Table scene of assorted take out or delivery foods.

How to Navigate a Fast Food Menu with CKD

By: Kellsey Reed RDN, LDN, PatientsLikeMe Contributor 

Picture this. You are having a busy day with appointments, errands, and family obligations. The easiest thing right now would be to stop and get fast food. So, you pull into the drive thru and order your meal. Now, you have food and can get all of your errands done. We’ve all been there! Yes, fast food can be high in sodium and food additives and it is always best to cook your food from scratch whenever possible. However, that is not always realistic. Instead of choosing something at random, you can make informed decisions when at a fast food restaurant. There are ways that you can choose more kidney-friendly items at your favorite fast-food restaurants!

Where to start with navigating a fast food menu

The best place to start with navigating a fast food menu with CKD is to look up the nutrition information. Unlike local restaurants, many fast food chains have their nutrition information posted online. Instead of choosing the first thing you see on the menu, try looking for the lower sodium choices first. This will help you to feel less stressed because you know you are choosing more kidney-friendly foods! You can also:

  • Ask for sauces, condiments, dressings, and salsas on the side so you can better control how much you are using & therefore better control how much sodium you are getting.
  • Try making a list of options that are more plant-forward and lower in sodium so that you have a list of choices to choose from. 
  • Opt for the choices that are grilled rather than fried. This will help you consume more heart-healthy fats. 
  • Choose water as your beverage of choice so that you are staying hydrated throughout your meal. Try adding a lemon or lime to your water to make it more flavorful too. 
  • Don’t be afraid to customize your meals or ask for modifications. You never know until you try!

Here are some of the most common fast food restaurants and their corresponding nutrition information:


    Fast food and sodium tend to go hand in hand. It can be so hard to avoid extra sodium when going out to a fast food restaurant. But, you can choose lower sodium options by looking at the nutrition information first. Start at the sodium column on most nutrition reports and find the lower sodium options. This may be a better choice for you than some of the higher sodium options. For example, instead of a cheeseburger which is usually made with American cheese (a higher sodium cheese option), try a hamburger instead. Another tip that can work well at many fast food restaurants is to ask for your french fries unsalted. Many restaurants will leave off the salt if you ask them and if you are willing to wait a few extra minutes for them to make a new batch. This will help to decrease your sodium intake too.


      Many fast food restaurants can pack a lot of protein into their dishes! For those with CKD stages 1-5, you may not need that much protein in your diet. If you are on dialysis, you may benefit from that amount of protein. It’s always best to talk with your doctor and/or dietitian about how much protein you need each day on your kidney-friendly diet. If you need less protein each day, try choosing more plant-forward options which are typically lower in protein. Here are some lower and higher protein options at common fast food restaurants:

      Higher protein options:

      • Cheese burger
      • Double cheeseburger
      • Large size of chicken nuggets
      • Chicken sandwich 

      Lower protein options:

      • Salad 
      • Plain hamburger 
      • Smaller size of chicken nuggets 
      • Fish sandwich


      Potassium is found in veggies, fruits, grains, and protein-rich foods. You can find potassium almost everywhere! If you need a potassium restriction on your kidney-friendly diet, try choosing lower potassium fruits and veggies:

      • Instead of a cheese burger → try a plain hamburger with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions
      • Instead of a fried chicken sandwich → try a grilled chicken sandwich
      • Instead of a fried chicken salad → try a grilled chicken salad  
      • Instead of a milkshake → try a small cup of ice cream  
      • Instead of french fries or potatoes → try a sweet potato or sweet potato fries


      When it comes to managing phosphorus with CKD, the key is to avoid phosphate additives. Phosphate additives are highly absorbed in the body and can lead to high phosphorus levels in the blood for those with CKD. Phosphate additives are used in foods to help preserve and stabilize them. Many fast-food restaurants use phosphate additives because they are an inexpensive way to preserve their foods.

      Common fast foods like french fries and fried chicken can have added phosphate additives. To avoid phosphate additives as much as possible, try looking up the nutrition information and ingredient list of the fast food restaurant beforehand. You can look for anything with “phos” in it in the ingredients list. This means that there is a phosphate additive present. For example, the oat milk at Starbucks contains phosphate additives; however, the almond milk does not.

      • Chick Fil A – Grilled chicken nuggets + side salad w/ honey mustard sauce + fruit cup (600mg of sodium)
      • Chipotle – Burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, vegetables, lettuce, and sour cream (580mg of sodium)
      • Subway – Veggie delite sandwich (320mg of sodium) 
      • Taco Bell – Power menu veggie bowl (870mg of sodium) or black bean chalupa supreme (460mg of sodium)
      • Starbucks – Rolled oatmeal with mixed nuts and blueberries (~140mg of sodium)

      The bottom line

      Cooking your food from scratch is the best way to ensure your kidneys are happy and healthy. However, we know that is not always doable! Life is busy, and sometimes fast food is the most convenient option. Be sure to keep a few things in mind when choosing your fast food for your meal!


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