Kidney Diet Tips

Tips for Following a Kidney Diet

Following a kidney diet takes education, diet tools and resources, and help from family and healthcare teams. Learning more about the “whys” of the diet may help.

The kidneys are like water filters for our bodies. They trap waste products that enter our bodies via food and drinks. Then, they get rid of the waste through our urine. When our kidneys are not working properly, wastes are not filtered correctly or even at all. Waste and toxins begin to build up in the body, causing further damage to the kidneys and other organs.

Not only do the kidneys filter waste, they also sort through nutrients that enter our bodies from our food. Similar to the waste filtering process, if nutrients are not properly processed they begin to build up in the body. Even though vitamins and minerals are good things, too much of a good thing can be bad for our health. For example, excess phosphorus, potassium and sodium may cause issues such as arterial calcification, bone mineral loss, irregular heart beat and hypertension.

Having a better understanding of your kidney diet may help with making changes to manage your health. Read on for helpful tips.

Seven Tips for Sodium Control

Sodium is the body’s point person for fluid balance. If sodium is not filtered from the body correctly, then fluids inside the body don’t know what to do or where to go. Therefore, the fluids also build up alongside the sodium.

  1. When looking at a nutrition facts label, follow the rule of 5. That is, try to choose foods that have 5% or less of sodium.
  2. Look at serving sizes. Don’t be fooled by the size of packaging.
  3. Go for plain meats, seafood, fruits, and veggies rather than pre-seasoned ones, which contain unknown amounts of sodium. You can season foods yourself at home with your own personal blend of herbs and spices.
  4. Stop reaching for the salt shaker. Add less salt when cooking and avoid added salt when eating at the table.
  5. Beware: garlic salt, onion salt and garlic powder and onion powder are very different when it comes to sodium content. If the word “salt” is in the name, most likely the sodium content is high.
  6. When possible, go for fresh foods over canned or frozen as both of the latter may have hidden sodium or phosphorus in them. Read the ingredient label to find added sodium sources.
  7. Be mindful at restaurants. Speak up to your waiter or waitress and let them know your dietary restrictions. They may be able to point you in the right direction on the menu or provide nutrition facts for the dishes if available.

 Four Tips for Potassium Control

Similar to some of the functions performed by sodium, potassium plays a role in maintaining your heart’s rhythm and your muscle contractions. If too much potassium is built up, muscles stop working properly. Your heart starts beating differently, and you could even have a heart attack.

  1. If you are going to eat the following high potassium foods while on a low potassium diet, stick to smaller serving sizes.
  2. Do not eat high potassium foods at the same time.
  3. Look at the ingredient list on salt-free or low-salt item labels. Oftentimes, manufacturers will add potassium chloride to a food in place of sodium chloride. If a significant amount of potassium is added to a product, potassium might be listed on the nutrition facts label (which it is usually not). Read your labels.
  4. Ask your dietitian for guidance on foods high in potassium and how to include in your diet if you need a restriction. Here are some high potassium foods:
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Orange juice
  • Potatoes (unless double-boiled or soaked)
  • Spinach (cooked)
  • Milk

Five Tips for Phosphorus Control

Phosphorus is a major player in bone health. If it overloads the body, it may cause bone deterioration, as well as calcification of soft body tissues like the eyes and blood vessels. Checkout these tips:

  1. If they have been prescribed to you, take your phosphorus binders with your meals.
  2. Phosphorus is an additive found in processed foods such as dark sodas. Look at ingredient lists for any form of the word phosphorus or phosphate.
  3. Nuts and nut butters should be limited.
  4. Yogurt and cheese are high in phosphorus (sorry cheese-lovers!). Keep portions small and ask your dietitian for guidance.
  5. Recent evidence suggests that boiling meat in a pressure cooker can significantly reduce its phosphorus content, making it more kidney-friendly.

2 Tips for Protein Control

When protein is being digested, it is broken up into separate parts of either amino acids or waste products. Normally, the kidneys will take care of the waste via by removing in the urine. However, when in renal failure, the kidneys are not capable of doing this correctly.

  1. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much protein you should personally be eating. The recommended needs are very different dependent on the person and the stage of chronic kidney disease (CKD). People on dialysis need more protein compared to people with CKD who are not on dialysis.
  2. Try snacking on high-protein items such as:
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Nutrition bars/drinks
  • Hummus with veggies

3 Tips for Fluid Control

Since sodium and potassium are not doing their jobs to control fluids in the body, drinking more fluid than you need can be harmful in later stage kidney disease.

Once you are on dialysis and your kidneys are not working correctly, you will have changes in urine output. Most dialysis patients stop urinating as often or at all because of the kidneys inability to filter wastes and, therefore, create urine. Any extra fluid consumed hangs around in different body cavities, putting unnecessary pressure on your organs.

As with protein, ask your doctor or dietitian about how much fluid you specifically need, as the recommendations are different for each individual. In earlier stages a fluid restriction may not be needed.

  1. Broths, water and other liquids used during cooking count as fluids.
  2. Food such as ice cream are actually fluid. If it is not naturally in solid form at room temperature, then it is counted as a fluid.
  3. Limiting salt and high sodium foods helps control thirst.
  4. Your dietitian can provide additional tips for thirst control.

Putting all the parts of your kidney diet may be challenging. However, learning about what to eat, practicing following a meal plan and getting help from your healthcare team will help you meet the challenge.

Click here for additional kidney diet tools and resources from DaVita.



This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.

Torie Yackanicz

Torie Yackanicz

Torie is a dietetic intern from Allentown, PA. She hopes to obtain her RD credential and pursue a career in research. Torie is a firm believer in the all-inclusive diet – all foods are welcome in moderation. In her free time, she enjoys playing her piano and drinking coffee.