Kidney Diet Tips

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8 tips for starting a low protein diet if you have chronic kidney disease

When you were first diagnosed with chronic kidney disease one of your first questions may have been ‘What can I do to save my kidneys so I don’t need dialysis?’ Blood pressure control, managing glucose for diabetics and adjustment in dietary protein intake can make a difference in kidney disease progression according to the research.

High Protein Foods

High Protein Foods

If you eat lots of protein and have CKD, you may want to make a few changes because a high protein diet is hard on your kidneys. On the other hand, a diet too low in protein is even worse for you. When you don’t eat enough protein, your muscles begin to break down. A blood protein called albumin begins to fall. People starting dialysis with low albumin levels are more likely to be hospitalized or die within the first 3 months compared to those with normal levels (4.0 mg/dL or greater). Following a low protein diet may buy some time before kidney transplant or dialysis is needed, but it may not be worth the increased risk of complications or even death.

Here are some things to consider before changing to a low protein diet:

  • Protein is calculated in grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To change your weight in pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2. For example, 154 pounds divided by 2.2 equals 70 kg.
  • How much protein do you currently eat? Cutting down to the recommended intake 0.8 g/kg may be enough to take some stress off the kidneys and still keep you healthy. Many people easily eat twice this much protein. Extreme protein intake above 2.0 g/kg stresses the kidneys too much.
  • The recommendation for 0.8 g/kg is for healthy adults. Your requirements are higher if you have a stress such as trauma, surgery, hospitalization or a chronic disability. Growing children, pregnant women and older people have higher protein needs too.
  • Eliminating protein as much as possible is not going to help—lower is not better. A low protein diet needs to include enough protein to keep you healthy.
  • Consider the source of protein. Eat at least 50% of your protein from high quality sources such as egg whites, meat (including poultry and seafood), milk, yogurt, cheese and soy products.
  • Ask for help from a professional. A renal dietitian can assess your protein status and help determine your daily protein and calorie targets.
  • Be sure you are eating enough calories. If calories are too low you end up using some of your protein as an energy source. If you are intentionally cutting calories to lose weight, you may need a higher protein level.
  • Find recipes for lower protein entrees since meat is no longer the main course on a low protein diet. DaVita.com offers lower protein recipes for chronic kidney disease patients. DaVita Diet Helper is an online meal planner that provides meals and recipes for diets as low as 50 grams protein a day or as high as 100 grams protein a day.

Kidney diet resources from DaVita.com

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Sara Colman, RD, CDE

Sara Colman, RD, CDE

Sara is a renal dietitian with over 20 years experience working with people with diabetes and kidney disease. She is co-author of the popular kidney cookbook "Cooking for David: A Culinary Dialysis Cookbook". Sara is currently the Manager of Kidney Care Nutrition for DaVita. She analyzes recipes and creates content, resources and tools for the kidney community. In her spare time Sara loves to spend time with her young grandson, including fun times together in her kitchen.