Kidney-Friendly Foods from Chicago

The Windy City. Second City. Chi-town. Whatever you call it, Chicago, Illinois, remains a grand Midwest destination for music, diverse culture and mouthwatering food. Chicago boasts around 2.9 million people and its surrounding area (known as Chicagoland) totals to approximately 9.6 million. 

With nearly 44.2 million visitors each year, there is plenty to see and do when you go to Chicago. Explore Navy Pier and marvel at the Sears Tower. Experience the arts at the Chicago Theater, the Second City Improv group or the Museum of Contemporary Art. Chicago is host to various concerts and festivals. Jazz has been a fixture of Chicago since the 1920s, and today people can enjoy listening to it at music venues, including the Chicago Jazz Festival held every Labor Day weekend in Grant Park.  

Shopping and dining at restaurants on trendy Michigan Ave. — also known as the Magnificent Mile — is another favorite pastime for many Chicagoans and tourists. 

Chicago is an active city, so finding a park is no problem. Chicagoland holds 552 parks, whether inside the city or on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lincoln Park receives 20 million visitors per year. Chicagoans can also take in a professional sports game all year long, as the Cubs and the White Sox, the Bulls, the Bears and the Blackhawks play here. 

Famous people past and present have come out of Chicago and the city’s surrounding areas. From presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama to those in entertainment, including media giant Oprah Winfrey, the late actor Charlton Heston, super producer Quincy Jones and American Idol contestant-turned-Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Basketball legend Michael Jordan, football coach extraordinaire Mike Ditka and baseball greats Sammy Sosa and Charles Comiskey have all made their names in Chicago.  

Despite everything that Chicago has to offer, it may be argued that food is the best reason to visit this extraordinary city. DaVita® renal dietitians Catherine, Christine, Erin, Kathleen, Karen, Shannon and Linda hail from Chicago and the city’s surrounding areas. When it comes to local-grown fare, they say that corn, soy beans and Granny Smith apples are found in abundance here. Chicago is also famous for its pizza, hot dogs (hold the ketchup) and sausages. Influenced by the southern migrant workers of the past, Chicago has a plethora of barbeque eateries, too. It can be said that Chicago is host to some of the world’s best food. With so many different people in one area – from people of African, Irish and Italian descent to Polish, Korean and Greek backgrounds – a variety of food is not difficult to find.  

“Chicago is very passionate about food,” Erin says. “The Taste of Chicago is a yearly event where restaurants in Chicago come to give you a ‘taste’ of their specialty foods.”  

Kathleen adds, “Chicago is a culturally diverse city with many ethnic neighborhoods that boast authentic and delicious cuisine.” Other favorites besides pizza and hot dogs are Greek cuisine, Italian beef and fried chicken served with waffles. Foods that are held dearly by locals and visitors are not necessarily good for those with chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Chicago chronic kidney disease patients may find some foods challenging to stay away from. Catherine said “soul food and the aroma of barbeque”, along with other Chicago favorites, are tempting. Although these foods are what have contributed to Chicago’s fame, kidney patients may be advised to lower their sodium and phosphorus intake. Some patients may need to watch protein, potassium and calcium intake, too.  

Kathleen, who works with Chicago’s youngest chronic kidney disease patients, finds the trickiest aspect of her job is motivating children to want to eat better. Her key to helping young patients is to be “direct and simple” in explaining basic nutrition. Yet Kathleen also believes “listening and respecting” even her smallest patients is how she makes a difference in their lives. Aside from watching what they eat, Kathleen said missing school is a difficulty that children on dialysis face most of the time. Her dialysis center tries to come up with fun ways to make visits not so disheartening for the little ones. 

Catherine’s passion to become a dietitian stems from her father’s battle with hypertension. Since his passing, Catherine decided helping others with the same health problems was her calling. In her Chicago center, she has orchestrated contests that resemble the TV show, “The Biggest Loser,” for patients. Catherine also can count on a great team at the dialysis center to work together for the betterment of the patients. 

Erin is enthusiastic about food. “I love to cook and I love to eat it.” Erin explains, “My mom made dinner every night when I was growing up, so I tried a lot of different foods. I also enjoy helping people and improving their health.”  

Compared to hospitals, where Erin and some DaVita dietitians have worked, she said that dialysis centers provide a platform that helps her retain better contact with patients. “In a dialysis center, you build a relationship with the patient. You get to see their successes and help them when they aren’t as successful. Working in the renal field, I feel like I have a real impact on people.” 

Chicago native Christine finds it rewarding when “teaching patients and their families to make appropriate choices that improve their quality of life on dialysis.” She recognizes that the dietitian role can be complicated. “The most challenging aspect of my job is keeping a fresh approach. I try to individualize a person’s eating plan according to their physical and cultural needs, and I try to communicate in a way that empowers.”  

Celebrating the various backgrounds of her patients is frequent at Christine’s dialysis center. “The area is multicultural with many shops, bakeries and delis,” she says. “We like to celebrate cultural occasions such as Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day and others. We like to celebrate with food.” 

Shannon emphasizes the significance of diet to her dialysis patients. “I talk to them as if they were my family members. I explain to them how important their eating habits are and the consequences if they don’t follow through with good eating habits. Some patients I have to be very sensitive with, and others I have to be very real and matter of fact with. Whatever kind of patient it is, I always find a way to bond with them and let them know how important their diet is.” 

Shannon’s Chicagoland dialysis center borders Indiana, and yes, Chicago foods can be tempting to her Indiana patients, too. 

Originally from Illinois, Linda currently resides and works in nearby Indiana. Linda’s dialysis center is in the small town of Munster, which is only 30 miles away from the center of Chicago. Munster is close enough to be influenced through food, as pizza is a highlight in this area. 

Linda says that Munster is a friendly place, and she has implemented the same attitude toward her patients. “I try to be positive and focus on the good things patients do,” she said. “I also try to find ways to help them work favorite foods into their diet.”  

Food isn’t the only concern Chicago dialysis patients face. Weather can be fierce in the Windy City. Winters are usually cold and pummeled with snow. Erin says, “We have to battle the snow every winter, but we get through it. Patients help other patients with rides and people manage to get to the center, even if it’s a blizzard.” 

Linda’s Indiana dialysis center shares the same weather as Chicago. Snow is a bother in the winter, along with some flooding and power outages in the summer. But the Chicago area dietitians say patients look out for one another so that they are able to receive treatment. 

Food modification is necessary for chronic kidney disease and dialysis patients. But Chicago’s famous cuisine does not have to be completely sacrificed. With some help from dietitians – including Catherine, Christine, Erin, Kathleen, Karen, Linda and Shannon – patients can enjoy old favorites and some new recipes made with a kidney-friendly approach.

Chicago menu for a dialysis diet

Breakfast

  • Crepes with Frozen Berries 
  • 2 links turkey sausage
  • 1 egg prepared as desired
  • 1/2 cup grits with margarine
  • 3/4 coffee with creamer and sweetener if desired

Lunch

Mid-afternoon snack

  • 1 small apple

Dinner

Bedtime snack

  • 1 ounce unsalted pretzels
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice

Chicago menu nutritional analysis

Breakfast

Calories: 566
Protein: 22 g
Carbohydrate: 52 g
Fat: 30 g
Cholesterol: 257 mg
Sodium: 582 mg
Potassium: 495 mg
Phosphorus: 303 mg
Calcium: 101 mg
Fiber: 1.9 g
Fluid: 3/4 cup

Lunch

Calories: 639
Protein: 25 g
Carbohydrate: 65 g
Fat: 31 g
Cholesterol: 81 mg
Sodium: 613 mg
Potassium: 665 mg
Phosphorus: 318 mg
Calcium: 110 mg
Fiber: 3.6 g
Fluid: 1-1/2 cups

Dinner

Calories: 746
Protein: 36 g
Carbohydrate: 74 g
Fat: 34 g
Cholesterol: 131 mg
Sodium: 481 mg
Potassium: 761 mg
Phosphorus: 307 mg
Calcium: 182 mg
Fiber: 2.9 g
Fluid: 3/4 cup

Snacks

Calories: 221
Protein: 3 g
Carbohydrate: 50 g
Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 122 mg
Potassium: 122 mg
Phosphorus: 53 mg
Calcium: 7 mg
Fiber: 2.3 g
Fluid: 1 cup

Day Total

Calories: 2172
Protein: 86 g
Carbohydrate: 241 g
Fat: 96 g
Cholesterol: 469 mg
Sodium: 1798 mg
Potassium: 2043 mg
Phosphorus: 981 mg
Calcium: 400 mg
Fiber: 10.7 g
Fluid: 4 cups

The above contains average nutrient values for menu portions. Your actual intake may vary based on portions and brand differences.

Your individual nutrient needs may be higher or lower than this sample menu. Always consult your dietitian and refer to your individualized meal plan to determine the amounts to eat.

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