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If you have kidney disease, you may need to follow a special diet. It’s usually one that is low in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. This may not heal your kidneys, but it can help make them healthier.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are common risk factors for kidney disease. Obesity, smoking, insulin resistance, high uric acid levels, and various other health conditions can contribute.

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

Therefore, people with kidney disease can benefit from following a special diet, known as a renal diet.

Here, we look at 20 of the best foods for people with kidney disease.

Dietary restrictions vary depending on the level of kidney damage. People with later-stage kidney disease will have different restrictions from those with early kidney disease.

At any stage, the diet will need to boost kidney function while lowering the risk of further damage.

While dietary restrictions vary, people with kidney disease typically need to restrict the following nutrients, as the kidneys may have difficulty removing or processing them, and high levels can cause damage to the body.

Sodium, the key ingredient in saltUnder 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day
PotassiumRestrictions will depend on the stage of kidney disease.
Phosphorus600–800 mg per day
ProteinRestrictions will depend on the stage of kidney disease.

Since kidney disease has close links with heart disease, it is also a good idea to combine these choices with a heart-healthy diet, one that contains plenty of fresh, plant-based foods and is low in saturated fats.

People’s experiences of kidney disease vary, so it’s important to talk to a doctor about your individual dietary needs.

Cauliflower provides many nutrients, including vitamin K, folate, and fiber. It also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Try mashed cauliflower in place of potato for a low-potassium side dish.

One-half cup (62 grams [g]) of boiled cauliflower without salt contains:

  • sodium: 9.3 mg
  • potassium: 88 mg
  • phosphorus: 20 mg
  • protein: 1 g

Blueberries are rich in nutrients and antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which may protect against heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.

They are also low in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium.

One cup (148 g) of fresh blueberries contains:

  • sodium: 1.5 mg
  • potassium: 114 mg
  • phosphorus: 18 mg
  • protein: 1 g

Sea bass is a fish option that provides high quality protein. It also contains healthy fats called omega-3s. Omega-3s may help prevent a range of diseases and boost the health of those living with long-term conditions.

Three ounces (85 grams) of cooked sea bass contains:

  • sodium: 74 mg
  • potassium: 279 mg
  • phosphorus: 211 mg
  • protein: 20 g

However, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends eating small portions of meat or fish, as high protein levels can make the kidneys work harder.

One portion is 2–3 ounces of chicken, fish, or meat, or a piece around the size of a deck of cards.

Red grapes are a good source of antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help reduce inflammation and protect against heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.

One half-cup (75 grams) of red grapes contains:

  • sodium: 1.5 mg
  • potassium: 144 mg
  • phosphorus: 15 mg
  • protein: 0.5 g

Egg whites provide a high quality, kidney-friendly source of protein that is low in phosphorus.

Egg whites may be a better choice than whole eggs for people on a renal diet, as egg yolks can be high in phosphorus.

Two large, raw egg whites (66 grams) contain:

  • sodium: 110 mg
  • potassium: 108 mg
  • phosphorus: 10 mg
  • protein: 7 g

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

It’s a good source of manganese and vitamin B6. It also contains sulfur compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.

Three cloves (9 grams) of garlic contain:

  • sodium: 1.5 mg
  • potassium: 36 mg
  • phosphorus: 14 mg
  • protein: 0.5 g

Buckwheat is a whole grain that is low in potassium. It also contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and fiber.

It’s also gluten-free, making it suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

A half cup (84 grams) of buckwheat contains:

  • sodium: 0.8 mg
  • potassium: 391 mg
  • phosphorus: 295 mg
  • protein: 11 g

Olive oil is a healthy source of vitamin E and mostly unsaturated fat. It is also phosphorus-free, making it a suitable option for people with kidney disease.

Most of the fat in olive oil is oleic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

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

One tablespoon (14 grams) of olive oil contains:

  • sodium: 0.3 mg
  • potassium: 0.1 mg
  • phosphorus: 0 mg
  • protein: 0 g

Bulgur is a whole grain wheat product and a kidney-friendly alternative to other whole grains that are higher in potassium and phosphorus.

Bulgur provides B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, as well as plant-based protein and fiber, which is important for digestive health.

A half-cup (70g) serving of cooked bulgur contains:

  • sodium: 154 mg
  • potassium: 48 mg
  • phosphorus: 28 mg
  • protein: 2 g

Cabbage belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family and provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds.

The authors of a 2021 study note that white, green, and red cabbage can help:

  • manage blood sugar
  • reduce the risk of kidney and liver damage
  • prevent oxidative stress and obesity

A cup (70g) of shredded savoy cabbage contains:

  • sodium: 20 mg
  • potassium: 161 mg
  • phosphorus: 29 mg
  • protein: 1.4 g

Skinless chicken breast has less fat and phosphorus than skin-on chicken.

One cup (140 g) of cooked, skinless chicken breast contains:

  • sodium: 104 mg
  • potassium: 358 mg
  • phosphorus: 319 mg
  • protein: 44 g

The NIDDK advises people with kidney disease to limit portions of meat and fish to 2–3 ounces, as high protein levels can make your kidneys work harder.

Bell peppers are high in vitamins A and C and other antioxidants but low in potassium.

These nutrients are important for immune function, which is closely linked with kidney disease.

One medium red pepper (100 g) contains:

  • sodium: less than 2.5 mg
  • potassium: 213 mg
  • phosphorus: 27 mg
  • protein: 1 g

Reducing salt can be challenging, but onions are one way of providing sodium-free flavor to renal-diet dishes.

Sautéing onions with garlic, olive oil, and herbs can add flavor to dishes without compromising your kidney health.

Onions provide vitamin C, manganese, and B vitamins, including folate. They also contain prebiotic fibers that help keep your digestive system healthy by feeding beneficial gut bacteria.

One small onion (70 grams) contains:

  • sodium: 3 mg
  • potassium: 102 mg
  • phosphorus: 20 mg
  • protein: 0.8 g

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

Arugula provides vitamin K, manganese, and calcium, all of which are important for bone health.

This nutritious green also contains nitrates, which can lower blood pressure, an important benefit for those with kidney disease.

One cup (20 grams) of raw arugula contains:

  • sodium: 5 mg
  • potassium: 74 mg
  • phosphorus: 10 mg
  • protein: 5 g

Most nuts are high in phosphorus and not suitable if you’re following a renal diet.

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

They also provide calcium, healthy fats, folate, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.

One ounce (28 grams) of macadamia nuts contains:

  • sodium: 1.4 mg
  • potassium: 104 mg
  • phosphorus: 53 mg
  • protein: 2 g

Radishes are crunchy vegetables that make a healthy addition to a renal diet. They are very low in potassium and phosphorus but contain other important nutrients, such as folate and vitamin A.

Their peppery taste makes a flavorful addition to low sodium dishes.

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

  • sodium: 23 mg
  • potassium: 135 mg
  • phosphorus: 12 mg
  • protein: 0.5 g

Turnips are root vegetables that provide fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese.

They can be roasted or boiled and mashed for a healthy side dish that works well for a renal diet. Alternatively, serve raw, grated turnips with a salad or add them to a winter stew.

A half-cup (80 grams) of cooked turnip cubes contains:

  • sodium: 160 mg
  • potassium: 159 mg
  • phosphorus: 22 mg
  • protein: 1 g

Pineapple can make a sweet treat for people with kidney problems. It is lower in phosphorus, potassium, and sodium than oranges, bananas, or kiwis.

Pineapple is also a good source of fiber and vitamin A, and it contains bromelain, an enzyme that may help reduce inflammation.

One cup (165 grams) of pineapple chunks contains:

  • sodium: 2 mg
  • potassium: 180 mg
  • phosphorus: 13 mg
  • protein: 1 g

Cranberries contain phytonutrients called A-type proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that may prevent urinary tract and kidney infections by reducing bacteria levels in urine. They are also low in potassium, phosphorus, and sodium.

There are close links between urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney infections, and a UTI can lead to kidney complications.

You can eat cranberries dried, cooked, fresh, or as a juice.

One cup (100 grams) of whole, fresh cranberries contains:

  • sodium: 2 mg
  • potassium: 80 mg
  • phosphorus: 11 mg
  • protein: 0.5 g

Shiitake mushrooms are a savory ingredient that you can use as a plant-based meat substitute. They are suitable for people with kidney disease who follow a plant-based diet and those on a renal diet who need to limit their protein intake.

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, sodium, and phosphorus than portobella and white button mushrooms, making them a smart choice for those following a renal diet.

One cup (145 grams) of cooked shiitake mushroom pieces, without added salt, contains:

  • sodium: 6 mg
  • potassium: 170 mg
  • phosphorus: 42 mg
  • protein: 2 g

Are there any foods that can heal the kidneys?

It is not always possible to heal the kidneys, especially if a person has long-term kidney disease.

However, dietary choices, such as avoiding too much salt, can help reduce the stress on the kidneys, help them work better, and slow the progress of disease.

What is the best drink for healthy kidneys?

Water is the best option as it flushes out the kidneys without adding stress due to toxins. There’s also growing evidence that drinking plain water may help prevent kidney disease.

Unsweetened cranberry juice is also a good option, as it contains antioxidants that may help protect the kidneys from infections. You might also try rice milk that is not enriched with potassium or phosphorus.

Limit or avoid alcohol intake, as this can increase the risk of a range of health problems.

What are 10 foods that are bad for the kidneys?

Foods to avoid if you have kidney disease are mainly those that are high in sodium, phosphorus, or both.

Here are some items to avoid or limit:

  • processed foods or premade meals, which tend to have added sodium
  • canned foods with added salt — opt for salt-free or rinse them before using them
  • large portions of protein foods, such as meat or dairy foods
  • high-fat items and any food that is not heart-healthy
  • alcohol
  • packaged foods with labels that have PHOS on them
  • deli meats
  • bran cereals and oatmeal

Learn more about which foods to avoid if you have kidney disease

People with kidney disease have to manage their intake of phosphorus, salt, and potassium. At certain stages, they also need to limit their protein intake.

As nutritional needs and restrictions change during the course of the disease, it is best to speak with a doctor before making any dietary changes. They will help you work out a diet suitable to your requirements.

Suitable options may include chicken, shiitake mushrooms, cranberries, macadamia nuts, and a wide range of other tasty and healthy foods.