Kidney stones are incredibly painful, and trust me when I say you don't want them. Here are my tips on how to prevent kidney stones.

A family eating a healthy meal. In general, a healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones. Photo: Shutterstock

If you’ve had a kidney stone, by now you should know what type of stone you have. This information is important, because the prevention plan your doctor prescribes will differ based on the type of stone.

I know I’ve said this lots of times, but the number-one thing you can do to prevent kidney stones—of any kind—is to drink a lot of water. Ideally you should aim for at least eight 8-unce glasses, which equals about two liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and should be easy to remember. The goal is to produce about two liters of urine per day.

Now, here are some specific things you can do to prevent each of the four most common types of kidney stones.

Preventing calcium-based stones

First, can the soda. A 2013 study found that downing even one sugary-sweet soda a day can increase your odds of developing kidney stones by a whopping 23 percent. Researchers think the fructose (which can be found in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup) in sweetened drinks can cause an increase in kidney stone-causing chemicals.

Substitute the salt. Cutting back on salt can be difficult to do with the typical American diet. Look for low-salt or unsalted versions of your favorite foods, but be sure to read the labels and see how much sodium you are actually taking in. You can also use other low- and no-salt herbs and seasonings in place of traditional salt in your recipes.

Count on calcium. Whether or not you’ve had kidney stones, your body still needs the recommended amount of calcium that you get from your daily diet. Limiting your calcium intake may actually increase the chance that stones will form.

Citric acid is your friend. If you’ve already had a kidney stones, it’s imperative that you make sure to include citrate, or citric acid, in your diet to try and stop more from forming. You can get citrate as a supplement, and you can also find it in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruits. (Before you eat any grapefruit, make sure doing so won’t cause problems with medications you’re taking.) Citrate is used as a dough conditioner, so you may even be able to find it in some bread products.

Shrink your protein. Excessive protein in your diet can increase the amount of both calcium and oxalate in your urine, so it’s important to reduce how much you eat on a daily basis. A low-fat diet will also help keep calcium stones at bay.

Most importantly, eat a low-oxalate diet. My book has lots of information about high-, medium-, and low-oxalate foods, so pick up a copy and find out what you can eat (there’s quite a lot, actually) and what you can’t.

Preventing struvite stones

Most of the things you can do to prevent struvite stones involve preventing urinary tract infections. In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, it’s really important that you don’t “hold it” any longer than you have to—when you’ve gotta go, go! Wipe yourself from front to back in order to prevent any fecal bacteria from getting into the urinary tract, and clean your genitals every day. And finally, urinate after sex—urinating helps remove the bacteria that can get into your system from having sex.

Preventing uric acid stones

Your diet is very important when it comes to preventing kidney stones formed of uric acid. First of all, watch your protein. The ideal size of a protein serving is the size of your fist. If you want to have protein in your diet, it’s best to have several small helpings versus one huge serving. In my book, I’ve got some tips from the National Kidney Foundation on low-protein meal suggestions.

Preventing uric acid stones from forming is also a pH numbers game. You have to keep your urine pH level greater than 6.5. Medications can help you to do that, including sodium bicarbonate. Get tablets or powder designed to be taken by mouth rather than just breaking open a box of Arm & Hammer and swallowing a spoonful or two.

Preventing cystine stones

Cystine stones are very rare, and they are caused by a gene rather than by diet or lifestyle. However, if you have cystine stones, there are some dietary things you can do to reduce the risk of developing further stones. First of all, you must avoid diuretics such as tea, coffee, and alcohol, which can make the urine more acidic. Reducing the amount of methionine (the amino acid that produces cystine) in your diet by reducing consumption of animal protein and dairy products may also help.

Cystine kidney stones are more likely to form in low-pH urine. You can significantly reduce your risk by keeping your urine pH levels between 7.5 and 8.0. There are several supplements and medications that can help with this.

Want to learn more about what you can do to prevent kidney stones? Pick up a copy of my book, Even Urologists Get Kidney Stones. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format, and online at Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook format.