If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), it’s important to watch what you eat and drink. That’s because your kidneys can’t remove waste products and fluid from your body the way they should. A kidney-friendly diet can help you stay healthier longer.
What’s a Kidney-Friendly Diet?
A major function of the kidneys is to get rid of waste and extra fluid from your body through your pee. They also:
- Balance your body’s minerals, like salt and potassium
- Balance your body’s fluids
- Make hormones that affect the way other organs work
A kidney-friendly diet is a way of eating that helps protect your kidneys from further damage. You’ll have to limit some foods and fluids so other fluids and minerals like electrolytes don’t build up in your body. At the same time, you’ll have to make sure you get the right balance of protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals.
If you’re in the early stages of CKD, there may be few, if any, limits on what you can eat. But as your disease gets worse, you’ll have to be more careful about what you put into your body.
The doctor may suggest you work with a dietitian to choose foods that are easy on your kidneys. They might recommend:
Cut the Sodium
This mineral is found naturally in many foods. It’s most common in table salt.
Sodium affects your blood pressure. It also helps to maintain the water balance in your body. Healthy kidneys keep sodium levels in check. But if you have CKD, extra sodium and fluids build up in your body. This can cause a number of problems, like swollen ankles, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and fluid buildup around your heart and lungs. You should aim for less than 2 grams of sodium in your daily diet.
Take these simple steps to cut the sodium in your diet:
- Avoid table salt and high-sodium seasonings (soy sauce, sea salt, garlic salt, etc.).
- Cook at home -- most fast foods are high in sodium.
- Try new spices and herbs in place of salt.
- Stay away from packaged foods, if possible. They tend to be high in sodium.
- Read the labels when shopping, and choose low-sodium foods.
- Rinse canned foods (veggies, beans, meats, and fish) with water before serving.
Limit Phosphorus and Calcium
You need these minerals to keep your bones healthy and strong. When your kidneys are healthy, they remove the phosphorus you don’t need. But if you have CKD, your phosphorus levels can get too high. This puts you at risk for heart disease. What’s more, your calcium levels begin to drop. To make up for it, your body pulls it from your bones. This can make them weak and easier to break.
If you have late-stage CKD, your doctor may advise you to get no more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) of phosphorus mineral each day. You can do this by:
- Choosing foods with low levels of phosphorus (look for “PHOS” on the label)
- Eating more fresh fruits and veggies
- Choosing corn and rice cereals
- Drinking light-colored sodas
- Cutting back on meat, poultry, and fish
- Limiting dairy and processed foods
Foods that are high in calcium also tend to be high in phosphorus. The doctor might suggest you cut back on calcium-rich foods. Dairy foods that are lower in phosphorus include:
The doctor might also tell you to stop taking over-the-counter calcium supplements and suggest a phosphorus binder, a medicine that controls your phosphorus levels.
Reduce Your Potassium Intake
This mineral helps your nerves and muscles work properly. But when you have CKD, your body can’t filter out extra potassium. When you have too much of it in your blood, it can lead to serious heart problems.
Potassium is found in a lot of fruits and veggies, like bananas, potatoes, avocados, oranges, cooked broccoli, raw carrots, greens (except kale), tomatoes, and melons. These foods can affect potassium levels in your blood. Your doctor will let you know if you need to limit this mineral in your diet. If so, they may recommend you try low-potassium foods, like:
- Apples and apple juice
- Cranberries and cranberry juice
- Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
- Boiled cauliflower
- Beans (green or wax)
As your CKD gets worse, you may need to make other changes to your diet. This might involve cutting back on foods that are high in protein, especially animal protein. These include meats, seafood, and dairy products. You may also need extra iron. Talk to your doctor about which iron-rich foods you can eat when you have CKD.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s a diet rich in fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. It’s low in sodium, sugars and sweets, fats, and red meats.
Talk to your doctor about it if you have CKD. They’ll let you know if there are certain reasons you shouldn’t try the DASH diet.
It isn’t an option if you’re on dialysis.
What About Fluids?
If you have early-stage CKD, you probably don’t need to cut back on fluids. But if your condition gets worse, your doctor will let you know if you need to limit those, too. To cut back on fluids you can:
- Avoid salty foods
- Manage your thirst with sugar-free hard candies, ice chips, or frozen grapes
- Track your fluid in a journal or with a marked container, and track your weight