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Albumin is a protein found in the blood. It’s easy to measure by a simple blood test and is used as a marker to tell if your protein intake is adequate. A healthy albumin for people with kidney disease is 4.0 g/dL or higher.
When protein intake is too low, or of low quality, albumin decreases and a condition called protein-energy wasting (PEW) occurs. As a result, muscles and fat breaks down to supply essential amino acids needed for the body to work, which can cause weakness, vulnerability to infection, depression, among other conditions.
You can maintain or improve albumin by knowing how much protein to eat and by including some of these protein-rich, kidney-friendly foods each day. If you’re not on dialysis and are on a lower-protein kidney diet, at least half your daily protein allowance should come from high-quality protein sources.
Made from turkey or lean beef, both of these protein sources give you iron to help prevent anemia. A 3-ounce cooked burger has 21 grams of good-quality protein.
Chicken is versatile as a hot or cold entrée and lunch or dinner favorite. Protein varies from 14 to 28 grams depending on the size.
It’s recommended to use fresh meat products and avoid pre-made roasted chicken and other processed meats, which often contain large amounts of sodium and phosphorus. This excess sodium and phosphorus isn’t good for patients with chronic kidney disease.
Compared to milk, yogurt and cheese, cottage cheese is lower in potassium and phosphorus. Sodium is still a concern, but it’s easy to create a meal low enough in sodium to include cottage cheese when it’s paired with low-potassium fruits such as berries or peaches.
Snacking is a great way to sneak in extra protein. One deviled egg contributes 6 grams of protein.
How about an omelet with an egg, egg white, 1/2 ounce ham and 1/2 ounce cheese? (Hint: Try the DaVita.com kidney-friendly Denver Omelet recipe, which has 17 grams of high-quality protein.)
Egg whites are 100 percent albumin, the best quality protein you can eat. Egg whites are also low in phosphorus. Two egg whites provide 7.2 grams of pure protein.
Fish is a great protein source. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and rainbow trout, are high in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation. A 3-ounce portion of cooked fish has approximately 15-21 grams of protein. Shrimp is also a great seafood protein choice.
Although high in potassium and phosphorus, a cup of Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein. When eaten as a meat replacement, Greek yogurt may work into your meal plan. Ask your dietitian for individual recommendations.
Smoothies are quick and easy to make. In addition to your favorite fruit, include a low-potassium milk substitute and protein powder or pasteurized egg product.
There are many meat analog products (aka faux meats) available. Veggie crumbles (ground meat-like crumbles made from soy), veggie burgers and even veggie sausage are easy to find. Just be sure to watch out for higher sodium, potassium or phosphorus, and check with your dietitian to learn about the best choices.
Nepro®, Suplena®, NovaSource Renal®, Nutren Renal® and ReGen® are some of the kidney-specific nutrition drinks available for dialysis diets or CKD non-dialysis diets. Often these products are used as dietary supplements when a person is unable to eat enough.
In addition to high-quality protein, pork chops are a good source of iron and thiamine. A 3-ounce cooked chop provides 20 to 26 grams of protein.
Grab-and-go bars are a great solution for eating on the run or when you don’t feel like preparing a meal. Pure Protein®, Premier Nutrition®, Balance Bars®, Zone Perfect®, EAS Myoplex®, ProMax®, PowerBar®, and Atkins Advantage® offer several kidney-friendly bars. Look for bars that contain more than 15 grams of protein, below 150 mg phosphorus and less than 200 mg potassium and sodium.
Protein powder and liquid protein supplements
Protein powders and liquids provide a concentrated protein source that can be added to foods or beverages. Whey and egg protein powders are usually lower in potassium and phosphorus than soy protein. Check with your dietitian before consuming protein powder or liquid protein supplements.
Tofu is a curd made from soy beans. It comes in soft, regular, firm and extra firm textures, with 7 to 13 grams protein per 1/2 cup. Although it’s higher in phosphorus and potassium than meat, poultry and fish, tofu is still an acceptable protein source.
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