Kidney Diet Tips

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Tea: Warm up with a Cup

For people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) or end stage renal disease (ESRD), dietitians are frequently asked if tea is allowed, especially hot tea during cold winter months. As with many foods and drinks we are asked about, the answer is yes! In moderation, tea is a great beverage option that can be healthfully included in a kidney diet. In fact, there are many exciting health benefits that tea offers to anyone.

Teas come from the plant Camellia sinensis, of which the leaves will either turn to black tea with exposure to air or to green tea by steam or heat. Many herbal teas are created from either black or green tea leaves with additions of other herb leaves, spices, flavor extracts, or sweeteners. Some examples are mint, chamomile, or orange blossom herbal teas. You can also find herbal teas that do not contain tea leaves. Read the label to determine when selecting herbal tea. Research on herbal teas is inconsistent, but generally speaking herbal teas from major tea brands are safe for kidney patients to drink.

Tea ranks very high on the oxygen radical absorbency capacity (ORAC) scale, a measure of the antioxidant content of plant-based foods. High ORAC foods and beverages, such as tea, help to fight off free radicals and cancerous cells in the body.

Aside from the cancer-fighting properties, there are many other benefits of drinking tea. Tea has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Drinking tea is associated with increased cognitive function, delayed progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, improved circulation, dental decay prevention, and may assist in achieving a healthy weight. Tea has been associated with improvements in insomnia, anxiety, osteoporosis, fatigue, diarrhea, and arthritis.

Many of these tea benefits are hindered when undesirable additives are included in the ingredient list. Some bottled teas contain as much sugar as caffeinated sodas. Some may even contain phosphate additives for flavor enhancement, which is not recommended for people with CKD or ESRD.

An eight-ounce cup of brewed black tea contains 88 mg potassium and a cup of green tea contains 21 mg potassium. Sodium and phosphorus content is less than 3 mg.

If you would like to incorporate tea into your diet, but struggle to enjoy the flavor of plain tea, add fresh fruit slices for an enhanced flavor profile. Lemon and orange slices pair nicely with black tea. Fresh berries added to green tea gives a unique and satisfying flavor without adding sugar.

There are some instances when caution is warranted for tea drinkers with renal disease. Smaller, unknown brands of herbal tea and some Chinese herbal medicinal teas may contain ingredients that could have side effects for people with kidney failure. For example, some herbal and green tea blends may interact with Coumadin or similar blood thinners. Additionally, for anyone who suffers from gastro-esophageal reflux or gout, tea could worsen your symptoms.

If you are interested in a particular tea, but are not sure if it is okay for you to drink, share this concern with your renal dietitian. Your dietitian will guide you or refer you to your nephrologist if there are potential risks.

Dana Galic, MBA, RD, LDN

Dana Galic, MBA, RD, LDN

Dana has been a dietitian for five years, working with DaVita for the last three of those years. She enjoys exercising and cooking in her free time.