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Including Whole Grains in a Kidney Diet

By DaVita® dietitian Nicole Dolan, RD from California

What are whole grains?

You’ve probably heard of whole grains, but what are they really? They are unprocessed grains with the endosperm, bran and germ left intact. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium. Compared to non-enriched refined grains, whole grains have more potassium and phosphorus. The amount of these minerals and the amount of protein varies among different whole grains.

There are numerous benefits to eating whole grains. Improved digestive health, lower cholesterol with decreased risk for heart disease and stroke, and cancer prevention have been linked to higher fiber intake, a result of eating whole grains.

Are whole grains acceptable for a kidney diet?

In the past, whole grains were discouraged in kidney diet due to the higher potassium and phosphorus content. Today, dietitians are changing advice on whole grains. Why is this happening? Increased use of prepared and packaged foods, and eating out more often, has greatly increased sodium, potassium and phosphorus intake—mostly due to food additives. The nutritional and health benefits of food are as important as the mineral content. It’s important to talk with your dietitian who can tell you how much of which whole grains will fit into your individualized kidney diet.

What are the best whole grain choices?

Whole grains vary in the amounts of phosphorus and potassium.

Whole grains with lower potassium and phosphorus content:

  • Barley
  • Buckwheat (kasha)
  • Bulgur
  • Popcorn
  • Wild rice

Whole grains with higher potassium and phosphorus content (check with your dietitian before including these whole grains):

  • Amaranth
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum (milo)
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat berries

Consider whole grains with protein

Incorporating some of the higher protein grains can help people on dialysis meet their protein goals. Whole grains with protein include amaranth, millet, quinoa, teff and some whole wheat pastas. Breads and cereals made from whole grains may also provide a significant amount of protein.

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