sodas and sugary drinks, and lots of candy, cake and chocolate. 

Participants who had the least healthy plant-based diets consumed an average of seven servings a day of these foods. They were more likely to be men, younger, sedentary, and drink more alcohol. 

The association between plant-based diets and chronic kidney risk was especially pronounced for people with a normal weight at the start of the study. 


The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove that certain eating patterns directly contribute to kidney disease. 

One limitation of the study is that researchers relied on participants to accurately recall what they ate and drank, which can lead to measurement errors. Researchers also may not have had a complete picture of long-term eating habits. 

It’s possible eating more fruits and vegetables may make it easier for the kidneys to rid the body of toxins. Fruits and vegetables have less acid, putting less demand on the kidneys than meats which have a lot of acid. 

It could also be that the people who eat more fruits and vegetables also do other things, such as exercise more, get more sleep, or in general have a healthier lifestyle.

Source: Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, online April 26, 2019.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.