Kidney Diet Tips

“Why Do I Have to Limit Dairy?”

If you are on dialysis, you may be wondering why you must limit dairy. It is hard to make dietary changes, especially if you have grown up drinking cow’s milk, eating cheese and enjoying ice cream.

End Stage Kidney Disease and Minerals

Most people on dialysis have been diagnosed with end stage kidney disease (ESKD). That means the kidneys are functioning at 15% or less (1). Since kidneys play a role in maintaining mineral balance in the body, people with ESKD are told to monitor and reduce their intake of minerals such as sodium, potassium, phosphorous and calcium — not an easy task! Since these minerals are important to the body, it takes mindful effort and help from a dietitian to consume the proper amounts.

Plant-Based and Vegetarian Options

There is a silver lining to the difficult task of following a kidney-friendly diet, which is that plant-based and vegetarian eating can help. The difference between the two is plant-based diets do not exclude animal-derived foods such as meat, eggs and dairy. However, plant-based eating has a larger focus on foods derived from plants (ie. whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and vegetable oils). Vegetarian diets exclude animal products (chicken, steak, pork and/or fish), but some people choose to keep eggs and dairy in their diet. Vegan diets exclude all animal products, including honey. Lacto-ovo diets include eggs, dairy and honey. Pescatarians eat fish and seafood. Flexitarians or semi-vegetarians eat red meat and poultry in controlled amounts and may take breaks from these foods periodically.

Benefits of Plant-Based Eating for People with ESKD

People with ESKD on hemodialysis can benefit from a primarily plant-based, healthy, whole-foods diet (excluding refined grains, processed foods and sweetened beverages). Although plant-based foods can contain high amounts of minerals such as potassium and phosphorous, these minerals are absorbed in smaller amounts compared to animal-based sources.

The two main causes of ESKD are diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension). Healthy vegetarian and plant-based diets protect the kidneys by helping control blood sugar and blood pressure (2) that ultimately can help protect the kidneys.

Vegan “Cheese” vs. Regular Cheese

If you are a cheese lover, you may want to try vegan “cheese.” There are a variety of brands you can find in grocery stores. Check out the mineral content and differences of vegan “cheese” vs. American cheese below.

Nutrition Facts*

Vegan cheese 1 ounce                                                                   American cheese 1 ounce

Potassium 129 mg                                                                           Potassium 37 mg

Calcium 173 mg                                                                                Calcium > 290 mg

Sodium 194 mg                                                                                 Sodium 468 mg

*Taken from; nutrition contents may vary.

Understanding your food options can help you plan a healthy, kidney-friendly meal and find balance in your diet. When in doubt, check with your dietitian who can help you find foods that fit within your specific kidney diet.



Additional Kidney Diet Resources

Visit and explore these diet and nutrition resources:

DaVita Food Analyzer

DaVita Dining Out Guides

Today’s Kidney Diet Cookbooks

DaVita Kidney-Friendly Recipes

Diet and Nutrition Articles                                                      

Diet and Nutrition Videos

Kidney Smart® Virtual Classes

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.

Dawn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD

Dawn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD

Dawn Johnson MS, RDN, LD knew she wanted to be a dietitian when she was 18 years old. Now practicing over 20 years, Dawn has worked in various settings with a focus in renal nutrition over 12 years. She is passionate about addressing, examining and resolving people’s ambivalence for change. Dawn resides in Highland, Indiana with her husband and 2 young children. During her personal time, she likes to run, visit her local library and volunteer at church.