Nutrition

What you eat has a direct effect on your kidneys, so your diet is a very important part of your treatment plan for chronic kidney disease.  Your dietary needs are unique to you, and they depend on a lot of factors, including your kidney function, your other medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.), your medications, your weight, and your overall health.

Your dietitian will work with you to create a daily eating plan that will take all of these factors into consideration and keep you feeling as well as possible.  Remember that as your kidney function changes over time, your diet will need to change as well.  Blood tests will help your health care team to decide when those changes are needed.  The right kidney-friendly diet can:

  • Meet your nutritional needs
  • Reduce your kidneys’ workload
  • Help maintain the kidney function you have left
  • Control the build-up of food wastes like urea
  • Reduce symptoms like fatigue, nausea, itching, and bad taste in the mouth

These are the nutrients you’ll need to keep an eye on to help relieve your symptoms, control your blood pressure and maintain your health:

Protein

Protein builds, repairs and maintains your body tissues. It also helps your body to fight infections and heal wounds. As your body breaks down the protein in your food, a waste product called urea is formed. If urea isn’t removed from your blood, it can put added stress on your kidneys and cause tiredness, nausea, headaches and a bad taste in your mouth. Most Canadians get more protein than they need. You should have 2-3 servings every day, each one about the size of a deck of cards, unless your dietitian tells you otherwise. There is protein in milk, eggs, legumes, nuts, fish, poultry, and lean meat.

Sodium

As your kidney function gets worse, your body is less able to remove extra sodium from your blood. That sodium can increase your blood pressure and cause swelling in your ankles and legs. People with chronic kidney disease usually need to limit their salt intake to less than 2000 mg per day (one teaspoon of salt has 2300 mg of sodium). The best way to do this is to replace processed foods with homemade food, so that you can control the amount of salt you’re taking in. Processed foods like deli meats, snack foods, fast food, canned vegetables, cheese, pickles, and condiments all have salt added to them. Even bread and other baked products often contain hidden salt, so be sure to read food labels. When you’re cooking at home, try using pepper, onions, garlic, lime, lemon, or vinegar to season your food.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a mineral that keeps your bones strong and healthy, but too much of it can cause itchy skin or painful joints. When your kidneys start to fail, the phosphate levels in your blood will increase. At that point you may need to limit foods that contain phosphorus, especially those that have phosphates added to them to lengthen shelf life or enhance flavour. Your dietitian will work with you to make sure you’re limiting phosphates and still getting the other nutrients you need for good health.
Your doctor may also prescribe phosphate binders to control your blood phosphate levels. These medications bind with phosphorus in your intestine so that it passes out of the body in your stool.

A diagnosis of chronic kidney disease does not have to mean following a boring or bland diet.  The daily eating plan that you develop with your dietitian can include all kinds of fresh, delicious foods.  Don’t hesitate to speak with your dietitian and take advantage of the Kidney Community Kitchen to add variety to your meals.  Bon appétit!