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They are tiny terrors that stealthily lie in wait until striking, often without warning. They’re kidney stones — crystalline nuggets that grow in our kidneys, sometimes getting painfully stuck as we try to expel them in our urine.
The symptoms vary. Some people pass stones without even realizing it; others feel an increased urgency to urinate, have blood in their urine, or feel pain in the back or groin that can range from mild to excruciating, says Ivan Porter, M.D., a nephrology specialist in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education.
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Whatever the symptoms, kidney stones are surprisingly common. About 11 percent of men and 6 percent of women get them, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Genetics can make a person more prone to these benign-looking clumps, as can certain medications (like diuretics and calcium-based antacids) and jobs (truck drivers, teachers and others who aren’t able to hydrate often enough). But diet can play a role, too.
If you’ve had a kidney stone, your doctor may recommend tweaks to your diet based on the type you had (there are four: calcium stones, uric acid stones, struvite stones and cystine stones). After all, the risk of recurrent stones is substantial, but changing what you eat may prevent them from coming back.
With that in mind, here are eight dietary changes that may help you avoid them.
1. Drink lots of water
“Water is usually our best and first line of defense against kidney stones,” Porter says. Aim for 60 to 80 ounces of water a day to start, knowing that “you may end up needing more than that, depending on your risk profile,” he adds.
The American Urological Association recommends that urine volume be at least two and a half liters a day, points out Paul Palevsky, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and president of the National Kidney Foundation. Not sure how to measure that? Porter has a simple guideline: Your urine should be clear, not yellow, orange or brown.