Eating Tips for Travelers with Kidney Disease

Whether you take a cruise, venture out for the day or travel abroad, you’ll need to plan ahead so that you have access to kidney-friendly foods on your vacation. Here are some kidney diet eating tips to keep in mind when you travel:

  • Ask your renal dietitian for assistance in planning meals while on vacation. Let them know where you’re going and which foods you expect will be available to you at your destination.
  • A couple of reasons to take a vacation are to have fun or relax. If you overeat or consume foods that are not recommended on your kidney diet, you won’t feel well enough to enjoy yourself. Try to be mindful about what you eat.
  • If your doctor has prescribed phosphate binders, remember to pack enough for your trip and keep them in your pocket or bag so they are readily available at meal time.
  • If you have diabetes and are on a kidney-specific diet, try to keep carbohydrate intake in balance by limiting sweets such as candy, pies, cakes, fruit juices and sweetened drinks. Be careful with salty foods like salted pretzels, crackers and chips. Limit salty condiments like ketchup, salad dressing and soy sauce. Check your blood sugar daily to help stay on track.

Kidney diet tips for different types of travel

People enjoy different types of getaways. With each getaway come different food options. Here are tips for various travel experiences when you’re on the kidney diet.

Eating tips for camping and road trips

If you don’t currently own one, consider investing in a cooler. Some models come with handles and wheels, minimizing the difficulty of toting your foods from place to place. A cooler will give you more food and drink options for the road or at a campsite, making fast food less tempting. As long as you keep food on ice, it’ll be fresh for many days.

Here are some key steps to eating kidney-friendly food on the road or while camping: 

  • Avoid packaged/processed meats, as they can be high in sodium and phosphorus.  If possible, use fresh-cooked meats, unsalted canned tuna or chicken or low-sodium deli meats.
  • Instead of potato chips, try unsalted pretzels or low-sodium crackers.
  • If you’re on a fluid-restricted diet, remember that salty foods can cause you to drink more.
  • Look for nutritional drinks specially formulated for kidney patients. Some examples are Nepro®, Re/Gen and Novasource Renal®. If you are on a lower protein diet, Suplena® would be an option. These may be used as a meal replacement or to supplement your meals if you are not eating enough.
  • Always read nutrition labels. Avoid foods high in the three P’s: protein (only if you’re on a low protein kidney diet), potassium and phosphorus. Also check labels for sodium content.
  • Avoid dairy products unless included in your diet plan.
  • For dessert, have a piece of low potassium fruit or low-sodium cookies.
  • Practice food safety: pack well, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.

Eating tips for cruises

Cruises can be fun, but a bit like a floating Las Vegas as far as eating goes. Buffet-style food is often available from morning until night, even 24 hours a day. This creates two problems: 1) temptation is all around, and 2) there is no portion control. In a regular restaurant, if you want a second serving, you have to pay for it. It can be very difficult to resist food that is part of an all-inclusive package.

To combat this situation, consider the following:

  • Select from the healthy areas of the buffet where you’ll find fruits, vegetables and salads. Most fruit and vegetable options are either low-protein or protein-free. If you are on a low-potassium diet, select only the fruits and vegetables you know are low in potassium, and keep serving sizes moderate.
  • Include a good protein source with each meal, but try to avoid items with breading or sauces that may be salty.
  • When you book your cruise, let them know your dietary needs. Many cruise lines are willing to prepare foods for special needs. Low-sodium meals may be available.
  • Pack your own kidney-friendly snacks to eat between meals or ask for items you know are kidney-friendly.

Eating tips for amusement park trips

Some amusement parks will stamp your hand, allowing you to exit and re-enter the park. Assuming it doesn’t require a day’s hike to get back to your car, consider bringing a cooler and going to your car for lunch. If this isn’t a viable option, then you’ll need to choose wisely when eating lunch inside the park.

Fast food is everywhere, especially in and around amusement parks. If fast food is your only option, keep a few things in mind:

  • Instead of the drive-thru, go inside so that you can consult the restaurant’s nutrition guide. Refer to this guide to make the smartest choice for your kidneys.
  • Many fast food restaurants are trying to offer a healthier menu these days, so know that hot dogs and hamburgers are not your only choice.
  • Skinless chicken or hamburgers (not cheeseburgers) are better options than pork or hot dogs and breaded chicken or fish.
  • Avoid french fries and potato wedges, which are high in potassium, and avoid biscuits due to phosphorus and sodium. Choose a bagel, dinner roll or English muffin instead.
  • Drink water instead of soda. If you do order soda, choose a small size and stay away from colas. Go for the clear drinks, such as Sprite®, 7-Up® or ginger ale. Check labels on water bottles and sports drinks as many brands now have potassium or phosphate additives.
  • If high-sodium foods are all that is available then limit these foods at your other meals. Eat a healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner to make up for the nutrients you are missing at other meals.

Eating tips for traveling abroad

One of the treats about foreign travel is the opportunity to sample ethnic dishes. If you are careful and make good food choices, you can enjoy some new cuisines. If you don’t speak the local language, bring a phrase book that has a section devoted to ordering food. Your dietitian can help you make a list of which foods are good and which foods to avoid when you visit a particular country.

Summary

Traveling can be a great way to learn, relax and reconnect with those you love. Taking a little time before your trip to plan out your meals will pay off in the end. With smart kidney diet choices, you can feel good and enjoy your vacation.

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