Eating Well for Chronic Kidney Disease

When you were first diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), you may have been told you need to modify your diet.

While it’s true that nutrition significantly impacts chronic illness, and eating foods that are high in nutrients and minimally processed, combined with some exercise, can help prevent and minimize symptoms of kidney disease, you aren’t limited to eating white rice for the rest of your life.

What are the kidneys?

The kidneys are a small bean-shaped organ that plays a primary role in the body. It’s responsible for eliminating waste and toxins, releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure, balancing fluids, and returning essential nutrients like vitamins, amino acids, and glucose back into the bloodstream.

Why are there so many myths around kidney diets?

CKD is a condition where damage to the kidneys results in a gradual loss of function over time. When kidneys aren’t able to do their jobs, waste and toxins build-up, blood pressure increases, and bones weaken, making you feel sick. Untreated kidney disease can lead to other chronic conditions like diabetes, hypotension, and heart disease.

Damage to the kidneys is permanent. If caught in the early stages, you may be able to prevent or delay kidney failure. If kidneys fail, you will need to undergo dialysis treatment or even a kidney transplant.

This is why it’s so important to follow a balanced and wholesome diet when you’ve been diagnosed with CKD.

What foods should you avoid?

Everything you eat and drink affects your health. Too much coffee, you may become dehydrated. Not enough vegetables, you may become constipated. Maintaining a state of balance in your body by way of nutrition can help treat and prevent CKD by giving the body the nutrients it needs to heal.

With all meal plans, it’s important to get the right amount of calories through protein, fat, and carbohydrates – also called macronutrients. Choosing minimally processed foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, that provide these macronutrients, also gives you the vitamins and minerals – micronutrients – your body needs.

A kidney-friendly diet is usually lower in protein and limits sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Protein is the body’s building block. It helps build muscle, repair tissue, and fight infections. The amount of protein your body needs depends on activity level, body size, and stage of kidney disease. When proteins are broken down into useable energy, it leaves behind waste products that need to be filtered out by the kidneys. But when you have kidney disease, they can’t efficiently clear waste left behind by protein break down, making the kidneys work harder and causing more damage.

Sodium is an important mineral that’s found in almost every food. It affects blood pressure and water balance in your body. Healthy kidneys can easily filter and control sodium levels in the body, but damaged kidneys can’t, resulting in a build-up of sodium and fluid in the body. Too much sodium and fluid can cause high blood pressure, swelling in the ankles, feet, and fingers.

Potassium is another mineral found in many foods. It controls nerve and muscle function and keeps your heart beating at a normal rhythm. Potassium also helps maintain fluids, balance electrolytes, and pH levels. Healthy kidneys remove excess potassium to help maintain normal levels in the blood. But when kidneys are damaged, they can’t remove excess potassium causing levels in the blood to build up. This is called hyperkalemia and is common in people with late stages of CKD.

Phosphorous is also a mineral found in many foods. It works with calcium to build strong bones and keep other parts of your body healthy. Kidneys that function normally can remove excess phosphorus in the blood, but damaged kidneys can’t. High levels of phosphorous can pull calcium from your bones, causing weak bones and calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, and heart.

What are the best kidney-friendly foods?

With so many things to look out for, you may be wondering what can you eat – and yes you can eat more than white rice! There are plenty of healthy and delicious options for you to enjoy. Here are some of our favorite foods to eat if you have kidney disease.

Blueberries

Blueberries are a superfood powerhouse. These tiny, tasty fruits are loaded with antioxidants which help minimize inflammation and reduce damage to cells. In particular, blueberries are high in antioxidants anthocyanin and pterostilbene, which protect the heart against heart disease, some cancers, cognitive decline, and chronic diseases.

A single cup serving of fresh blueberries has just 2 milligrams (mg) sodium, 114 mg potassium, and 18 mg phosphorus, making it the perfect food for someone with kidney disease.

Cabbage

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, kale, and Brussel sprouts, and is full of phytochemicals and vitamins. Phytochemicals are known to protect against cancer and promote cardiovascular health. It’s also high in vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, and fiber.

Cabbage comes in a variety of colors, like purple, white, and green, and is a fun way to add some color to your diet.

A single cup serving of shredded cabbage yields only 13 mg sodium, 119 mg potassium, and 18 mg phosphorus.

Apples

You’ve probably heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This claim just might be true! Which is good news for anyone with a chronic illness. Apples are known to lower high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, prevent constipation, strengthen the immune system, protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of cancer.

A medium-sized apple has 1 mg sodium, 104 mg potassium, and 10 mg phosphorus. An apple paired with some of your favorite nut butter makes for the perfect, kidney-friendly snack.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is another cruciferous vegetable that is great for anyone with kidney disease. Like cabbage, they come in a variety of colors including purple, green, orange, and white. But what separates cauliflower from its cruciferous cousins, is that it’s high in choline and sulforaphane. Choline is an essential nutrient for mood and memory and helps with signaling in the central nervous system. Sulforaphane helps to neutralize toxins, reduce inflammation, and fight against cancer. Both of these nutrients are key for someone with CKD, as they help support the kidney to carry out its job of removing toxins.

One cup of chopped cauliflower has 32 mg sodium, 320 mg potassium, and 47 mg phosphorus.

Garlic

Garlic may not be the first food that comes to mind when thinking about what to eat for kidney disease, but it’s one to include! Garlic helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces inflammation, and supports immune function. Additionally, because people with CKD have to be mindful of their salt intake, it’s an easy way to bring extra flavor to your meals.

A clove of garlic has less than 1 mg sodium, 12 mg potassium, and 5 mg phosphorus.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a healthy fat that the body needs to function at its best. It’s primarily made of monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can even help fight against cancer and heart disease. Olive oil has high levels of vitamin E and vitamin K and is loaded with antioxidants. Together, all of these properties can help reduce the risk of chronic disease and help your kidneys heal.
One tablespoon of olive oil contains less than 1 mg sodium, potassium, and phosphorus, making it the best source of healthy fats for anyone with kidney disease.

Managing CKD

Living with CKD can be hard, but you are not alone. There are thousands of members at PatientsLikeMe who are sharing their stories about living with chronic kidney disease. Join the conversation today to learn more ways to manage CKD and meet other people who are just like you.

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