Eating Right for Kidney Disease

Eating Right for Kidney Disease

Nutrition is key to managing kidney disease and your overall health. Making healthy food choices is important for everyone, but it is even more important if you have chronic kidney disease. Good nutrition helps to 

  • Provide energy for daily tasks 
  • Prevent infection 
  • Avoid loss of muscle mass 
  • Help maintain a healthy weight 
  • Help keep kidney disease from getting worse 

Your kidneys help to keep the right balance of nutrients and minerals in your body. But if you have kidney disease, your kidneys may not be able to do this job very well. You may need to make some changes to your diet. 

Go with the Pros to Plan Your Diet

To manage your kidney disease, you may need to change the way you eat. Planning a healthy diet requires special training in nutrition for patients with kidney disease. Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Meeting with a dietitian is covered by Medicare. The service also may be a covered benefit by other types of insurance. Here are a few ways to find a dietitian who specializes in kidney disease:

The dietitian will work with your doctor to decide what foods to include in your diet. You may have other conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, that require changes in what you eat and drink. Dietitians are trained to evaluate your specific needs at each stage of kidney disease. 

How the Diet Changes with Kidney Disease

When your kidneys aren’t working as well as they should, extra waste and fluid can build up in your body. You can help your kidneys maintain their function and slow the progression of kidney disease by making changes to your diet. 

Understanding more about protein; sodium; potassium and phosphorous; calories; and fluid will help you make the best choices. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you create a meal plan that is customized to your individual needs, preferences, and stage of kidney disease. 

Photo of various types of protein including chicken, fish, beef, and eggs

Protein

Your body needs protein to help build muscle, repair tissue, and fight infection. Protein in our diet is found in both animal foods and plant foods. It is important to eat the right amount of protein each day. If you have kidney disease, you may need to eat less protein and replace animal-based proteins for plant-based proteins. Eating too much protein of any kind makes your kidneys work harder than normal. This can damage the kidneys and cause your kidney disease to progress faster. 

The amount of protein you need is based on your body size, your kidney problem, and the amount of protein in your urine. Protein intake should not be too low, or it can cause other problems. Your dietitian or doctor can tell you how much protein you should eat. 

Photo of a double cheeseburger and salty fries

Sodium

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. It affects blood pressure and water balance in your body. Healthy kidneys can control sodium. But if your kidneys aren’t working well, sodium and fluid can build up in your body. Too much fluid can cause high blood pressure and other problems, such as swelling of your ankles, fingers, or eyes. Your doctor or dietitian will tell you if you need to limit sodium. 

Potassium and Phosphorus

Potassium and phosphorus are important minerals that we don’t think about unless our kidneys aren’t working well. Sometimes people with kidney disease need to limit potassium and phosphorus in their diet. It is important to understand the role of these minerals in the body and what foods contain them. 

Photo of high potassium foods including bananas, dried fruits, nuts, and apricots.

Potassium

Potassium is an important mineral that helps your muscles and heart work properly. When your kidneys are not working well, your potassium level may be too high or too low. The amount of potassium you need is based on how well your kidneys are working and the medicines you are taking. Your dietitian can help you plan a diet that will give you the right amount of potassium. 

If you have muscle cramps, unusual heartbeat, or muscle weakness, consult your healthcare provider. A simple blood test can check your potassium level. If it is not normal, you may need to take potassium supplements or a special medicine to help get rid of too much potassium. Take only the supplements your doctor recommends. 

Phosphorus

Phosphorous is a mineral that is found in almost all foods. It works with calcium to keep your bones healthy. Your kidneys help keep your phosphorus in check. If your kidneys are not working well, phosphorus can build up in your blood, blood vessels, heart, joints, muscles, and skin. Many people with kidney disease need to limit phosphorous and foods that contain phosphorus additives. 

High phosphorus levels can cause your bones to become weak and break easily. This is because calcium is pulled from your bones when there is a lot of phosphorus in your blood. 

Depending on your stage of kidney disease, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine called a phosphate binder. This medicine keeps phosphorous from building up in your blood. Even if you take a phosphate binder, you will still need to watch what phosphorus foods you eat. Your dietitian can help you choose the right foods for you. 

Couple chopping vegetables in their kitchen and referencing a recipe on their phone.

Calories

Calories are fuel for the body just as gas is fuel for a car. They give your body the energy you need to stay active and do your daily tasks. Calories also help your body use the protein in foods to build muscles and tissues. 

The number of calories you need each day depends upon your age, sex, height, weight, level of physical activity, and if you are pregnant or nursing. Adults typically need fewer calories as they get older because their metabolism slows down. You need to eat enough calories each day to maintain a healthy weight. 

How Many Calories Do I Need Each Day?

Do you know your daily calorie target? Talk to your healthcare provider or dietitian if you don’t know your calorie needs. 

To calculate your daily calorie target, go to MyPlate Plan or use the widget. The widget can help you set food group targets too. 

Photo of smiling man drinking a glass of water.

Fluid

People in the early stages of kidney disease do not need to limit the amount of fluid they drink. As kidney disease progresses, the body produces less urine. This can cause water retention and swelling. So, patients in later stages of kidney disease may need to limit fluids. 

If you do not know your stage of kidney disease, your provider will let you know if you need to limit fluids and how much fluid you should drink each day. 

Learn more about fluid control

If your provider tells you to limit your fluid intake, check out this mobile app. It is designed to help people with hyponatremia, kidney failure, or heart disease. 

H2Overload: Fluid Control for Heart Kidney Health