Healthy eating for healthy kidneys

Small family eating food in kitchen.

Of the various steps you can take to protect your kidneys’ health, eating a kidney-friendly diet is central. Before making any diet changes, be sure to consult your doctor or talk with a dietition about what they recommend.

Keep in mind that the following diet tips are not for you if you’re on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant. Again, consult your doctor.

General things to be mindful of

  • It’s a good idea to limit salt (sodium), fluids, and protein. Some also have to limit potassium and phosphorus.
  • No one diet is right for everyone who has kidney disease. Your doctor or dietitian can tailor a diet for you based on how well your kidneys are working.
  • Change is often hard. You may have to give up many foods you like. But it is very important to make the recommended changes, so you can stay healthy for as long as possible.
  • You need to get enough calories to be healthy and have energy. If you have a hard time eating enough, talk to your doctor or dietitian about ways to add calories to your diet.
  • Don't take any vitamins or minerals, supplements, or herbal products without talking to your doctor first.
  • Check with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, have no more than 1 drink a day. Count it as part of your fluids for the day.
  • Your diet may change over time as your disease changes. Be sure to consult with your doctor and dietitian as needed.

Healthy eating tips for healthy kidneys

Here are some food guidelines to consider for kidney health, but always be sure to follow the diet your doctor or dietitian gives you.

Protein

Eating too much protein can stress the kidneys. But if you don't get enough, you can become weak, tired, and more likely to get infections. To get the right amount of protein:

  • Know how much protein you can have each day. Limit high-protein foods to 5 to 7 ounces a day, or less, if your doctor or dietitian tells you to. A 3-ounce serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Learn which foods contain protein. High-protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Milk and milk products, beans, nuts, breads, pastas, cereals, and vegetables also contain protein.

Sodium

To limit sodium:

  • Don't add salt to your food.
  • Read food labels, and look for hidden sodium. Avoid foods that list salt, sodium, or monosodium glutamate (MSG) on the label. Buy foods that are labeled "no salt added," "sodium-free," or "low-sodium." Foods labeled "reduced-sodium" and "light sodium" may still have too much sodium.
  • Avoid salted snacks such as pretzels, chips, and popcorn.
  • Avoid smoked, cured, salted, and canned meat, fish, and poultry. This includes ham, bacon, hot dogs, and luncheon meats.
  • Don't use a salt substitute or lite salt unless your doctor or dietitian says it is okay. Most salt substitutes and lite salts are high in potassium. Use lemon, herbs, and other spices to flavor your meals.
  • Limit how often you eat food from restaurants. Most of the sodium we eat is hidden in processed foods and restaurant food, especially at fast-food and take-out places.

Fluids

If you need to limit fluids:

  • Know how much fluid you can drink. Each day, fill a pitcher with that amount of water. If you drink another fluid during the day, such as coffee, pour an equal amount of water out of the pitcher. When the pitcher is empty, you're done drinking for the day.
  • Remember that soups and foods that are liquid at room temperature, such as gelatin dessert (for example, Jell-O) and ice cream, count as fluids.
  • Count the liquid in canned fruits and vegetables as part of your daily intake, or drain them well before serving.

Potassium

If you need to limit potassium:

  • Choose low-potassium fruits such as blueberries and raspberries.
  • Choose low-potassium vegetables such as cucumber and radishes.

Phosphorus

If you need to limit phosphorus:

  • Follow your food plan to know how much milk and milk products you can include.
  • Limit nuts, peanut butter, seeds, lentils, beans, organ meats, and sardines. Also limit cured meats such as sausages, bologna, and hot dogs.
  • Avoid colas and soft drinks with phosphate or phosphoric acid.
  • Avoid bran breads and bran cereals.*

*https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/kidney-disease/high-blood-pressure-and-kidney-disease/Pages/facts.aspx#eating(link opens in new window)