It’s World Kidney Day and the numbers don’t lie: more than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and millions more are at risk for developing the illness. According to the National Institute of Health, CKD affects African-Americans with a rate up to 4 times higher than their European American counterparts. In other words this is a very REAL problem. Of course, most of us don’t need these statistics to recognize the personal impact Kidney disease has had on our families and our community. Those numbers don’t portray the very painful-time-consuming-expensive and often times debilitating nature of dialysis. They just don’t quite capture the uncertainty or burden of what a potential Kidney transplant means for an entire family.

Now if it isn’t clear already, this is meant to scare you. Not in a we-all-need-to-panic-and-order-kidney-screens-every-other-week kind of way but it is time to take this seriously and commit to the kind of lifestyle changes needed to reduce the risk of kidney disease. It’s time to go out and schedule a free kidney screening offered by the National Kidney Foundation (NFK) if you haven’t already done so, because early detection is key in treating CKD. However, the ultimate weapon against kidney disease is prevention.

The most important thing to remember about this disease is that it often develops slowly with few symptoms and many people don’t realize that they’re sick until the disease is advanced. In fact, reports indicate that about 43 percent of African Americans who are on dialysis were not aware they had kidney failure until about one week before starting treatment.

Another important thing to note is that the two major factors leading to kidney failure are diabetes and high blood pressure – two ailments that seem to have a special spot at the Black dinner table. That is why the NFK is teaming up with B. Smith for her Be Healthy campaign this March in honor of National Kidney Month. The celebrated restaurateur, author, TV personality and lifestyle expert who was dubbed as a modern day “Renaissance Woman” by The New York Times is perhaps best known as the owner of three popular restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C. and Sag Harbor, as well as her involvement with the American Diabetes Association and the African American Experience Fund (AAEF). Most recently, she was honored by the National Kidney Foundation with a “Visionary Leader Award.”

In other words, she gets it. And what is it exactly? – Mainly that Black people don’t have to look at diabetes, high blood pressure, and CDK as inevitable. They can be prevented.  To prove this, B. Smith has decided to make over three calorie-laden favorite recipes from those submitted in NKF’s online contest and turn them into “kidney-healthy delights.”  She understands that being unhealthy isn’t synonymous with being black. We can love mama’s cooking while still loving ourselves.

The following steps are NOT to be taken as suggestions. They’re imperative.

1. Enjoy regular physical activity.
2. Enjoy a diet with lower levels of salt, sugar, fat, and protein.
3.Dont overuse painkillers.
4.Stop smoking.
5.Subsitute water for soft drinks.
6. Get you and your family members (especially those older than you) kidney screenings and start setting an example (especially to those younger than you) for a more healthy and active lifestyle.
7.Regularly check those factors that can lead to kidney disease. They include blood pressure, blood glucose levels and family history.

Please remember that taking care of your health is not weakness, or an admittance of defeat in some way. Visiting the doctor and getting regular screenings is not selling out and no, changing up your diet is not an act of betrayal or treason. Looking out for your health might just be an act of self-love. On World Kidney Day, take the time to think about YOU!

For more information on how kidney disease specifically affects our community, click here.  For more on B. Smith and the National Kidney Foundation’s World Kidney Day efforts visit the NKF’s official website.