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Nutrition Article: Quenching your thirst for the “good life ”

By Michelle McIlnay, MS, RDN, LD

Summer is here; the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the temperature is rising. My family and I love living the “good life” in the Texas Hill Country. We stay busy in the summer with hiking, grilling out with friends and tubing down the river. As the thermometer climbs, we often find ourselves reaching for a cold drink to cool off our bodies, when in fact there are better ways to cool off. Staying cool while limiting your fluids is especially difficult when you are living with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). To the right are some tips to help you manage your thirst and fluid intake while enjoying an active summer with your family and friends.

My family loves to go hiking during the summer. On one of our first trips I made the mistake of bringing beef jerky for a snack and a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and apples. We each brought one bottle of water to drink thinking we would be fine since we were hiking in the shade. As the day wore on, we found our water gone and we were struggling with dry mouth and incredible thirst. I became unusually tired and started to develop a headache.

What happened? We had nearly 2000 mg of sodium in that one meal and snack. The recommended sodium intake is 2300 mg daily for the average adult and less than 2000 mg daily for a person with CKD. Salt binds water, so when you eat salty foods, your body will crave more fluid. If you are living with CKD your kidneys may not be able to remove the extra salt and fluid you consume, so as it begins to accumulate in your body you may develop shortness of breath, swelling and a lack of energy. Over time, this fluid accumulation left untreated will lead to other health concerns like high blood pressure and heart disease.

What can you do to ease your thirst and avoid the fluid accumulation? One of the most important changes you can make is to follow a low sodium diet. As we learned on our next hiking trip when I packed a low sodium snack and lunch of unsalted nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars and apples; we were able to reduce our sodium intake down to 550 mg. Now the one bottle of water was perfect, we felt better and had more energy. We also brought along sugar free gum that helped keep our mouths moist and fresh.

Our society’s love of salt is a learned behavior, in other cultures salt is rarely used, instead they use herbs and spices to flavor their foods. You too can learn to make delicious low sodium meals to eat at home or on the go that are easy on your thirst. Some great options to increase your taste sensation without adding salt are garlic, onion, celery, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and many more. Herbs and spices are also essential to making your low sodium foods taste great. Some of my favorites are chives, parsley, oregano, thyme, cilantro, paprika, and Italian seasoning.

Grilling out is another low-sodium, healthy way to add flavor to your foods. We love to invite our friends over for dinner in the summer and have a DIY (do-it-yourself) kabob bar. We start with fresh meats and/or vegetables and select low sodium marinades and spices for added flavor. Each guest gets to design their own skewer by selecting their favorite meats and vegetables for grilling. A bonus of grilling is it helps keep your home cooler since you are cooking outside.

Social events can be a challenge when it comes to limiting your fluid intake as it is easy to drink more than you planned to. One successful strategy is to plan ahead by decreasing your fluid intake earlier in the day. Once you are at your event, use a small glass and take sips not gulps. You will find when you savor your drink it becomes an enjoyable experience, not just a thirst quencher.

Even when following a low sodium diet, keeping cool in the summer can be a struggle. My family has learned the best way to cool off is a dip in the pool or even better a restful float down one of our many rivers. The cool water quickly reduces our body temperature which in turn decreases our thirst. Research has shown that your body cools down more quickly if moisture is applied to the outside versus the inside. A dip in the pool or river is much more refreshing than a big glass of tea and it lasts longer. If taking a dip in the pool or river isn’t in the cards for you, try wrapping a cool moist towel around your neck or using a spray bottle filled with water to mist your face and body, allowing the moisture to cool you as it dries.

Staying cool and enjoying your summer may be easier than you thought. So, remember these tips to help quench your thirst and enjoy the “good life” wherever the summer heat may find you.

Michelle McIlnay, RDN, LD is a Lead Dietitian with Fresenius Kidney Care (FKC). She received her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Food Service Management and M.S. in Metabolic Nutrition from University of Nebraska. She has enjoyed working with FKC for the past 25 years helping people living with kidney disease understand their diet and thrive in their new lifestyle. Michelle currently works with FKC renal dietitians to provide professional education and support and serves as a co-chair of the Patient Education Committee on the Nutrition Services Advisory Board. She is an active member of the National Kidney Foundation’s Council on Renal Nutrition. Michelle is married with 3 children who enjoy spending time together traveling and being active in the great outdoors.

This article was originally published in aakpRENALIFE, July 2019.