Diet & Your Kidneys

Nutrition is part of managing your kidney disease. Modifying your diet can benefit your overall health. By following recommended diet guidelines, you may reduce symptoms, prevent or improve some medical problems, or possibly slow down further damage to your kidneys. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian to learn how to create and eat meals appropriate for your diet.

Diet changes are based on your level of kidney function, body size, race, gender, blood test results, and medical problems. Food preferences and cultural backgrounds also are taken into consideration.

Important Nutrients

In planning food choices, primary concerns for dietitians include:

Protein “” Proteins are critical to build and repair tissues such as muscles, bones, and skin and to resist infections. Proteins are not stored in the body and must be eaten daily. Proteins, however, leave behind a waste product called urea that is removed by the kidneys. When your kidney function declines, urea builds up in the body. This can cause a reduced appetite, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. Your dietitian will help you plan your diet to provide the right amount of protein for your health and kidney function.

Sodium “” Sodium, or salt, is used in the body to control blood pressure, balance fluids and control muscle contractions. Kidneys are responsible for removing excess sodium from the body. When kidneys aren’t working properly, sodium and fluid remain in the body. Too much sodium can cause swelling, high blood pressure and organ damage. Limiting your sodium intake will help prevent these problems.

Potassium “” Potassium is a mineral that helps to keep nerves and muscles working properly. Both high and low levels of potassium can cause serious health problems. The kidneys normally help balance potassium levels in the body. In patients with kidney disease, potassium levels can be controlled by eating the proper foods and amounts recommended by your dietitian.

Phosphorus “” Phosphorus, along with calcium, works to keep your bones healthy and strong. When kidneys fail, phosphorus builds up in the blood, causing a drop in calcium levels. This can cause weak bones, damaged blood vessels, and heart disease. Your phosphorus level will be controlled by food choices as well as medications if necessary.

If your doctor has referred you to a dietitian, is it important to follow through and learn about your individual dietary needs. Because every person is different, a diet should not be started without the recommendation and supervision of your doctor and dietitian. It’s also important to know that a diet plan is specific to each person.

What may be helpful to one patient may actually harm another, so make sure to follow your own diet recommendations.

Dining Out

You don’t have to stop visiting family members, friends, or even your favorite restaurant if you have dietary restrictions related to chronic kidney disease. Many restaurants have healthy foods and smaller portions that could be in line with your individual diet. You will need to learn how to make smart meal choices and read menus closely. It’s best to talk directly with your dietitian for tips on dining out and what to look for in take-out foods.