AUTHORITY NUTRITION

The 20 Best Foods for People With Kidney Problems

Written by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD on January 11, 2018

Kidney disease is a common problem affecting about 10% of the world’s population (1).

The kidneys are small but powerful bean-shaped organs that perform many important functions.

They are responsible for filtering waste products, releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure, balancing fluids in the body, producing urine and many other essential tasks (2).

There are various ways in which these vital organs can become damaged.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common risk factors for kidney disease. However, obesity, smoking, genetics, gender and age can also increase the risk (3).

Uncontrolled blood sugar and high blood pressure cause damage to blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing their ability to function at an optimal level (4).

When the kidneys aren’t working properly, waste builds up in the blood, including waste products from food (5).

Therefore, it’s necessary for people with kidney disease to follow a special diet.

Blueberries in Bowl

Dietary restrictions vary depending on the level of kidney damage.

For example, people in the early stages of kidney disease have different restrictions than those with kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) (6, 7).

If you have kidney disease, your health care provider will determine the best diet for your individual needs.

For most people with advanced kidney disease, it’s important to follow a kidney-friendly diet that helps decrease the amount of waste in the blood.

This diet is often referred to as a renal diet.

It helps boost kidney function while preventing further damage (8).

While dietary restrictions vary, it is commonly recommended that all people with kidney disease restrict the following nutrients:

  • Sodium: Sodium is found in many foods and a major component of table salt. Damaged kidneys can’t filter out excess sodium, causing its blood levels to rise. It’s often recommended to limit sodium to less than 2,000 mg per day (9, 10).
  • Potassium: Potassium plays many critical roles in the body, but those with kidney disease need to limit potassium to avoid dangerously high blood levels. It’s usually recommended to limit potassium to less than 2,000 mg per day (11, 12).
  • Phosphorus: Damaged kidneys can’t remove excess phosphorus, a mineral in many foods. High levels can cause damage to the body, so dietary phosphorus is restricted to less than 800–1,000 mg per day in most patients (13, 14).

Protein is another nutrient that people with kidney disease may need to limit, as waste products from protein metabolism can’t be cleared out by damaged kidneys.

However, those with end-stage renal disease undergoing dialysis, a treatment that filters and cleans the blood, have greater protein needs (15, 16).

Each person with kidney disease is different, which is why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about your individual dietary needs.

Luckily, many delicious and healthy options are low in phosphorus, potassium and sodium.

Here are 20 of the best foods for people with kidney problems.

Cauliflower is a nutritious vegetable that is high in many nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K and the B vitamin folate.

It’s also full of anti-inflammatory compounds like indoles and an excellent source of fiber (17).

Plus, mashed cauliflower can be used in place of potatoes for a low-potassium side dish.

One cup (124 grams) of cooked cauliflower contains (18):

  • Sodium: 19 mg
  • Potassium: 176 mg
  • Phosphorus: 40 mg

Blueberries are packed with nutrients and one of the best sources of antioxidants you can eat (19).

In particular, these sweet berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may protect against heart disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline and diabetes (20).

They also make a fantastic addition to a kidney-friendly diet, as they are low in sodium, phosphorus and potassium.

One cup (148 grams) of fresh blueberries contains (21):

  • Sodium: 1.5 mg
  • Potassium: 114 mg
  • Phosphorus: 18 mg

Sea bass is a high-quality protein that contains incredibly healthy fats called omega-3s.

Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and may help decrease the risk of cognitive decline, depression and anxiety (22, 23, 24).

While all fish are high in phosphorus, sea bass contains lower amounts than other seafood choices.

However, it’s important to consume small portions in order to keep phosphorus levels in check.

Three ounces (85 grams) of cooked sea bass contain (25):

  • Sodium: 74 mg
  • Potassium: 279 mg
  • Phosphorus: 211 mg

Not only are red grapes delicious, they also deliver a ton of nutrition in a small package.

Red grapes are high in vitamin C and contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation (26).

Additionally, red grapes are high in resveratrol, a type of flavonoid that has been shown to benefit heart health and protect against diabetes and cognitive decline (27, 28).

These sweet fruits are kidney-friendly, with a half cup (75 grams) containing (29):

  • Sodium: 1.5 mg
  • Potassium: 144 mg
  • Phosphorus: 15 mg

Although egg yolks are very nutritious, they contain high amounts of phosphorus, making egg whites a better choice for people following a renal diet.

Egg whites provide a high-quality, kidney-friendly source of protein.

Not to mention, they are an excellent choice for people undergoing dialysis treatment, as they have higher protein needs but need to limit phosphorus.

Two large egg whites (66 grams) contain (30):

  • Sodium: 110 mg
  • Potassium: 108 mg
  • Phosphorus: 10 mg

People with kidney problems are advised to limit the amount of sodium in their diet, including added salt.

Garlic provides a delicious alternative to salt, adding flavor to dishes while providing nutritional benefits.

It’s a good source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin B6 and contains sulfur compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties.

Three cloves (9 grams) of garlic contain (31):

  • Sodium: 1.5 mg
  • Potassium: 36 mg
  • Phosphorus: 14 mg

Many whole grains tend to be high in phosphorus, but buckwheat is a healthy exception.

Buckwheat is highly nutritious, providing a good amount of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and fiber.

It is also a gluten-free grain, making buckwheat a good choice for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

A half cup (84 grams) of cooked buckwheat contains (32):

  • Sodium: 3.5 mg
  • Potassium: 74 mg
  • Phosphorus: 59 mg

Olive oil is a healthy source of fat and phosphorus-free, making it a great option for people with kidney disease.

Frequently, people with advanced kidney disease have trouble keeping weight on, making healthy, high-calorie foods like olive oil important (33).

The majority of fat in olive oil is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties (34).

What’s more, monounsaturated fats are stable at high temperatures, making olive oil a healthy choice for cooking.

One ounce (28 grams) of olive oil contains (35):

  • Sodium: 0.6 mg
  • Potassium: 0.3 mg
  • Phosphorus: 0 mg

Bulgur is an ancient grain that makes a terrific, kidney-friendly alternative to other whole grains that are high in phosphorus and potassium.

This nutritious grain is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and manganese.

It’s also an excellent source of plant-based protein and full of dietary fiber, which is important for digestive health.

A half-cup (91-gram) serving of bulgur contains (36):

  • Sodium: 4.5 mg
  • Potassium: 62 mg
  • Phosphorus: 36 mg

Cabbage belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family and is loaded with vitamins, minerals and powerful plant compounds.

It’s a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C and many B vitamins.

Furthermore, it provides insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that keeps your digestive system healthy by promoting regular bowel movements and adding bulk to stools (37).

Plus, it’s low in potassium, phosphorus and sodium with one cup (70 grams) of shredded cabbage containing (38):

  • Sodium: 13 mg
  • Potassium: 119 mg
  • Phosphorus: 18 mg

Although a limited protein intake is necessary for some people with kidney issues, providing the body with an adequate amount of high-quality protein is vital for health.

Skinless chicken breast contains less phosphorus, potassium and sodium than skin-on chicken.

When shopping for chicken, choose fresh chicken and avoid pre-made roasted chicken, as it contains large amounts of sodium and phosphorus.

Three ounces (84 grams) of skinless chicken breast contains (39):

  • Sodium: 63 mg
  • Potassium: 216 mg
  • Phosphorus: 192 mg

Bell peppers contain an impressive amount of nutrients but are low in potassium, unlike many other vegetables.

These brightly colored peppers are loaded with the powerful antioxidant vitamin C.

In fact, one small red bell pepper (74 grams) contains 158% of the recommended intake of vitamin C.

They are also loaded with vitamin A, an important nutrient for immune function, which is often compromised in people with kidney disease (40).

One small red pepper (74 grams) contains (41):

  • Sodium: 3 mg
  • Potassium: 156 mg
  • Phosphorus: 19 mg

Onions are excellent for providing sodium-free flavor to renal-diet dishes.

Reducing salt can be difficult for many patients, making finding flavorful salt alternatives a must.

Sautéeing onions with garlic and olive oil adds flavor to dishes without compromising your kidney health.

What’s more, onions are high in vitamin C, manganese and B vitamins and contain prebiotic fibers that help keep your digestive system healthy by feeding beneficial gut bacteria (42.

One small onion (70 grams) contains (43):

  • Sodium: 3 mg
  • Potassium: 102 mg
  • Phosphorus: 20 mg

Many healthy greens like spinach and kale are high in potassium and difficult to fit into a renal diet.

However, arugula is a nutrient-dense green that is low in potassium, making it a good choice for kidney-friendly salads and side dishes.

Arugula is a good source of vitamin K and the minerals manganese and calcium, all of which are important for bone health.

This nutritious green also contains nitrates, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, an important benefit for those with kidney disease (44).

One cup (20 grams) of raw arugula contains (45):

  • Sodium: 6 mg
  • Potassium: 74 mg
  • Phosphorus: 10 mg

Most nuts are high in phosphorus and not recommended for those following a renal diet.

However, macadamia nuts are a delicious option for people with kidney problems. They are much lower in phosphorus than popular nuts like peanuts and almonds.

They are also packed with healthy fats, B vitamins, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese.

One ounce (28 grams) of macadamia nuts contains (46):

  • Sodium: 1.4 mg
  • Potassium: 103 mg
  • Phosphorus: 53 mg

Radishes are crunchy vegetables that make a healthy addition to a renal diet.

This is because they are very low in potassium and phosphorus but high in many other important nutrients.

Radishes are a great source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and cataracts (47, 48).

Additionally, their peppery taste makes a flavorful addition to low-sodium dishes.

A half cup (58 grams) of sliced radishes contains (49):

  • Sodium: 23 mg
  • Potassium: 135 mg
  • Phosphorus: 12 mg

Turnips are kidney-friendly and make an excellent replacement for vegetables that are higher in potassium like potatoes and winter squash.

These root vegetables are loaded with fiber and nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese and calcium.

They can be roasted or boiled and mashed for a healthy side dish that works well for a renal diet.

A half cup (78 grams) of cooked turnips contains (50):

  • Sodium: 12.5 mg
  • Potassium: 138 mg
  • Phosphorus: 20 mg

Many tropical fruits like oranges, bananas and kiwis are very high in potassium.

Luckily, pineapple makes a sweet, low-potassium alternative for those with kidneys problems.

Plus, pineapple is rich in fiber, B vitamins, manganese and bromelain, an enzyme that helps reduce inflammation (51).

One cup (165 grams) of pineapple chunks contains (52):

  • Sodium: 2 mg
  • Potassium: 180 mg
  • Phosphorus: 13 mg

Cranberries benefit both the urinary tract and kidneys.

These tiny, tart fruits contain phytonutrients called A-type proanthocyanidins, which prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract and bladder, thus preventing infection (53, 54).

This is helpful for those with kidney disease, as they have an increased risk of urinary tract infections (55).

Cranberries can be eaten dried, cooked, fresh or as a juice. They are very low in potassium, phosphorus and sodium.

One cup (100 grams) of fresh cranberries contains (56):

  • Sodium: 2 mg
  • Potassium: 85 mg
  • Phosphorus: 13 mg

Shiitake mushrooms are a savory ingredient that can be used as a plant-based meat substitute for those on a renal diet who need to limit protein.

They are an excellent source of B vitamins, copper, manganese and selenium.

In addition, they provide a good amount of plant-based protein and dietary fiber.

Shiitake mushrooms are lower in potassium than portobello and white button mushrooms, making them a smart choice for those following a renal diet (57, 58).

One cup (145 grams) of cooked shiitake mushroom contains (59):

  • Sodium: 6 mg
  • Potassium: 170 mg
  • Phosphorus: 42 mg

The kidney-friendly foods above are excellent choices for people following a renal diet.

Remember to always discuss your food choices with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are following the best diet for your individual needs.

Dietary restrictions vary depending on the type and level of kidney damage, as well as the medical interventions in place, such as medications or dialysis treatment.

While following a renal diet can feel restrictive at times, there are plenty of delicious foods that fit into a healthy, well-balanced and kidney-friendly meal plan.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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