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  • Denise Scott

Salt and Stones

A concerning trend in the past few years is the occurrence of kidney stones in children and adolescents. Kidney stones are another condition that can be added to the growing list of adult diseases seen in kids. Most often, these stones occur in adults between 20-50. The incidence of kidney stones under twenty is not only seen in the U.S. but has increased globally.

Model of kidneys made of paper on pink background. Kidney stones are increasing in children.

Those affected usually present to the emergency room, with many hospitalized. The highest at-risk pediatric population is teenage girls.

Why is this, and what can be done to prevent kidney stones?

1. Many kids, especially girls, don’t drink enough water.

A simple guideline to follow is:

One full cup or eight ounces daily for each year of age up to age 8.

In other words, one cup for a 1-year-old, 2 cups for a 2-year-old, etc. Ages 8 and beyond need 8 - 8 ounce cups or 64 ounces. More may be needed if in sports or if exercising or working outdoors.

Young girl with a glass of water giving a thumbs up. Many children don't drink enough water.

Teach your child to use the color of their urine as a measure - the urine should appear pale yellow or clear if adequately hydrated. If their urine is dark yellow, they are not drinking enough water.

2. Too much salt in the diet.

The word salt etched in a pile of salt crystals. Too much dietary salt can increase the risk of kidney stones.

Too much salt in the diet is a risk factor for kidney stones.

Processed foods, fast foods, and sodas contain an abundance of salt and can easily exceed the recommended daily allowance.

Total salt intake should be limited to no more than 2300 mg of salt for teens: that equals about one teaspoon. Younger children should have less:

1800 mg for ages 9-13

1500 mg for ages 4-8

1200 mg ages 1-3

To limit sodium intake:

  • Increase fresh vegetables and fruit in your child’s diet.

  • Limit ultra-processed foods such as chips, snack-foods, sodas, processed meats, fast-food products, freezer meals, and canned goods with added salt.

  • Choose canned items with low or no salt, fresh or frozen produce, and decrease salt when cooking, using extra herbs and spices.

  • Read labels to see how much sodium an item contains.

  • Cooking at home more often than eating out can significantly decrease salt consumption.

3. Too much animal protein can increase the risk of kidney stones.

Animal protein comes from meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. High protein intake, especially if combined with low carbohydrate intake, can increase the risk for developing stones.

10-30% of total dietary calories should be protein.

Guidelines for children are:

Ages 4-9: 19 grams of protein

Ages 9-13: 34 grams

Ages 14-18 boys: 52 grams

Ages 14-18 girls: 46 grams

Another guideline is roughly 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (1 pound = 2.2 kg)

or 1/2 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

4. Increasing citrus can help prevent kidney stones.

An array of citrus fruits including oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit.

Serve your child oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, and clementines.

Add sliced lemons, limes, and oranges to their water.

Use citrus in cooking.

Although the reason for a child to have kidney stones may be genetic or metabolic, there are lifestyle causes, including poor water intake, diet, too much salt, and antibiotic use. Antibiotics can cause changes in the gastrointestinal tract, increasing the risk of kidney stones.

If a child has had a kidney stone, their risk of having another stone within three years increases by 50%.

Symptoms that can be suggestive of a kidney stone include:

  • Blood in the urine which discolors the urine pink or red

  • Urine that is cloudy or smells bad

  • Pain in the back or side that may radiate toward the groin

  • Nausea with or without vomiting

  • Fever

  • Poor appetite

For concerns, your child should be seen by a physician and checked. Recommendations may include dietary changes and increased water intake, depending on the type of stone.

Prevention = decrease salt + increase water + limit animal protein!

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