Soy Foods: Vegetarian Options for a Kidney Diet

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician.

Twenty years ago very few soy foods were readily available at your local grocery stores. A trip to the Asian market or health food store was the best way to find soy, but that has changed dramatically. Today the offerings at most grocery stores include soy beans (edamame), soy milk, tofu, tempeh, soy protein powder, soy nuts and a large variety of meat analogs made from soy.

Benefits of soy

So how can soy products fit into a kidney diet? Consumption of soy foods, particularly soy protein, offers several benefits to people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), dialysis patients and those with a kidney transplant. Similar to animal protein, soy is also a high quality protein. Unlike meats, soy protein is cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. Soy is plant-based and contains isoflavones, known to reduce inflammation and act as an antioxidant.

In CKD patient studies, replacing animal protein with soy protein reduces the loss of protein in the urine (proteinuria). Another benefit of soy protein is it lowers LDL cholesterol. Soy has also been shown to reduce the rise in triglycerides following a meal which may be important in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

Concerns about soy

Soy products are made from soy beans which are naturally high in potassium and phosphorus. Unfortunately, this information is rarely available on the nutrition facts label. Use the Food Analyzer on DaVita.com to check the amount of potassium and phosphorus in soy products. The amount of sodium in soy foods ranges from low to very high, so reading labels is essential.

People who are allergic or sensitive to soy, and those with thyroid problems, should avoid soy based on foods and drinks. There is also concern about the high level of isoflavones in soy which has an estrogen-like effect in the body. For this reason, it is recommended to keep soy intake to a moderate amount.

Soy products

There are many soy products available, but not all are suitable for a kidney diet. Work with your dietitian when adding new soy foods to your diet. Learn about some soy products below.

Edamame

  • Large soybeans harvested while still green; usually frozen in the pod or shelled
  • 1/2 cup serving contains 11 g of protein, 485 mg of potassium, 142 mg of phosphorus, 13 mg of sodium and 3.8 grams of fiber
  • Potassium content is approximately three times that of a serving of animal protein providing the same amount of protein
  • Rich in folate and isoflavones
  • Typically served as an appetizer

Soy milk

  • Made from whole soy beans that are soaked, ground, then strained
  • Available flavored and unflavored, refrigerated or unrefrigerated in aseptic cartons
  • Fortified with vitamins B12 and D, and calcium phosphate, which can be a concern for people with kidney disease
  • One cup provides 6 to 7 g of protein, 60 to 300 mg of calcium, 150 to 345 mg of potassium, 80 to 250 mg of phosphorus and 85 to 120 mg of sodium
  • High calcium, phosphorus and potassium content makes some brands of soy milk difficult to fit into a kidney-friendly; read labels carefully and talk with your dietitian about which product and how much is safe for you to use

Soy protein isolate

  • Protein component extracted from defatted soy flakes, a by-product left once the soy oil is removed
  • Added to protein or energy bars, protein shakes and cereals, and is sold in canisters as soy protein powder
  • 1 ounce = 23 g of protein, 220 mg of phosphorus, 23 mg of potassium, 285 mg of sodium and 50 mg of calcium
  • Brands processed with potassium can contain as much as 450 mg of potassium per ounce

Tempeh

  • Nutty-flavored cake made from whole soybeans mixed with rice or millet, then fermented
  • Packaged as a firm cake, sliced to grill or chopped to add to a casserole or stir-fry dish
  • 1/2 cup = 15 g of protein, 220 mg of phosphorus, 340 mg of potassium, 8 mg of sodium and 92 mg of calcium
  • Rich in isoflavones

Texturized soy protein (TSP)

  • Also known as texturized vegetable protein (TVP), or soy meat
  • Made from high soy protein flour and processed into chunks, flakes, grains, nuggets or strips
  • Dehydrated TSP is reconstituted with water then added to soups, chili, casseroles and other dishes as a protein source
  • Meat analogs containing TSP imitate meat products such as burgers, hot dogs and deli meats
  • 1/4 cup of dried TSP = 12 g of protein, 170 mg of phosphorus, 594 mg of potassium, 10 mg of sodium, 80 mg of calcium and 4 g fiber
  • People with kidney disease following a low-potassium diet should evaluate TSP-containing foods before consuming

Tofu

  • Also known as soybean curd
  • Made by adding a coagulant to hot soy milk, producing soy curds
  • Consistency varies from silken, soft, firm, and extra firm
  • Potassium, phosphorus and sodium varies between brands
  • 1/2 cup portion (average of different brands)
  • Soft tofu: 8 g protein, 114 mg phosphorus, 150 mg potassium and 10 mg sodium.
  • Firm tofu: 10 grams protein, 152 mg phosphorus, 186 mg potassium and 15 mg sodium.
  • Extra firm tofu: 12 g protein, 155 mg phosphorus, 225 mg potassium and 95 mg sodium
  • Calcium ranges from 40 mg to over 400 mg, depending if calcium sulfate was used during processing

Soy products and your kidney diet

Soy foods may be beneficial for people with kidney disease as a low-saturated fat, cholesterol-free meat replacement, and may reduce proteinuria when used as a substitute for animal protein. A registered dietitian can provide information and help people plan individualized kidney-friendly diets including some soy products.

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