Supermarket Shopping Tips for Those with Kidney Disease

By DaVita Dietitian Marisol Avila, RD, CDE

Going to the supermarket isn’t so “super” for people on any kind of restricted diet. Even if you go to the grocery store knowing what to buy for your diet, there are temptations at every turn. As you stroll through the aisles, keep in mind that what goes into the cart will eventually affect how you feel. Nutrition is a vital part of treatment for those on dialysis. For people who have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, but are not yet on dialysis, a special renal diet is recommended to help prolong kidney function. If you have chronic kidney disease, what you eat is not only the fuel that keeps your body going, it is part of your prescription for staying as healthy as possible.

People on dialysis work with a renal dietitian who discusses meal plans and provides lists of foods that are recommended and ones to avoid. Each month after blood is drawn, your dietitian will go over your current lab values and use this information to make individualized recommendations for your diet.

Those who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) but are not yet on dialysis may not have the benefit of working with a renal dietitian on a regular basis. If you have chronic kidney disease ask your doctor about working with a dietitian. You can also use resources including for articles that will provide information about the CKD non-dialysis diet.

Before the store

Be prepared and you will have a much easier time at the grocery store. Here are some tips on what to do before you even step foot in the supermarket.

Review your meal plan and use it. Call your renal dietitian if you have questions. Your dietitian is an expert about what people with kidney disease should be eating and can provide a list of foods that are recommended for people with decreased kidney function.

Use the approved grocery list you’ve developed with your dietitian to create at least one week of menus (two weeks is even better). In most cases, pre-printed menus are not helpful because they are not tailored to your needs and may not include foods you like. Pre-printed menus may also include items that do not fit into your budget.

Make a list of all the foods you will need to prepare the meals on your menus. Check to see if you have the ingredients, including the herbs and spices, for your recipes. Stick to that list at the grocery store. Just because a food item is on sale or looks tasty, does not mean it is a good choice.

Eat before going to the grocery store. Research has proven that when people are  hungry, they are more likely to purchase foods that are not as healthful for their particular diet. Avoid spontaneous purchases because something looks good when you’re hungry. Eat first and you’ll be better able to stick to your shopping list.

At the store

Once you’re at the supermarket, keep in mind the following tips to make the most out of your grocery shopping experience.

Begin your shopping by following the aisles on the perimeter of the store. You will find most of your staples and fresh foods along the outside aisles, while the center aisles are loaded with packaged and prepared foods. Avoid the trap of prepared foods which are conveniently located at eye level and avoid the point-of-purchase items at the checkout stand. As you may know, convenience foods are much higher in sodium and less rich in vitamins. High-sodium foods can increase your blood pressure and cause you to drink more. In turn, this affects your heart and kidneys. Another benefit to not purchasing convenience foods is increased savings, since these foods are typically more expensive.

  • Make it a habit to read labels. Your meal plan may include reduced amounts of certain nutrients such as protein, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and calcium. Protein, potassium and sodium are, for the most part, easy to identify by reading the ingredient list under the “Nutrition Facts” on foods.  On the other hand, phosphorus and calcium may be listed only as a percentage of the “Daily Requirement” or as “added vitamins and minerals.” Working with your dietitian, you will learn which food items have high amounts of phosphorus and calcium.  
  • Avoid processed foods to reduce your intake of sodium and phosphorus. Phosphorus is widely used in processed meats, leavening agents, and as an anti-caking agent in some powdered-drink mixes. Phosphorus and polyphosphates are also used as emulsifiers in some frozen fish and chicken.
  • Watch out for added calcium on food labels if you have been advised to watch your calcium intake. Calcium is added to some fruit juices, breads, cereals and many other foods in an effort to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. With reduced kidney function, added calcium can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Avoid any food that is “calcium enriched” or “calcium fortified”, if your doctor or dietitian has recommended you watch your intake of calcium.

Talk to your dietitian or doctor for more information on your CKD pre-dialysis or dialysis diet. You can also check out the recipe section of this website for more than 700 tasty recipes for the CKD pre-dialysis, dialysis and diabetic dialysis diet.

Remember, making informed choices will help you control chronic kidney disease instead of having chronic kidney disease control you.

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