What Foods Cause Kidney Stones?

Reviewed on 5/5/2022
View of several different kidney stones
Foods that can cause kidney stones include foods that are sources of oxalate, foods with too much sugar, salty foods, animal proteins, beer/alcoholic beverages, and calcium supplements.

Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis) are hard objects formed from materials in the urine. Waste products usually dissolve in urine, but if there is excess waste and insufficient liquid, crystals can form into solids that grow.

Small stones may pass out of the body in urine, but larger stones too big to pass can block urine flow in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra, causing the pain of kidney stones. 

Seven types of foods that can cause kidney stones include: 

  • Foods that are sources of oxalate
    • Most nuts and nut products
    • Peanuts (which are legumes)
    • Rhubarb
    • Spinach
    • Wheat bran
    • Beets
    • Chocolate
    • Tea 
    • Swiss chard
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Many types of berries
  • Foods with too much sugar
    • Fructose, like table sugar
    • High fructose corn syrup
  • Salty foods
  • Animal proteins
    • Beef and pork, especially organ meats
    • Poultry
    • Eggs
    • Fish and shellfish
    • Milk, cheese, and other dairy products
    • Meat-based gravies
  • Beer/alcoholic beverages
  • Calcium supplements 

What Are Symptoms of Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include: 

  • Pain 
    • Ranges from mild to intense requiring hospitalization
    • Waves of severe pain (renal colic) can last up to an hour
    • Occurs on the flank, between the ribs and the hip or the lower abdomen, and can move toward the groin
    • Pain can also be vague or feel like a stomach ache that doesn’t go away
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
    • Urine may appear pink or reddish
  • Passage of “gravel” or “sand,” which are multiple small stones in the urine
  • Urinary urgency
  • Pain when urinating
  • Urine has foul odor 
  • Urine appears cloudy
  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting

When It's an Emergency

See a doctor right away if you think you have a kidney stone. Drinking additional fluids to try to flush a stone out in the urine may be recommended. If you pass a stone, it can be helpful to strain it and bring it to your doctor to determine the type of stone. Knowing the type of stone can help determine treatment.

What Is the Treatment for Kidney Stones?

Treatment of a kidney stone depends on the size and location of the stone, the type of stone, and the patient’s pain levels. 

Home treatment may be sufficient if the stone is believed to be small enough to pass, the patient’s pain is tolerable, and they can eat and drink.

Home treatment for kidney stones includes: 

  • Pain management 
  • Medications to help the stone pass 
  • Straining urine to retrieve the stone for testing once it passes
    • Knowing the type of stone you have helps influence treatment to prevent future stones

Some diets such as The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet have been shown in studies to reduce the risk of kidney stones. The DASH plan recommends:

  • Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Fish, poultry
  • Beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
  • Foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein
  • Foods low in saturated and trans fats
  • Foods lower in sodium
  • Limit:
    • Foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
    • Sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.

If you already had kidney stones, changes in diet depend on which type you had. 

For calcium oxalate stones, calcium phosphate stones, and uric acid stones:

  • For protein, the best foods to eat include: 
    • Beans
    • Lentils
    • Dried peas
  • For calcium, the best foods to eat include:
    • Cereals
    • Breads
    • Calcium-fortified juices
    • Certain vegetables
    • Some types of beans

Diet changes for calcium phosphate stones also include: 

  • For protein, the best foods to eat include: 
    • Soy foods, such as soy milk, soy nut butter, and tofu
    • Nuts and nut products, such as almonds and almond butter, cashews and cashew butter, walnuts, and pistachios
    • Sunflower seeds

The most important diet change for cystine stones is drinking plenty of liquids, primarily water. 

Medical treatments for larger stones or severe symptoms include: 

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids given in the hospital
  • Stronger prescription pain medications 
  • Stones larger than 9 or 10 millimeters usually do not pass on their own so a procedure is needed to break up or remove the stone

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Reviewed on 5/5/2022
Image Source: iStock Images