Kidney disease can require changes in the way you eat to help support and maintain your kidney function. Nonetheless, most people with kidney disease can eat anything in moderation and in an appropriate portion. Certain foods need to be limited, but you can eat others more freely.
Depending on your kidney disease stage and any coexisting health issues, you may need to follow specific recommendations from your health care provider that differ from advice you’ll find online. Talk to your doctor and meet with a registered dietitian for individualized medical advice. Once you know about the underlying connections between food and kidney health, you can start the conversation. Use this list as a jumping point for a personalized meal plan and grocery list.
The kidneys are the body’s major filtration system. They regulate electrolyte levels, which affect many of the body’s functions, including those of the heart and muscles. The kidneys also keep our blood “clean” — free from a buildup of waste products.
In the early stages of kidney disease, eating too much protein or sodium can put stress on the kidneys and lead to more damage. If kidney disease is more advanced, you might also need to watch your intake of foods or beverages that are high in potassium (such as beans, leafy greens, avocado, banana, and potatoes) and phosphorus (dairy, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts).
How does that translate into real-life food choices? In general, avoiding fast food and processed foods is a positive step. However, not all healthy foods are suitable for people with kidney disease. Here are some examples of kidney-friendly foods and foods to cut back on.
Carrots are a good source of fiber, which is beneficial for kidney disease because it helps prevent constipation and regulate blood sugar. They’re also not as high in potassium as many other fruits and vegetables, making carrots a safer choice for chronic kidney disease.
For people with chronic kidney disease, finding fresh plant foods that don’t have too much potassium can be a challenge. You may want to consider also adding more parsnips and beets to your diet. These root vegetables aren’t as high in potassium as potatoes or yams, and they offer beneficial antioxidants that help lower inflammation and keep your body healthy.
Root vegetables keep well in the refrigerator and can be added to a variety of dishes. Try grilling or roasting root vegetables or adding raw slices to salads and sandwiches for extra color and crunch. If you’re on a tight potassium restriction, your doctor may advise boiling veggies and discarding the water before preparing them.
Although consuming too much protein at a time may be harmful, people with kidney disease still require this nutrient to keep their muscles and bones strong. Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein, but the yolks are high in phosphorus and should be avoided to help protect against progressive kidney damage.
Separate egg yolks from the whites by using the shell as a cup, or purchase egg whites in a carton for convenience. You can also hard-boil them and just eat the white portion.
Eggplant is naturally low in sodium, potassium, protein, and phosphorus, making it a good choice for people with various kidney-related dietary restrictions.
Try a healthier version of eggplant Parmesan by breading eggplant slices with low-sodium breadcrumbs and Italian seasonings. Crisp the slices on a baking sheet, layer them with just a little tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, and bake as a casserole. Dinner will be ready in no time.
You can also use eggplant to make Greek and Middle Eastern dishes like baba ghanouj (a dip). Just be mindful of the sodium content in your recipes. Another good option is to grill marinated eggplant and use it instead of meat in wrap sandwiches.
Cauliflower offers a tasty way for people with chronic kidney disease to get more vitamin C, folate, and fiber, which can help your body filter toxins. You can replace high-potassium potatoes with cauliflower in many types of recipes.
Try steaming and mashing cauliflower instead of potatoes to make a new version of the familiar side dish. Chopped, roasted cauliflower is also delicious. Simply toss the florets with some olive oil, garlic powder, and black pepper, then spread them on a baking sheet and roast until crisp.
Sushi rolls containing seafood, veggies, and white rice can provide a good balance for people with kidney disease. Fresh-fish versions without added sugar or sauces are a great choice, but be cautious about raw sushi if you have end-stage renal (kidney) disease. You’ll get some protein, vitamins, and fiber, and white rice is low in potassium and phosphorus. Just be sure to skip the soy sauce because of its high sodium content.
Processed meats like pepperoni, ham, sausages, and hot dogs are high in sodium and additives. These products aren’t healthy in general but can be particularly unhealthy for someone with impaired kidney function. If pepperoni pizza is your go-to, consider switching it up for a plain cheese or veggie pie. Making pizza at home rather than ordering out allows you to choose lower-sodium ingredients.
Potatoes are high in potassium, and potato-based snacks such as french fries and potato chips are often covered with salt. If you’re craving fries or chips, watch your portions and try to limit yourself to just a few bites. You can also try swapping them for unsalted popcorn.
Ice cream is high in saturated fat and sugar. Many people with chronic kidney disease also have heart disease or diabetes (or both), so it’s best to avoid large quantities of ice cream to avoid high blood pressure and blood sugar levels. In addition, dairy products have a significant amount of phosphorus, which can be problematic for some people with kidney disease.
If ice cream is one of your favorite treats, ask your kidney specialist how much you can safely eat in one sitting. You may be able to enjoy ice cream a few days a week by balancing out your other food choices. Another option: Substitute ice cream with alternative frozen snacks and desserts, like homemade ice pops or sorbet.
Many people think of prunes as a superfood, but sometimes so-called healthy snacks aren’t the best choice for people with chronic kidney disease. Drying prunes or other fruits concentrates their potassium content, making it easy to consume a large dose of potassium in a small portion. You could consider a fiber supplement if you have trouble staying regular without eating prunes.
If you’re craving fruit, canned fruit is lower in potassium as long as you drain the liquid. Other low-potassium fruits include pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, and raspberries. Talk to your health care provider to find out if you have any restrictions for fruit and what portions they recommend for you.
Before buying “low-sodium” canned soup, check the food label. Some low-sodium soups are flavored with potassium chloride, a salt substitute that makes them too high in potassium for people with end-stage kidney disease.
Instead, learn to make low-sodium soups at home. You can also ask your health care provider to suggest some low-sodium brands that fit your diet.
On MyKidneyDiseaseCenter, the site for people with kidney disease and their loved ones, people come together to gain a new understanding of different types of kidney disease and share their stories with others who understand life with kidney disease.
How has chronic kidney disease affected your meal plan? Do you have any strategies for getting the right amount of protein or reducing your sodium intake? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below.
Get updates directly to your inbox.
Get updates directly to your inbox.