Diet and Nutrition for Chronic Kidney Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024 | Last updated: February 2024

Diet and nutrition play an important role in keeping kidneys healthy. Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet gives your kidneys all the essential vitamins and nutrients they need to filter out extra water and waste from your blood.1

If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), your diet is even more important. Certain foods are not good for your kidneys and force them to work harder. Eating a kidney-friendly diet, avoiding some foods, and adding in others can help you maintain your current kidney function.1

Choose foods that are low in salt

Foods with a lot of salt (sodium) can raise your blood pressure. And high blood pressure puts extra stress on your kidneys.1

Aim to stay under 2,300 mg of sodium per day. A food is high in sodium if it makes up more than 20 percent of your daily value. You can find the recommended daily value in the nutrition facts on food labels. Read these labels to make sure you are staying within a safe range.1

These habits can help reduce your salt intake:1

  • Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables rather than packaged and processed foods.
  • Prepare meals at home instead of dining out.
  • Flavor your food with spices and herbs instead of salt.
  • Choose low-sodium dressings, sauces, and marinades.
  • Rinse canned items like beans and corn before cooking with them.
  • Choose lower-sodium frozen meals.
  • Avoid fast food and takeout meals.
  • Drink less soda.
  • Look for phrases like “low-sodium” and “reduced salt” on food packaging.
  • Avoid fried foods

Choose foods that are low in fat

Kidney disease puts you at risk of developing heart issues like high cholesterol and coronary artery disease. With that in mind, choose foods that are low in saturated fat and trans fats.1

Consider these other heart-healthy diet tips:1

  • Instead of deep frying your foods, try grilling, baking, broiling, stir-frying, or roasting.
  • Remove any visible fat from meats.
  • Choose leaner meats like chicken or fish instead of beef or pork.
  • Swap butter for a heart-healthy oil like olive oil.

Be mindful of protein

Protein is an important part of your diet, but it requires a lot of energy from your kidneys. This is because when your body uses protein, it creates waste that then needs to be filtered by your kidneys. If you have kidney disease, you will probably need to reduce the amount of protein you eat.1

However, if you have end-stage kidney disease and are on dialysis, you will probably need to increase the amount of protein you eat. This is because dialysis removes some of the protein in your blood.2

There are 2 types of protein: animal protein and plant protein. Animal protein sources include:1,2

  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

Plant protein sources include:1,2

  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts
  • Grains

Talk with a dietitian to learn what kinds of protein are best for you and how much you should have in your diet.1

Be mindful of phosphorus and potassium

If you have chronic kidney disease, you may also need to be more mindful of your phosphorus and potassium levels. When your kidneys are not working well, phosphorus and potassium can build up in your blood and harm your bones and heart.1

Foods high in phosphorous include:1,3,4

  • Packaged foods
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Deli meats
  • Dairy products
  • Dark-colored sodas

Recent studies show that rather than avoiding foods with potassium and phosphorus altogether, a more healthy approach is to eat a plant-based diet. This prioritizes whole fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich grains and limits meat, deli meats, and processed foods. Meet with a dietitian to understand what foods to prioritize and which ones to avoid.3,4

What to eat if you have diabetes and kidney disease

Diabetes and kidney disease often go hand in hand. If you are living with both conditions, it can be a challenge to find a diet that is right for you. But it is possible.5

Here are some healthy diet tips for those with diabetes and kidney disease:5

  • Eat less salt.
  • Eat less fat.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit dining out and cook at home more.
  • Avoid sweetened beverages like sweet tea and sodas.
  • Eat the right amount of protein.
  • For those with late-stage kidney disease, reduce foods high in phosphorus and potassium.

Again, work with a dietitian to come up with a meal plan that is safe and nourishing for you.5

Remember to stay hydrated

Water is crucial for the kidneys. It helps the kidneys remove waste from the blood. This waste leaves the body when you pee.6

If you are dehydrated, your kidneys have to work extra hard. Dehydration also can lead to kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs).6

If you think you may be dehydrated, look at your pee. If it is dark yellow and has a strong smell, you are likely dehydrated and may need to drink more water. If your pee is light yellow or almost clear, you are well-hydrated. If your pee is always dark yellow no matter how much water you drink, tell your doctor.6

However, if you have late-stage kidney disease, too much water can be harmful. You kidneys may not be able to get rid of it. Talk to your doctor about the right amount of water for you.6

Work with a dietitian

Changing your diet can be hard, and it takes discipline. The good news is that it is possible. Work with a dietitian to make a meal plan that includes the foods you like while keeping your kidneys healthy.

Quick Quiz

Which of the following conditions is related to chronic kidney disease?

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