Kidney Diet Tips

How DaVita Diet Helper Helps Me Manage Chronic Kidney Disease: A User's Story

I learned I have chronic kidney disease (CKD) in 2013 when I was hospitalized with a blood pressure (BP) of 240/110. At the time, my glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was 23, and although I was at stage 4 CKD, I did nothing about it. A normal GFR is around 100; a level of 23 means my kidneys were functioning at only 23%.

I did not see a nephrologist or any doctor, other than to get BP medication prescriptions, for almost three years. I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t understand the seriousness of my condition. Maybe I thought it would go away if I didn’t even think about it. Maybe I was just flat-out stupid.

Too Much Potassium

Whatever the reason, in March 2016, I had blood work done as part of a checkup with a new doctor. The next morning the doctor called me and left a voice mail stating that I should go to the emergency room (ER) as soon as possible to have my potassium level rechecked because it was dangerously high. When I went to the ER, I was admitted overnight to get my potassium lowered. I was then told that my GFR had fallen to around 15.

That is when I finally got a grip on how serious my situation was. While lying in a hospital bed, unable to do anything but wait, I started researching what I could eat that was low in potassium. What I discovered was that there is a lot of potassium in many foods. I had always assumed that a lot of potassium was good for a body, but when one’s kidneys aren’t working right, they cannot get rid of the excess elements. I also learned that too much potassium, sodium and phosphorus can be dangerous if the kidneys cannot filter out that excess.

DaVita Diet Helper Discovery

At some point in my search to change my diet, I discovered DaVita.com and its online meal planning and tracking tool DaVita Diet Helper™.  Designed specifically for people with kidney disease, DaVita Diet Helper offers much more than a diet plan. It allows the user to essentially create a personal diet while helping keep track of the amounts of sodium, potassium, phosphorus and protein. Other elements are tracked as well, but for those four the Planner and Tracker section of DaVita Diet Helper lets the user know if the planned meals are within the recommended daily limits by showing the numbers in red, blue or green. Red indicates out of range, blue is on the borderline and green is within the recommended target range.

NOTE: Before going any further, I must tell you something essential. Get a good food scale. You cannot do any of this without one. I learned after a while that one with an AC adapter is much better—unless you own a battery factory.

As for what a person eats, it really doesn’t matter—as long as those levels are within, or at least close to, the target range. However, DaVita Diet Helper offers suggestions for each meal for the day—breakfast, lunch and dinner—as well as a section for snacks. If a meal suggestion is not appealing, there is a “Swap” button that reveals a list of other suggestions. If none of the suggestions seem right, there are thousands of foods in the database that can be added with a simple search—including many popular restaurant items. Over one thousand recipes are also in the database which can be accessed directly in the Recipe Search section.

My Creations

My favorite feature of DaVita Diet Helper is the section called My Creations. I am a very good cook (I can provide references, if needed), and this section allows me to create my own recipes and meals and add my favorites—including treasured family foods. After initially thinking that I would have to give up enjoying food I have eaten my whole life, I have learned by using the My Creations feature that I can eat almost any of them, because I know the nutritional levels. I may occasionally have to tweak a recipe by adding less salt or leaching some potassium from the potatoes, but I can at least get something close to what I have enjoyed through the years. That helps a lot when trying to stick to a diet. Portions may be smaller, but it’s not so bad when you’re eating something you love.

My Creations also helps when I find something I want to eat, but there is nothing in the database even close to the item. Along with the ability to add new recipes, one can also add new foods. As long as there is a Nutrition Facts label on the product, and nearly everything requires one now, the food can be added to the database—or at least your own My Creations database. Unfortunately, adding most food items can be a little difficult when it comes to potassium and phosphorus levels. Occasionally, I find some foods that include the potassium level on the label, but I don’t think I have ever seen the phosphorus content.

Additional Resources

Luckily, I have found a few other websites that I like to use to determine those levels. First and foremost, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a site called the SuperTracker. This site has many useful tools for every dieter and those seeking a healthy lifestyle—including a meal tracker, exercise help and food group guide. The best feature, which I use often, is called the Food-A-Pedia. It is a searchable database of thousands of foods with their nutritional values. There aren’t many things that I haven’t found in the Food-A-Pedia—or at least something close.

The USDA has another site that can be helpful with specific quantities of food. The USDA Food Composition Database  website is also a searchable database that includes a Ground Beef Calculator to input different fat contents and a function where one can create a list of foods according to specified nutrients. However, sometimes I can’t find anything close, so I turn to two other websites–Aqua-calc conversions and calculations and nutritiondata.self.com. Aqua-calc also has a converter function for converting the volume of a food to weight or vice versa.

I can usually find something close to a food on one of those three sites to at least give me an estimate of the potassium and phosphorus levels, but sometimes I must break out my math skills to figure them out. One example: I was trying to find the levels for meat sauce for pasta. I couldn’t find it alone, but I did find spaghetti with meat sauce. Knowing there were plenty of listings for spaghetti and pasta, I looked both up and subtracted the spaghetti value from the spaghetti and meat sauce value. I had to have come close to what I needed, and even if it was not 100% accurate, having something close was better than nothing at all.

Worth the Time

The bottom line is planning what you’re going to eat and keeping track of it is not easy, but it is also not rocket science. It takes time. Sometimes I will spend half of a day figuring it out. However, I think it is more than worth the time and thought when it comes to one’s health—especially when it could mean life or death because of kidney disease.

In case you’re wondering how it’s all been working for me, I have lost over 70 pounds in 17 months with very little exercise and without feeling sick or starving. I have been telling people that if anyone ever tells them someone cannot lose weight by staring at a computer screen, tell them to come talk to me. To top it all off, my blood tests have only shown improvements in the nutrient levels, and although my kidneys can’t exactly get better, they haven’t gotten any worse. That works for me. Thank you DaVita.com and your creators.

Virgil’s Recipes

Checkout these recipes on DaVita.com created by Virgil:

 

Virgil Ernest Scragg

Virgil Ernest Scragg

Virgil "Ernie" Scragg is a freelance journalist from Charleston, West Virginia. After being hospitalized due to chronic kidney disease and a very high potassium level, Ernie discovered the DaVita.com DaVita Diet Helper online meal planner and food tracker. As a guest blogger Ernie shares his story about how he uses Diet Helper and other resources to create and plan meals and to stay on track with his nutrition goals.