Stacey Simon, RD
Ask the Dietitian: Nutrition for Chronic Kidney Disease
Question: “I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. How should I change my diet?”
Thank you to this reader who submitted this excellent question! Being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, can be scary and feel totally overwhelming! It sometimes feels like Googling “CKD and Nutrition” can make things feel even more overwhelming and scary. For every article that says “do,” there’s another that says “don’t,” which may leave you feeling like there’s nothing left for you to eat. Let’s talk a bit about some nutrition basics for CKD to take some of the stress off and help you feel a bit more prepared.
Can kidneys repair themselves?
You may be wondering if a balanced “renal diet” can repair your kidney function, and unfortunately, repair is not the goal in CKD. Rather, delaying the progression of kidney disease is the goal. Improvements in your diet can slow (or even halt!) kidney disease progression. It’s never too early to begin working on your nutrition to slow down kidney disease progression! With some changes to your lifestyle and nutrition, you can feel in control of your kidney health.
Work with a dietitian
My first piece of advice is always to seek nutrition counseling from a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist who specializes in kidney (sometimes called “renal”) health. CKD can be broken down into different stages from 1 to 5, and depending upon the stage of CKD, your nutrition needs will vary greatly! A good renal dietitian will also look at your bloodwork from your last doctor’s appointment (bonus points if you have previous labs, too, since we like to look at trends). Because of the different nutrition requirements at each stage of CKD, coupled with the need to customize nutrition to your bloodwork, a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist will take these complexities and make them feel simple for you!
Kidney disease nutrition is never “one size fits all!”
Throughout the progression of CKD from stage 1 to 5 (or on dialysis), nutrition needs change dramatically. In earlier CKD, you may not have as many restrictions, and later on in the progression of kidney disease, you may be given more strict guidelines. So, while I’d love to share a specific “do and don’t for kidney disease,” it’s so specific to each individual that it would be near impossible to do! Rather, let’s discuss some general do’s and don’ts to help get you on the right path!
What foods are hard on the kidneys?
One of the biggest and most important things you can do to delay the progression of kidney disease is to limit your sodium intake! Sodium, a component in table salt, is a mineral that our bodies require for fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle function. But too much sodium can put pressure on our kidneys. Large amounts of sodium are commonly found in pizza, processed meats, cheeses, restaurant foods, chips, crackers, frozen dinners, and more. Cooking your meals at home, using herbs and spices instead of salt, and cooking from scratch can dramatically reduce your sodium intake!
Depending upon what stage in CKD you’re at, you may need to restrict your protein intake, especially from animal sources (think: meat, dairy, poultry, etc.). Choosing a plant-based style of eating (don’t worry, meat isn’t off limits!) can also support you in delaying the progression of kidney disease.
You may also need to limit your potassium, phosphorus, or other nutrients depending upon your body’s specific needs, but don’t panic! This process can feel simple, stress-free, and totally in control working with your dietitian and medical team!
The first point I always emphasize with my kidney clients? HYDRATE! Adequate hydration is of the utmost importance in kidney disease management (and in general!), so go treat yourself to a fancy new Yeti or S’well bottle and make it your new best friend. Not a water drinker? Try infused water (I think of it as spa water!), seltzer water, or use something fun like True Lemon or True Lime to make it more fun!
Add in more of the good stuff
As important as limiting some foods is, adding in plenty of the right foods is equally valuable! I always encourage my clients to consume more fruits and veggies (they’re really good for our kidneys, hearts, guts, and more!), whole grains (yep, even if you’re limiting your phosphorus!), healthy fats, and plant proteins.
It’s not “all or nothing”
Good news for my meat-eaters, soda drinkers, and pizza lovers: Nutrition is “for the most part” thinking, and nothing must be off limits. Working with a dietitian can help you to prioritize what matters most to you while keeping your kidneys healthy. A good dietitian will value the foods that matter to you and support you in feeling happy with your nutrition changes!
If you have been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and are interested in working with a dietitian, reach out to Stacey at email@example.com or 603.264.7382.