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15 Kidney-Friendly Protein Foods for Keeping Albumin Up

Albumin is a protein found in the blood. It is easy to measure by a simple blood test and is used as a marker to tell if your protein intake is adequate. A healthy albumin for people with kidney disease is 4.0 g/dL or higher.

When protein intake is too low, or of low quality, albumin decreases and a condition called protein-energy wasting (PEW) occurs. As a result, muscles and fat breaks down to supply essential amino acids needed for the body to work, which can cause weakness; slower wound healing; vulnerability to infection; and dry, flaky skin and brittle hair. Depression, anxiety and moodiness are also associated with inadequate protein.

You can maintain or improve albumin by knowing how much protein to eat and by including some of these protein-rich, kidney-friendly foods each day. If you’re not on dialysis and are on a lower-protein kidney diet, at least half your daily protein allowance should come from high-quality protein sources.

1. Burgers — Made from turkey or lean beef, both of these protein sources give you iron to help prevent anemia. A 3 ounce cooked burger has 21 grams of good-quality protein.

2. Chicken — Chicken is versatile as a hot or cold entrée and lunch or dinner favorite and can be included in just about any type of cuisine. Protein varies from 14 to 28 grams depending on the piece you choose.

It is recommended to use fresh meat products and avoid pre-made roasted chicken and other processed meats. These often have large amounts of sodium and phosphorus added to make them more moist and flavorful. This excess sodium and phosphorus are not good for patients with chronic kidney disease.

3. Cottage Cheese— It’s a dairy product, but compared to milk, yogurt and cheese, cottage cheese is lower in potassium and phosphorus. Sodium is still a concern, but it’s easy to create a meal low enough in sodium to include cottage cheese when it is paired with low-potassium fruits such as berries or peaches.

4. Deviled eggs— Snacking is a great way to sneak in extra protein, especially if you don’t eat much at meals. One deviled egg (two halves) contributes 6 grams of protein.

5. Egg omelet — How about an omelet with an egg, egg white, 1/2 ounce ham and 1/2 ounce cheese? (Hint: Try the DaVita.com kidney-friendly Denver Omelet recipe. It packs 17 grams of high-quality protein.)

6. Egg whitesEgg whites are 100 percent albumin, the best quality protein you can eat. Minus the yolk, egg whites are also very low in phosphorus. Two egg whites provide 7.2 grams of pure protein.

7. Fish— In addition to being a brain-power food, fish is a great protein source. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and rainbow trout, are high in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation. A 3 ounce portion of cooked fish has approximately 15-21 grams of protein. Shrimp is also a great seafood protein choice.

8. Greek yogurt— Although high in potassium and phosphorus, a cup of Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein, about the same as a 3 ounce portion of meat or fish. When eaten as a meat replacement, Greek yogurt may work into your meal plan. Ask your dietitian for individual recommendations.

9. High-protein smoothie— Smoothies are easy to make and even easier to consume. In addition to your favorite fruit, include a low-potassium milk substitute and protein powder or pasteurized egg product as a protein source.

10. Meat analogs— There’s a plethora of meat analog products (a.k.a., faux meats) available. Veggie crumbles (ground meat-like crumbles made from soy), veggie burgers and even veggie sausage are easy to find. One drawback is these products are also processed, so watch out for higher sodium, potassium or phosphorus, and check with your dietitian to learn about the best choices.

11. Nutrition drinks— Several companies offer specialized nutrition drinks for dialysis diets or CKD non-dialysis diets. Nepro®, Suplena®, NovaSource Renal®, Nutren Renal® and ReGen® are some of the kidney-specific products. Often these products are used as dietary supplements when a person is unable to eat enough. Renal-specific products are lower in sodium, potassium and phosphorus compared with regular nutrition supplement drinks.

12. Pork chops— In addition to high-quality protein, pork chops are a good source of iron and thiamine. Baked, fried or grilled, pork chops are easy to prepare, and depending on the cut, a 3 ounce cooked chop provides 20 to 26 grams of protein.

13. Protein bars— Grab-and-go bars are a great solution for eating on the run or when you don’t feel like preparing a meal. Pure Protein®, Premier Nutrition®, Balance Bars®, Zone Perfect®, EAS Myoplex®, ProMax®, PowerBar®, and Atkins Advantage® offer several bars that are kidney friendly. Look for bars that contain are more than 15 grams protein, below 150 mg phosphorus and less than 200 mg potassium and sodium.

14. Protein powder and liquid protein supplements— Protein powders and liquids provide a concentrated protein source that can be added to foods or beverages. Whey and egg protein powders are usually lower in potassium and phosphorus than soy protein. Always check with your dietitian before consuming protein powder or liquid protein supplements because they may carry products that are not suitable for a kidney diet.

15. Tofu— Tofu is a curd made from soy beans. It comes in soft, regular, firm and extra firm textures, with 7 to 13 grams protein per 1/2 cup. Although higher in phosphorus and potassium than meat, poultry and fish, tofu is still an acceptable protein source.

High-quality protein and your kidney diet

The above list of high-quality protein foods are sure to help increase your albumin, especially when you eat enough calories each day. In addition to feeling better, adequate protein to meet your individual needs helps improve your health and quality of life when you have kidney disease and when you need dialysis. For more high-quality protein meal ideas, visit DaVita.com/Recipes.

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