Top 15 healthy foods for people with kidney disease

Written by DaVita renal dietitian, Sara Colman, RD, CSR, CDE

Researchers are discovering more and more links between chronic diseases, inflammation and “super foods” that may prevent or protect against undesirable fatty acid oxidation, a condition that occurs when the oxygen in your body reacts with fats in your blood and your cells. Oxidation is a normal process for energy production and many chemical reactions in the body, but excessive oxidation of fats and cholesterol creates molecules known as free radicals that can damage your proteins, cell membranes and genes. Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other chronic and degenerative conditions have been linked to oxidative damage.

Top 15 healthy foods for people with kidney disease

However, foods that contain antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and protect the body. Many of the foods that protect against oxidation are included in the kidney diet and make excellent choices for dialysis patients or people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Eating healthy foods, working with a renal dietitian and following a renal diet made up of kidney-friendly foods is important for people with kidney disease because they experience more inflammation and have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Here are the top 15 kidney-friendly foods with antioxidants that you may want to include in your healthy kidney diet.

1. Red bell peppers

  • 1/2 cup serving red bell pepper = 1 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus

Red bell peppers are low in potassium and high in flavor, but that’s not the only reason they’re perfect for the renal diet. These tasty vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as vitamin B6, folic acid and fiber. Red bell peppers are good for you because they contain lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against certain cancers.

To include red bell peppers in the kidney diet, eat them raw with dip as a snack or appetizer, or mix them into tuna or chicken salad and serve on crackers or bread. You can also roast peppers and use them as a topping on sandwiches or lettuce salads, chop them for an omelet, add them to kabobs on the grill or stuff peppers with ground turkey or beef and bake them for a main dish.

2. Cabbage

  • 1/2 cup serving green cabbage = 6 mg sodium, 60 mg potassium, 9 mg phosphorus

A cruciferous vegetable, cabbage is packed full of phytochemicals, chemical compounds in fruit or vegetables that break up free radicals before they can do damage. Many phytochemicals are also known to protect against and fight cancer, as well as foster cardiovascular health. Sulforaphane, a phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables, may prevent or stop cancer cell growth in lung, colon, breast, bladder, prostate and ovarian cancers.

High in vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, cabbage is also a good source of vitamin B6 and folic acid. Low in potassium and low in cost, it’s an affordable addition to the kidney diet.

Raw cabbage makes a great addition to the dialysis diet as coleslaw or topping for fish tacos. You can steam, microwave or boil it, add butter or cream cheese plus pepper or caraway seeds and serve it as a side dish. Cabbage rolls are a great appetizer, and if you’re feeling fancy, you can stuff a cabbage with ground meat and bake it for a flavorful meal bursting with nutrients.

3. Cauliflower

  • 1/2 cup serving boiled cauliflower = 9 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 20 mg phosphorus

Another cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is high in vitamin C and a good source of folate and fiber. It’s also packed full of indoles, glucosinolates and thiocyanates — compounds that help the liver neutralize toxic substances that could damage cell membranes and DNA.

Serve it raw as crudités with dip, add it to a salad or steam or boil it and season with spices such as turmeric, curry powder, pepper and herb seasonings. You can also make a nondairy white sauce, pour it over the cauliflower and bake until tender. You can pair cauliflower with pasta or even mash cauliflower as a dialysis diet replacement for mashed potatoes.

4. Garlic

  • 1 clove garlic = 1 mg sodium, 12 mg potassium, 4 mg phosphorus

Garlic helps prevent plaque from forming on your teeth, lowers cholesterol and reduces inflammation.    

Buy it fresh, bottled, minced or powdered, and add it to meat, vegetable or pasta dishes. You can also roast a head of garlic and spread on bread. Garlic provides a delicious flavor and garlic powder is a great substitute for garlic salt in the dialysis diet.

5. Onions

  • 1/2 cup serving onion = 3 mg sodium, 116 mg potassium, 3 mg phosphorus

Onion, a member of the Allium family and a basic flavoring in many cooked dishes, contains sulfur compounds which give it its pungent smell. But in addition to making you cry, onions are also rich in flavonoids, especially quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that works to reduce heart disease and protects against many cancers. Onions are low in potassium and a good source of chromium, a mineral that helps with carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism.

For people on a kidney diet looking to add more flavors to foods, try using a variety of onions including white, brown, red and others. Eat onions raw on burgers, sandwiches and in salads, cook them and use as a caramelized topping or fry them into onion rings. Include onions in recipes such as Italian Beef with Peppers and Onions.

6. Apples

  • 1 medium apple with skin = 0 sodium, 158 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus

Apples have been known to reduce cholesterol, prevent constipation, protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of cancer. High in fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds, an apple a day may really keep the doctor away. Good news for people with kidney disease who already have their share of doctor visits.

This renal diet winner can be paired with the previous good-for-you food, onions, to make a unique Apple Onion Omelet. With versatile apples you can eat them raw, make baked apples, stew apples, make them into apple sauce, or use in a dessert such as apple pie or apple cake. You can also drink them as apple juice or apple cider.

7. Cranberries

  • 1/2 cup serving cranberry juice cocktail = 3 mg sodium, 22 mg potassium, 3 mg phosphorus
  • 1/4 cup serving cranberry sauce = 35 mg sodium, 17 mg potassium, 6 mg phosphorus
  • 1/2 cup serving dried cranberries = 2 mg sodium, 24 mg potassium and 5 mg phosphorus

These tangy, tasty berries are known to protect against bladder infections by preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. In a similar way, cranberries also protect the stomach from ulcer-causing bacteria and protect the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, promoting GI health. Cranberries have also been shown to protect against cancer and heart disease.

Cranberry juice and cranberry sauce are the most frequently consumed cranberry products. You can also add dried cranberries to salads or have them as a snack.

8. Blueberries

  • 1/2 cup serving fresh blueberries = 4 mg sodium, 65 mg potassium, 7 mg phosphorus

Blueberries are high in antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, which give them their blue color, and they are bursting with natural compounds that reduce inflammation. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C; manganese, a compound that keeps your bones healthy; and fiber, and may also help protect the brain from some of the effects of aging. Antioxidants in blueberries and other berries have been shown to help slow bone breakdown in rats made to be low in estrogen.

Buy blueberries fresh, frozen or dried, and try them in cereal, topped with whipped topping, in a fruit smoothie or bake blueberry muffins, blueberry cake as blueberry crisp or blueberry pie. You can also drink blueberry juice.

9. Raspberries

  • 1/2 cup serving raspberries = 0 mg sodium, 93 mg potassium, 7 mg phosphorus

Raspberries contain a phytonutrient called ellagic acid which helps neutralize free radicals in the body to prevent cell damage. They also contain flavonoids called anthocyanins, antioxidants which give them their red color. An excellent source of manganese, vitamin C, fiber and folate, a B vitamin, raspberries may have properties that inhibit cancer cell growth and tumor formation.

Add raspberries to cereal, puree and sweeten them to make a dessert sauce or add them to vinaigrette dressing. You can also drink raspberry punch.

10. Strawberries

  • 1/2 cup serving (5 medium) fresh strawberries = 1 mg sodium, 120 mg potassium, 13 mg phosphorus

Strawberries are rich in two types of phenols: anthocyanins and ellagitannins. Anthocyananins are what give strawberries their red color and are powerful antioxidants that help protect body cell structures and prevent oxidative damage. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese and a very good source of fiber. They are known to provide heart protection, as well as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory components.

Eat strawberries with cereal, smoothies or salad, slice and serve them fresh or top them with whipped topping. If you’d like a more elaborate dessert, you can make strawberry pudding or sorbet or puree and sweeten them to serve as a dessert topping with angel food or pound cake. They also come in liquid form as strawberry nectar.

11. Cherries

  • 1/2 cup serving fresh sweet cherries = 0 mg sodium, 160 mg potassium, 15 mg phosphorus

Cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation when eaten daily. They are also packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that protect the heart.

Eat fresh cherries as a snack, make a cherry pie, cherry coffee cake, cherry crisp or cherry cheesecake. Cherry sauce can be tasty served with lamb or pork and you can drink a glass of cherry juice.

12. Red grapes

  • 1/2 cup serving red grapes = 1 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 4 mg phosphorus

Red grapes contain several flavonoids that give them their reddish color. Flavonoids help protect against heart disease by preventing oxidation and reducing the formation of blood clots. Resveratrol, a flavonoid found in grapes, may also stimulate production of nitric oxide which helps relax muscle cells in the blood vessels to increase blood flow. These flavonoids also provide protection against cancer and prevent inflammation. Phytochemicals in grapes, wine and grape juice have been extensively studied since the discovery that the French have much lower rates of heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fat.

Buy grapes with red or purple skin since their anthocyanin content is higher. Freeze them to eat as a snack or to quench thirst for those on a fluid restriction for the dialysis diet. Add grapes to a fruit salad or chicken salad. Try a unique kidney diet recipe for Turkey Kabobs that feature grapes. You can also drink them as grape juice or grape punch.

13. Egg whites

  • 2 egg whites = 7 grams protein, 110 mg sodium, 108 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus

Egg whites are pure protein and provide the highest quality of protein with all the essential amino acids. For the kidney diet, egg whites provide protein with less phosphorus than other protein sources such as egg yolk or meats.

Buy powdered, fresh or pasteurized egg whites. Make an omelet or egg white sandwich, add pasteurized egg whites to smoothies or shakes, make deviled egg snacks or add whites of hard boiled eggs to tuna salad or garden salad to add extra protein.

14. Fish

  • 3 ounces wild salmon = 50 mg sodium, 368 mg potassium, 274 mg phosphorus

Fish provides high-quality protein and contains anti-inflammatory fats called omega-3s. The healthy fats in fish help fight diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Omega-3s also help lower low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, which is bad cholesterol, and raise high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol, which is good cholesterol.

The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommend eating fish two or three times a week. Fish highest in omega-3s include albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout and salmon.

15. Olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil = less than 1 mg sodium, less than 1 mg potassium, 0 mg phosphorus

Olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid. The monounsaturated fat in olive oil protects against oxidation. Olive oil is rich in ployphenols and antioxidant compounds that prevent inflammation and oxidation.

Studies show that populations that use large amounts of olive oil instead of other oils have lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

Buy virgin or extra virgin olive oil because they are higher in antioxidants. Use olive oil to make salad dressing, in cooking, for dipping bread or for marinating vegetables.

Talk to your renal dietitian about incorporating these top 15 foods for a kidney diet into your healthy eating plan. Keep in mind that these foods are healthy for everyone — including family members and friends who do not have kidney disease or are not on dialysis. When you stock your kitchen with delicious, healthy, kidney-friend foods that’s one big step to helping you do well on your kidney diet.

 

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