What is a kidney-friendly diet? Nearly 27 million Americans have kidney disease, with seniors and several minority groups among those at highest risk.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney disease. Much like those conditions, diet is often a cornerstone of treatment. What you eat and drink comes into play because:
- Your kidneys work to rid the body of excess water.
- They keep many of the body's minerals balanced, especially potassium, sodium, calcium and phosphorus.
- They remove waste products from protein breakdown.
- They help control blood pressure.
- When the kidneys don't work well, waste products can build up in the blood and cause illness.
Managing your diet is one way to help prevent further complications of kidney disease. A "kidney-friendly" diet limits certain foods to levels the kidneys can handle.
What should you eat if you have kidney disease?
Specific dietary directions will depend on your individual health. Some basic guidelines are listed here, but be sure to ask your doctor what is best for you.
Limit sodium intake, especially if you already have high blood pressure. Since a main function of the kidneys is to maintain a healthy blood pressure, this is important. Experts now recommend limiting sodium to 1,500 mg (two-thirds of a teaspoon) per day.
- Avoid the use of table salt. Use lemon, herbs and other spices to improve the flavor of your meals.
- Limit convenience foods, frozen foods and canned soups.
- Limit sauces and "extras" such as catsup, salad dressing, barbecue sauce and soy sauce.
- Use garlic powder, onion powder and other seasonings that don't have salt or sodium. Avoid seasonings that have the words salt or sodium on the label. (i.e., garlic, onion or celery salt).
- Do not use processed cheeses or canned, pickled or smoked meats. These may be high in sodium.
- Read labels carefully for sodium content.
Avoid excess protein. Your body needs protein for healthy body tissue. When protein is broken down in the body, the kidneys normally get rid of the leftover waste products. When your kidneys don't work well, these wastes can build up.
- Keep meat, chicken and fish portions to 2- to 3-ounce servings.
- Don't overdo dairy, such as milk, cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese. These are also a source of phosphorus, which you don't want too much of.
- Keep beans/legumes limited (high in protein and potassium).
Watch phosphorus and potassium. These are minerals regulated by your kidneys. Potassium helps your nerves and muscles work properly. Too much potassium can lead to irregular beating of your heart.
- Avoid salt substitutes that contain potassium, unless your doctor has approved them.
- Many foods contain potassium, but dried fruit, beans/legumes, greens and potatoes are especially high.
- Dietary sources of phosphorus typically include eggs, cereals, dairy products and meat. Also limit nuts, alcohol, cola drinks and cocoa.
Eat healthy fats. One way to keep up calorie intake without overdoing protein or carbohydrates is to ensure you have plenty of healthy fats in your diet.
- Use olive oil in cooking and salads.
- Use healthy butter substitutes without trans fats.
- Use a small amount of avocado in salads and/or spread on toast.
- Use a small amount of nuts in salads and cereals.
Overall, eat whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and small amounts of lean protein and dairy. Keep up regular visits with your doctor. He or she will monitor your blood pressure and urine to make sure everything is working properly.
If your condition becomes worse, your diet may need further adjustments. Check back with your doctor. Meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in kidney disease may also be helpful.
Created on 03/26/2009
Updated on 06/08/2012
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.
- National Kidney Foundation. Nutrition and chronic kidney disease.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Senior health: Kidney disease risk factors and prevention.