Diets for Kidney Disease

Eliza Martinez
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN

Following special diets for kidney disease, also known as renal disease, can slow the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of kidney failure. The purpose of a special diet when kidney disease is present is to decrease the amount of work performed by the kidneys.

Recommended Diets for Kidney Disease

Diets for people with kidney disease are designed to help control the amounts of fluid and waste products that build up in the blood. In many instances, patients that follow a diet for renal disease are able to slow down the loss of their kidney functions.

Although there is not a specific diet for diseases of the kidneys, following dietary recommendations and guidelines has proven very beneficial to many people suffering with renal diseases. A person with kidney disease should seek professional nutritional guidance from their doctor, a nutritionist familiar with renal disease progression or a renal dietician.

There are many determining factors to consider when structuring the diets of people with kidney disease including:

  • The type of kidney disease
  • The classification stage of the disease and the remaining functions of the kidneys
  • Other health conditions present in the patient
  • The patient's general overall health
  • The age of the patient
  • The weight of the patient
  • Any existing special dietary needs

A Limiting Diet

Diets for people who have kidney diseases in the early stages generally control the amount of phosphorus, protein, sodium and liquid that is taken in at each meal. It is also important to ensure that the diet includes enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.

Limiting Phosphorus

When kidney disease is present, the level of phosphorus in the blood often increases to dangerous levels. This happens because the kidneys are no longer able to filter out the phosphorus from the bloodstream. When phosphorus levels are high, calcium is lost causing bones to become weak and break easily. It is important to control the amount of phosphorus that enters the bloodstream by avoiding foods that have high phosphorus levels including:

  • Dairy products such as ice cream, milk, cheese, yogurt and pudding
  • Peanut butter, nuts and seeds
  • Dried peas and beans such as lentils, kidney beans and split peas
  • Cola soft drinks, cocoa and beer

Limiting Proteins

Protein is very important for daily growth, tissue repair and muscle building. Once your body processes the proteins that are taken in, the remaining waste is turned into urea, which is excreted by the kidneys. When renal disease is present, the kidneys are no longer able to rid the body of the amount of urea produced. It becomes necessary to make dietary changes to reduce the amount of protein taken in each day. Foods that are high in protein include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Many other foods also contain proteins including other dairy products, starches, grains, and some fruits and vegetables.

Limiting Sodium and Liquids

Limiting sodium when kidney disease is present lessens the workload of the kidneys. When kidneys are not able to remove the extra sodium in the body, excessive thirst is felt. Foods that have very high levels of sodium include:

  • Table salt
  • Salted snacks
  • Canned soup
  • Processed cheese
  • Canned vegetables
  • Fast foods
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Smoked meat
  • Cured meats
  • Luncheon meats

What Can You Eat?

While it's very helpful to know what foods you should avoid or limit if you have kidney disease, it's also important to understand what foods are good choices. That way you can create meals and snacks that you know are good for you and will support your health.

Because you must watch your phosphorus intake, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following foods.

  • Rice milk
  • Low-fat cream cheese
  • Sherbet
  • Frozen fruit pops
  • Broth of water-based soups containing ingredients low in phosphorus
  • Refined grains, such as white bread or white rice
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Wax beans
  • Lean meats (fresh, not processed)
  • Popcorn
  • Jelly or jam
  • Honey
  • Gumdrops
  • Lemon lime soda

At the same time, there are other foods that you can eat without concern. The American Kidney Fund suggests olive oil and vegetable oil for cooking and fresh vegetables over canned ones, which are often high in sodium. Fresh fruits are also recommended. Finally, you should make sure you aren't getting too much potassium because when your kidneys aren't working properly, it can build up and cause dangerous heart rhythms.

The National Institutes of Health suggest the following items:

  • Peaches
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Pineapple
  • Plums
  • Tangerines
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow Squash
  • Onion
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers

Eat for Health

Making the necessary dietary changes and following a diet for kidney disease tailored to your specific medical needs can help you to lead a longer and healthier life.

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Diets for Kidney Disease