Kidney disease can be a Herculean struggle in all sorts of ways, where embracing a new normal is needed to slow disease progression and maintain your quality of life. Your kidney disease diet is key, and knowing which foods are best for your kidneys — and which to avoid — can keep you thriving.
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Diet Can Slow Progression
If you are one of the roughly 37 million Americans living with chronic kidney disease (CKD), per the Mayo Clinic, you can design your diet to help slow down disease progression and even prevent full-scale kidney failure.
But there is no one-size-fits-all diet, cautions Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, registered dietitian, author and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in St. Louis, so drafting an effective diet is no simple task.
"A diet for kidney disease is very detailed, with management of protein, carbohydrates, fat, calories, electrolytes, minerals, vitamins and fluid intake," Diekman says. "Management of all these components is essential to avoid overtaxing the failing kidney(s)," she adds, "but precisely what foods will work depends on the level of kidney failure, other health issues and, of course, the patient's likes."
For example, the American Kidney Fund (AKF) says that while early-stage kidney disease may involve few dietary restrictions, that can change as your condition worsens.
Watch Your Protein Intake
The Mayo Clinic and AKF say it's important to get the right amount of protein — not too much or too little — based on body size (height and weight), activity level and overall health. That's why it's important to consult your physician or a dietitian about your diet and how protein you should be consulting and the best sources for your particular needs. In general, Mayo Clinic suggests keeping any meat portions you do consume to under the size of a deck of cards.
Knowing which foods are higher or lower in protein can help guide your choices. And, remember, opting for low-protein foods doesn't mean you can eat vast quantities!
Per AKF, lower-protein foods include:
And here are some higher protein options:
- Red meat.
Stay Away From Sodium
Because salt boosts fluid retention and blood pressure, the Mayo Clinic also suggests restricting sodium intake to less than 600 milligrams per meal. And AKF advises you skip adding salt to your food altogether. Instead, try flavoring your food in more creative ways with herbs, lemon juice and spices.
To keep sodium intake to a minimum, AKF also recommends you:
- Choose fresh or frozen vegetables.
- Avoid canned soups and frozen meals high in sodium.
- Skip processed meats (ham, bacon, sausage, lunch meats).
- Snack on fruits and veggies rather than salty crackers.
- Steer clear of pickles and olives.
- Swap out high-sodium condiments like soy sauce, BBQ sauce and ketchup.
Eat Low-Potassium Foods
Because damaged kidneys have trouble processing potassium, AKF says it may be best to opt for low-potassium foods. (Again, chat with your doctor or dietitian if you need to limit potassium in your diet.)
Consider adding these lower-potassium foods to your grocery list:
- Summer squash.
- Pita, tortillas and white breads.
- White rice.
High-potassium foods you may need to avoid include:
- Bananas and plantains.
- Prunes and raisins.
- Winter squash.
- Bran products.
The Mayo Clinic also mentions orange juice and dairy among major sources of potassium that you may want to limit or avoid if you have elevated levels of potassium in your blood.
Stick With Low-Phosphorus Foods
If you have CKD, foods rich in the mineral phosphorus can be damaging to your bones. AKF says you may be steered toward low-phosphorus options like:
- Unsalted popcorn.
- Italian, French or sourdough breads.
- Cream of wheat.
- Corn or rice cereals.
Among foods you may need to limit, the Mayo Clinic cites:
- Processed cheese.
- Whole grains.
- Packaged foods.
- Fast foods.
Slow Down on Calcium, Carbs and Fluids
Mayo Clinic includes calcium-fortified foods among those you may need to skip if your calcium levels are elevated, while AKF suggests keeping tabs on fluid intake, cutting back on not only on what you drink, but also foods packed with water (think fruits, soups and ice cream).
And because carbs can be high in both potassium and phosphorus, AKF says you may ultimately need to cut back on such unhealthy sources as:
- Hard candies.
- Sweetened drinks.
Your kidney health diet can feel restrictive, acknowledges Mayo Clinic, but, ultimately, choosing the advised foods and limiting those suggested to avoid can help reduce the waste accumulation in your blood, improve the function of your kidneys and even prevent further damage.
Is This an Emergency?
- Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, LD, FADA, registered dietitian; food and nutrition consultant; former president, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; coauthor, The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book; former director of university nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis
- Mayo Clinic: “5 Nutrition Tips for Chronic Kidney Disease”
- American Kidney Fund: “Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)”
- American Kidney Fund: “Kidney-Friendly Diet for CKD”