The basics of a kidney disease diet

Once you’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), one of the best things you can do is follow a kidney disease diet to help your kidneys keep everything in balance. If you’ve been diagnosed at an earlier stage of chronic kidney disease, a kidney disease diet modified for your individual needs may help slow the progression of kidney disease. For those in a later stage of kidney disease, the kidney disease diet can help optimize dialysis treatments and help prevent further health complications.

When you have kidney disease, your kidneys are not able to adequately filter waste and excess fluids, and eliminate them from your body. A kidney disease diet can help relieve the kidneys’ workload to slow or prevent further damage. The kidney diet can also compensate for other declining kidney functions, such as balancing your body’s mineral composition.

How the kidney disease diet benefits your kidneys

A diet that supports your kidneys follows the same basics as most healthy eating plans: consume adequate amounts of high quality protein and healthy fats. Reduce consumption of sodium and limit foods with little nutritive value, such as processed foods. With the kidney diet the amounts of protein, phosphorus, sodium and potassium may be restricted depending on what stage of kidney disease you’re in, your nutritional status and the levels of waste and minerals in your blood. Talk to your doctor and ask about working with a renal dietitian to help you determine what changes may be made to your current diet. 

Protein and the kidney disease diet

Dietary proteins are the building blocks of muscles and tissues. High quality protein sources include meat, poultry, pork, lamb, fish, eggs and soy products. When kidneys are damaged, protein waste products can build up in the blood. Therefore, eating less protein may be recommended to prevent this buildup for those in the earlier stages of kidney disease. Lower protein consumption can lessen stress on the kidneys. To ensure that you get the protein your body needs, ask your doctor for help from a dietitian who can determine how much protein you need and monitor you for adequate intake to prevent protein malnutrition.

For people diagnosed with end stage renal disease who are on dialysis, the protein requirements increase. Your doctor or renal dietitian can provide a kidney disease diet prescription that will state how much protein you need in your diet.

Phosphorus and the kidney disease diet

Dietary phosphorus is a mineral present in many foods, including meats and dairy products. Phosphorus is also an additive in many foods. Your body uses it to build strong bones and teeth. However, starting in the earlier stages of kidney disease, kidneys begin to lose their ability to remove excess phosphorus from the blood. Because elevated blood phosphorus levels can contribute to bone and heart disease, it is recommended to eat less of it.

Your renal dietitian is a good resource to help you learn the phosphorous content in the foods you eat. If you already have reduced the amount of protein in your diet, the amount of phosphorus may be lower, too. You may also need to limit the amount of dairy products in your diet. 

Potassium and the kidney disease diet

Potassium is another mineral derived from food that your kidneys must keep in balance. When your kidneys aren’t working normally, your potassium levels can become too high. These levels need to be just right in order for all your muscles, including your heart, to function properly.

Potassium restriction may not be needed in early stages of kidney disease because the kidneys are still able to remove the excess potassium from your blood. Regular blood tests will help monitor your potassium levels, and by working with your dietitian you can adjust your kidney disease diet accordingly.

Sodium and the kidney disease diet

Sodium consumption is limited in the kidney disease diet to help keep blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of chronic kidney disease and many people with kidney disease also have high blood pressure. Sodium causes thirst. For those on dialysis who are on the kidney disease diet, fluids may be limited, so limiting sodium can help with thirst control and fluid restrictions.

A healthy kidney disease diet goes a long way

Maintaining a kidney disease diet that supports your kidneys and your overall health can fit into your life with help from your health care team and dedication on your part. It starts with the foundation of a basic healthy diet, and then modifying protein, phosphorus, potassium and sodium for your individual needs. Your doctor and renal dietitian will be important resources to help you know exactly what your body needs. 

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