The Best Foods for People Living with Kidney Disease

March 22, 2017 Abhijit Adhye, MD, FACP

best-foods-for-kidney-diseaseRenal diets are critical for managing chronic kidney disease -- and these “super foods” help protect the body from a range of other diseases, too

For those who have chronic kidney disease (CKD), these “super foods” are recommended for inclusion in a renal diet to maintain optimal health, and help protect kidneys from further damage. When dieticians talk about super foods, they are generally referring to the vegetables and fruits that are highest in antioxidants, along with other healthy nutrients. Antioxidants are the body’s ally in counteracting inflammation, which is at the root of many diseases, including CKD.

"People with kidney disease experience more inflammation and are more at risk of cardiovascular disease than those who don’t have kidney problems,” says Abhijit Adhye, MD, FACP, a board-certified internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Health Medical Group. “Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals that are linked to kidney disease, and lower the inflammation that aggravates the condition. Following a renal diet of kidney-friendly, low-potassium foods, and working closely with a renal dietician, is a wise approach for managing CKD.

“Healthy kidneys clean the blood and maintain the critical balance of water and minerals in the body,” says Dr. Adhye. “They are also an essential part of red blood cell production, regulating blood pressure and building bones. When the kidneys are damaged, waste products and fluids can build up and cause ankle swelling, weakness, nausea and poor sleep. Untreated, diseased kidneys can stop working completely. Loss of kidney function is potentially a fatal condition.”

If you have kidney disease, consult a renal dietitian who can create a meal plan that works for you. Everybody is different and will have different nutrition needs, but most kidney diets will include at least some of the super foods listed below.

Super Foods for Your Kidneys
Including these fruits and vegetables in your kidney diet eating plan can help you increase your intake of nutrients and antioxidants. These super foods are hugely beneficial for everyone, not just people with kidney disease, so by using them in your daily meals, you'll be helping support good health overall.

Olive oil
Olive oil is rich in the fatty acids and monounsaturated fats (“good fats”), and contain antioxidants that prevent inflammation. Research shows that cultures that rely on olive oil over other fats tend to have lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Olive oil doesn’t have to be only used for salad dressing or marinades, it can be used as a substitute for butter, cream and many other ingredients.

Garlic is an antioxidant powerhouse that reduces inflammation and lowers cholesterol. Garlic can be used in a wide variety of dishes, and its strong flavor helps it act as a salt substitute. Whether used fresh or powdered, garlic is a great ally in maintaining kidney health.

Another versatile ingredient, onion contains flavonoids that have strong antioxidant properties. These are also thought to help with heart disease and even prevent many types of cancer. Whether used raw or cooked, include a variety of onions – brown, white and red – in your dishes for powerful kidney support.

An excellent source of quality protein, fish should be eaten two or three times a week as part of a kidney-friendly diet plan. The anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in fish are not just good for the kidneys, they help prevent heart disease and cancer as well. Fish with the highest amounts of omaga-3s include albacore tuna, mackerel, herring rainbow trout and salmon.

Egg whites
Egg whites are pure protein, with less phosphorous than meats or egg yolks, which helps prevent this mineral from building up in your system. Egg whites can be used in omelets, sandwiches, salads and even smoothies and shakes.

Apples are good for reducing inflammation, and have other great health benefits as well: They help reduce cholesterol, protect against heart disease and lower the risk of cancer. Apples can be eaten raw or cooked, and the same kidney-friendly properties are present in apple juice and apple cider.

Red bell peppers
Red bell peppers are perfect for a renal diet: Full of flavor, color and vitamins, red bell peppers are low in potassium and rich in antioxidants. Red bell peppers are versatile because they are easily added to all sorts of recipes. Chop them into salads, soups and sauces, grill, roast or stuff them – red bell peppers can brighten up almost any dish.

Cabbage is loaded with phytochemicals, the compounds that work against free radicals that lead to inflammation. High in vitamins yet low in potassium, kidney-friendly cabbage can be enjoyed raw in salads, steamed or stuffed – and it’s one of the least-expensive foods on the market. Its cruciferous cousin, the cauliflower, has similar benefits, and can be a great substitute for mashed potatoes.

Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and cranberries are all considered to be among nature’s top super foods, and are packed with inflammation-lowering antioxidants. Berries contain a wide array of vitamins, fiber, folate and phytonutrients that neutralize free radicals. These qualities help them prevent heart disease and certain cancers as well. Easy to use, berries can be juiced, sprinkled on cereal, added to smoothies, baked into cereal bars or made into salad dressing. With their natural sweetness, there are all sorts of ways berries can act as a sugar substitute.

If you are concerned about the health of your kidneys, these super foods should be added to your regular shopping list. “Be sure to consult with a renal dietitian who can help incorporate them into a meal plan if you do have chronic kidney disease,” adds Dr. Adhye. “When shopping for fruits and vegetables, aim for variety, since they all contain different types of nutrients. And look for the freshest ones, since they will have more nutrients overall. But even when past their peak, these fruits and vegetables will still be valuable for maintaining your kidney health.”

Nutritional recommendations for adults with chronic kidney disease stages 3 to 4

Protein ≤0.8 g/kg/day, increase plant source.
Salt <2.3 g/day (<5 g/day of NaCl).
Potassium Individualize to keep the serum potassium within a normal range.
Calcium 1.5 g/day from both dietary and medication sources.
Phosphorus 0.8 to 1 g/day or individualize to keep the value within normal range. Increase vegetable source and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Carbohydrate/fat 30 to 35 kcal/kg/day; <30% of total calories from fat and <10% of total fat from saturated fat. DASH diet pattern highly recommended.
Fiber 25 to 38 g/day.

Additional Resources:

Mayo Clinic: Chronic Kidney Disease

American Kidney Fund

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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