Kidney Diet Tips

Sprouts: a health food linked to acute kidney failure and dialysis

When you read about causes of kidney failure, diabetes, high blood pressure and polycystic kidney disease are most likely mentioned. Rarely do you see E. coli infection listed. If predictions are right, this may be changing due to a hyper virulent strain of E. coli. In Germany this month, Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), a strain of harmful toxin-producing bacteria, caused over 2500 people to become ill; over 800 of them experienced a complication called hemolytic uremia syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys, blood and nervous system. Over 100 people will require lifelong dialysis or kidney transplant due to the infection, and at least 36 people have died. Bean sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany were identified as the source of the E. coli bacteria.

Do you eat bean sprouts? How about sprouts of broccoli, peas, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans and radishes? I do. I usually eat sprouts on vegetarian sandwiches or salad bar salads when eating out. Some people even grow their own sprouts at home. Sprouts are low in potassium, sodium and phosphorus, and are often considered a health food.

The US Center for Disease Control has a different message about sprouts. In 1996, a radish sprout E. coli contamination in Japan made over 10,000 people ill. The CDC records over 30 outbreaks of E. coli contaminated sprouts in the US since 1996. You may want to reconsider eating sprouts, especially if you are identified as high risk, namely children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.  Dialysis patients and people with moderate to severe kidney disease have weak immune systems and are at higher risk for infection. Also, if you take an acid reducing medication daily, like those prescribed for indigestion or reflux, one of your body’s first lines of defense is disrupted because acid in your stomach destroys some harmful bacteria on the food we eat.

Sprouts have been described as one of the most hazardous foods and a haven for germs. Even the seeds for making homemade sprouts can be contaminated with E. coli. However, people with kidney disease can still eat sprouts under one condition: heat it! Cooking to a temperature at least 160°F (71°C) will kill E. coli. Stick to well-cooked mung bean sprouts to add an extra safety net.

Try one of these recipes that feature well-cooked bean sprouts:

Garlicky Ginger Eggplant

Veggie Fried Rice

Shrimp Szechuan with Rice

Hawaiian Rice

In the US, the most common way people become infected with E. coli is by eating undercooked meat infested at processing plants, especially ground beef. I became a vegetarian several years ago after reading about a young women who was paralyzed by E. coli infection that affected her nervous system. She ate a hamburger at a family backyard barbecue.

Other sources of E. coli contamination include raw milk or dairy products that are not pasteurized, raw fruits and vegetables such as spinach or lettuce that have been exposed to infected animal feces, and unpasteurized juices, such as apple cider identified in an E. coli outbreak several years ago. In addition to food sources, E. coli can infect water supplies like lakes, pools and poorly chlorinated water supplies. You can also be exposed by person to person contact or by touching a contaminated object.

To be safe, wash your hands frequently and be selective about the foods you choose and how they are handled and cooked.

Kidney diet resources from

Sara Colman, RDN, CDCES

Sara Colman, RDN, CDCES

Sara is a renal dietitian with over 30 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 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.