If you have chronic kidney disease, your doctor may prescribe a creatinine-focused diet to lower your levels of this natural waste product.
Creatinine is a byproduct that your body produces when your muscle breaks down protein from the foods you eat, according to the Cleveland Clinic. With normal kidney function, your kidneys filter creatinine from your blood and excrete it through your urine.
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On the other hand, "high creatinine levels indicate that the kidneys are not flushing out toxins that should be removed from the body. It's important for patients to find out what their creatinine levels are during their yearly checkup," says David P. Selzer, MD, a nephrologist at NYU Langone Medical Associates in West Palm Beach.
People who have diabetes and hypertension are at higher risk for kidney disease because these conditions put more stress on the kidneys and force them to work harder, says S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, California. Older adults are also at risk for kidney disease because kidney function lowers with age.
"The main causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes. Hypertensive nephropathy and diabetic nephropathy both cause injury to the kidney due to increased pressure on the kidney. This leads to an inability to filter toxins out of the body," Dr. Selzer says.
People who are diagnosed with kidney disease often don't have any symptoms until they're in the later stages of the disease. At that point, people will often have fluid retention, swelling and a decrease in urinary output, says Mariselis Rosa-Sanchez, MD, a pediatric nephrologist at KIDZ Medical Services.
That's why it's incredibly important to see your primary care doctor every year to check your creatinine levels, which are evaluated with urine and blood tests. If you have kidney damage, blood creatinine levels will go up while the amount of creatinine in your urine goes down.
And if you do have chronic kidney disease, your doctor may recommend following a low-creatinine diet. Here's how to lower creatinine levels with food to help manage chronic kidney disease specifically.
Note that following a diet to lower your creatinine is typically only recommended if you have chronic kidney disease. If you have an acute kidney injury or simply have slightly high creatinine levels, the below dietary recommendations could be harmful. So before changing your eating patterns, check with your doctor to determine what's best for you.
1. Cut Back on Protein
Not eating enough protein is a common cause of low creatinine levels. But on the flip side, people with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure should focus on following a diet low in protein. Eating too much protein, especially animal protein and processed meats, forces your kidneys to work harder to excrete creatinine, Dr. Rosa-Sanchez says.
"Lean sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, are better than fattier cuts for people with kidney disease, but you still want to lower your overall protein intake," she says.
If you're wondering how to reduce creatinine levels, Dr. Rosa-Sanchez recommends choosing plant-based protein instead. Protein-rich foods to lower creatinine include:
She also advises loading up on vegetables and fruits, which provide antioxidants, vitamins and fiber that can help protect your kidney function and reduce your risk of other chronic diseases.
"Animal protein contains more acid (as in amino acids) whereas plant protein is more alkaline. Too much animal protein can lead to acidosis, which can tax your kidneys even more," she says. "You want to fill 50 percent of your plate with vegetables and fruits, 25 percent with protein and the rest with fiber, such as whole grains."
People with poor kidney function should limit their daily protein intake to 45 grams, while those with moderate kidney function can have up to 60 grams of protein a day, Dr. Ramin says.
2. Eat More Fiber
According to a November 2014 review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers concluded that dietary fiber contributes to lower creatinine levels. They hypothesized that this may be because fiber can help break down creatinine before it reaches the kidneys.
What's more, increasing fiber intake in people with chronic kidney disease can help reduce complications and improve overall health by promoting good gut bacteria and reducing inflammation and uremic toxin production, per a September 2021 review in Clinical Kidney Journal.
Per the Mayo Clinic, high-fiber foods to lower creatinine include:
- Fruit like berries, pears and apples
- Vegetables like potatoes, carrots and peas
- Whole grains like whole-grain bread, brown rice and oatmeal
- Legumes, nuts and seeds
If you have diabetes, you want to be mindful of your fruit and whole grain intake, which can raise your glucose levels, Dr. Ramin says. Talk to your doctor to determine the best diet for high creatinine that suits your specific health concerns.
3. Reduce Sodium
People with chronic kidney disease also need to reduce their overall sodium intake on a low-creatinine diet. That's because high-sodium foods retain fluid — and you want to help your kidneys do their job of filtering creatinine from your blood and removing waste products. Too much sodium can also raise your blood pressure.
"Lowering your sodium is important because a failing kidney won't be able to filter all the salt out. Maintaining too much salt drives up your blood pressure and puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke," Dr. Ramin says.
High-sodium foods may be included in a high-creatinine diet, and should thus be avoided if you're trying to lower your creatinine levels. According to the University of California San Francisco Health, high-sodium foods to limit or avoid include:
- Processed meats like bacon, cold cuts and sausage
- Frozen dinners like burritos and pizza
- Canned entrees like ravioli and chili
- Canned beans with added salt
- Salted nuts
Can Creatinine Levels Change Quickly?
4. Limit Potassium
Because your potassium levels increase when your kidney is unable to remove creatinine, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables aren't the best foods for managing high creatinine levels.
Indeed, people with chronic kidney disease want to reduce the amount of potassium in their diet, Dr. Selzer says. If your potassium levels are too high, it can lead to an irregular heartbeat or a heart attack, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).
"When creatinine levels are elevated, the number one problem that patients face is high potassium. Eating a low-potassium diet is often the most needed for patients with severe kidney injury," Dr. Selzer says.
As a result, per the NKF, the diet chart for high-creatinine patient might recommend avoiding foods high in potassium like:
- Butternut squash
According to the NKF, you should instead pick produce from this list of fruits and vegetables to reduce your creatinine levels:
Working closely with your nephrologist or a registered dietitian who specializes in treating kidney disease can help you come up with a meal plan to lower creatinine levels and retain kidney function.
5. Stay Hydrated
It isn't just about eating foods that lower creatinine — what you drink is also important.
Indeed, drinking water can lower creatinine because it helps your kidneys filter out the excess waste in your blood, Dr. Rosa-Sanchez says. That's why staying hydrated is crucial for people with chronic kidney disease and high creatinine levels.
"You want to drink pure water — not alkaline water, juice or drinks with electrolytes like Gatorade," Dr. Ramin says. "People who work out more produce more creatinine, so they need to hydrate more than others."
If your urine is clear to light yellow, it means you're well-hydrated. However, if your urine is dark yellow, it means you're dehydrated, Dr. Ramin says.
6. Limit Alcohol
As mentioned before, the fluids you drink can influence your creatinine diet. And according to a 2017 review in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, alcohol may contribute to kidney dysfunction.
Your kidneys help filter harmful substances from your body, alcohol included, per the NKF. Heavy drinking can overwhelm your kidneys and render them less able to remove other waste products — like creatinine — from your blood.
To curb this issue, stick to the National Institutes of Health-recommended limit of one to two drinks per day.
7. Limit or Avoid Certain Medications and Supplements
Taking supplements like protein powders, antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can raise creatinine levels in the blood, so you want to be mindful of them if you have chronic kidney disease, Dr. Rosa-Sanchez says.
It's also important to remember that the FDA does not require supplements to be proven safe or effective before they are sold, so there's no guarantee that any supplement you take is safe, contains the ingredients it says it does or produces the effects it claims. Talk to your doctor before you try any product to make sure it won't further elevate your creatinine levels.
8. Take Your Kidney Medications and Supplements
The treatment for chronic kidney disease depends on what's causing it — there aren't any medications that specifically treat the condition. For example, if it's diabetes or hypertension, your doctor will treat those issues to help you maintain your kidney function, Dr. Rosa-Sanchez says.
Dr. Ramin says two classes of anti-hypertensive medications that are used to lower blood pressure are ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers). These drugs work to lower blood pressure in a way that protects your kidneys.
And when it comes to medications and supplements for chronic kidney disease, what lowers creatinine levels specifically? People with chronic kidney disease are often prescribed a supplement called Nephro-Vite, which contains a combination of vitamins needed for folks with kidney failure and aid in excreting creatinine from the body, Dr. Ramin says.
- National Kidney Foundation: "Apples are Okay, but Bananas are not...Top 10 Dialysis Diet Tips"
- International Journal of Biological Macromolecules: "Protective Effect of sulfated Chitosan of C3 Sulfation on Glycerol-Induced Acute Renal Failure in Rat Kidney"
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- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “FDA 101: Dietary Supplements”
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