“Not another diet article!” you cry. And we understand your frustration. So, think of this as a friendly reminder and a way to put a positive spin on what would otherwise be a crummy fact.
Earlier this year, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, published the results of a 20-year study that showed people with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease. If you have RA, there’s a 1 in 4 chance you’ll have kidney problems, versus the 1 in 5 chance in the general population. “That might not seem like a lot, but in fact that’s quite a big difference, and it has important implications for the course of rheumatoid arthritis and for the management of the disease,” says Eric Matteson, M.D., Rheumatology Chair at the Mayo Clinic.
Taking corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, is a significant contributing factor to increased risk, the study found. NSAIDs can contribute to kidney problems as well, says the National Kidney Foundation. Changing, scaling back, or even eliminating medication might be an option—or it might not. (As always, consult your doctor before making changes to your medication.)
It’s a tricky course to navigate, and one that physicians are well aware of. In fact, this article from the Arthritis Foundation, “Study Confirms Doctors’ Experience: RA Puts Kidneys at Risk,” pretty much sums it up.
Now what are you going to do about it?
First, you’re going to make sure your doctor tests your blood and urine at least once a year to detect kidney problems.
Second, you’re going to do what you know you should be doing anyway: keep your blood pressure and weight under control.
And that brings us to salt…
Lowering your salt intake helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart disease (which, as you probably know, is another thing your RA makes you more prone to develop).
Start by limiting your consumption of what the American Heart Association calls the Salty Six:
- Bread and Rolls
- Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
- Poultry (marinated and/or breaded)
Also take a long hard look at how much of the following foods with hidden sodium you consume each week:
- Frozen meals
- Bottled sauces, dressings, and condiments
- Pickles and relishes
Then make some easy substitutions to reduce your salt intake:
- Eat fresh fruit: It’s apple season! Do you know how many different varieties of apples there are? This is an excellent time to learn. Those adorable little satsumas, clementines, and mandarin oranges will be brightening up your supermarket produce section soon. Pick up some of those as well. And pears! Don’t forget the pears.
- Roast some vegetables: Start with eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash sliced to ½-inch thickness. Smash up a head of cauliflower. Go underground with root vegetables like beets, parsnips and carrots. Or choose flavorful leeks, Brussels sprouts, and fennel. A light brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of herbs and spices (thyme, basil, rosemary, garlic, curry powder…you choose) then pop them in the oven at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. Voila!
- Rethink the wrap: Use those roasted veggies in place of sandwich meats. Skip breads or rolls and wrap your sandwich filling in a lettuce leaf. (Fold it like a tortilla.) Substitute cucumber slices for crackers. Dip celery and carrots instead of pretzels or chips.
- Rediscover oatmeal: Remember how the Quaker Oats guy used to say “Nothing is better for thee than me”? He was right. A serving of homemade oatmeal contains no sodium and lots of healthy whole grains. Try it instead of boxed cereal or a muffin at breakfast.
- Simmer Your Own Soup: Making soup is incredibly easy, satisfying, and good for you—especially when you consider the dishearteningly high sodium content in most canned soups. Start with low-sodium broth (read the label carefully) and add chopped vegetables, meat, rice or whatever you like. Freeze the leftovers to reheat another day.
There’s not much that can substitute for pizza and bacon if you like that sort of thing (and who doesn’t?), but another recent study offers news that might make abstaining easier. Researchers at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston have found evidence that your brain can be trained to prefer healthy, low-calorie foods over less healthy choices. Give your taste buds time to adjust. Within a few weeks, you could find that you crave salt less often than you used to.
Maybe this did turn out to be another diet article after all. Or maybe we’re just looking for an excuse to make soup.