Sticking with a Kidney-Friendly Diet

By DaVita renal dietitian Jane Wheeler MS, RD, LDN

It’s one thing to start a diet because you want to, and quite another thing when your doctor says you have to. People diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) will generally be told that they should follow a kidney diet. In the middle stages of chronic kidney disease the renal diet will likely limit protein and perhaps phosphorus. As kidney disease progresses the kidney diet may be changed to limit more nutrients. It can be difficult and confusing to start a new diet; however, the kidney diet is designed to help keep you healthy and enjoy a good quality of life. The kidney diet can help you slow the progression of kidney disease, so it is worth the effort to learn about and eat renal-friendly foods.

I don’t know what a kidney friendly diet is or where to start?

A kidney friendly diet is a diet in which certain nutrients are controlled in order to limit the build-up of excess minerals and wastes produced by your body. Your nephrologist (kidney doctor) will order blood work drawn at regular intervals so he or she can see if you need to cut back on foods high in protein, potassium, phosphorus and/or sodium. If you need to change your eating habits, your nephrologist may give you a diet prescription and refer you to a general dietitian or renal dietitian (a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in kidney disease). This diet prescription will include information about the nutrients you need to control in your renal diet. It may also have a fluid restriction to prevent excess fluid from building up in your body. The dietitian will work with you to develop a meal plan that includes the foods you like, while protecting your kidneys and keeping waste products at a safe level.

It is important that you bring your most recent blood work results and your diet prescription to your appointment with the renal dietitian. To find a dietitian or renal dietitian, ask your doctor for a recommendation. You can also get a referral from the American Dietetic Association website to Find a Nutrition Professional. You can also learn more about the renal diet at DaVita.com. You can also call 1-888-MyKidney and sign up for newsletters and classes about chronic kidney disease and general information about what to eat that is good for your kidneys.

DaVita.com has a meal planning tool called DaVita Diet Helper™.  This tool takes the diet prescription from your nephrologist and suggests meals you can enjoy. DaVita Diet Helper will provide you with menus, recipes and a grocery shopping list. Plus, if you do not like a kidney friendly meal offered by DaVita Diet Helper, there are substitutions you can make. There’s also a nutrition log for keeping up with the nutrients in foods you eat compared to your daily goals. Remember, DaVita Diet Helper does not take the place of advice from your nephrologist or renal dietitian. This tool is meant to supplement the information you receive from your health care team, and to help make it easier for you to plan, prepare and track kidney friendly meals.

I feel like I am the only person in the world that has to watch what I eat because of kidney disease

Be sure to seek support. There are many support groups available to people living with kidney disease. Family and friends are a valuable source of support when starting any new diet plan. They care about you and want to make sure you stay healthy and do well. They may want additional information and education so they can help you do what is best for your body. Encourage interested family members to sign up for newsletters and classes about chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the kidney diet. DaVita.com also has hundreds of recipes at DaVita.com/Recipes for people in different stages of chronic kidney disease including:

  • CKD non-dialysis (early stages of kidney disease)
  • Dialysis (kidney failure)
  • Diabetes (dialysis patients who also have diabetes)

Ask your nephrologist which stage of CKD you have so you can choose recipes appropriate for your meal plan.  

You can find support online at DaVita.com/Forum. These discussion forums are used by people at all stages of kidney disease as well as their family members, caregivers and friends. You can connect with people who are going through the same experiences as you are — a valuable source of support. Know that you are not alone.

I’ve been on a kidney friendly diet but I am bored with the food and have been “cheating”

It is normal to make mistakes; after all, we are only human. You have made the right first step in identifying your problem.  Now, let’s work on some strategies going forward that will help you stick to your kidney diet.

Consult your educational materials, newsletters and kidney education websites such as DaVita.com for information regarding the foods you need to avoid and the kidney friendly foods you can enjoy. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need to make the best choices.

Create variety in your renal diet. Variety comes in many different forms. You can try a familiar food with a new spice or herb, try a familiar food in a new recipe or try a new kidney friendly food you haven’t had before. There are all kinds of exotic low-potassium fruits and vegetables to choose from. The recipe for Garlicky Ginger Eggplant is just one example of an unusual vegetable prepared in a differently delicious manner.  

Commit to making a change. Start with small changes, such as substituting nondairy creamer for milk, and work your way to bigger changes, such as using Mrs. Dash® seasonings in place of salt in cooking and at the table. Starting with small changes can set you up for success. Remember that success begets success; so small successes can lead to big successes. And, before you know it, this can translate into successful lifestyle changes.

Summary

Starting anything new can be challenging. Success is achieved by arming yourself with the knowledge and support you need, and by setting realistic goals. You have already taken the first step by learning more about chronic kidney disease and good nutrition for kidneys. Your health care team can help you learn even more and wants to help you achieve your kidney diet nutrition goals.


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