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You may need to limit these foods if you have kidney disease.

If you have chronic kidney disease, kidney damage or limited kidney function, a special diet may have been recommended to you by your doctor. This type of diet – called a kidney or renal diet – is designed to protect your kidneys from further damage.

Why do you need a special diet to protect your kidneys?

When you eat or drink, excess nutrients that aren’t absorbed by your body wind up in your kidneys. Healthy kidneys filter out these excess nutrients and make urine. But if your kidneys aren’t functioning at their best, some nutrients can build up, causing further damage to your kidneys. This may also increase your risk for other health issues.

What are the most harmful nutrients to your kidneys?

Nutrients that should be limited in a kidney diet include sodium, potassium and phosphorus. You may also need to lower the amount of protein you eat, although you want to make sure you don’t eat too little protein. Natural sources of plant protein are better for the kidneys than animal sources of protein so consider swapping out some of the animal protein in your diet for plant-based foods that are higher in protein, such as beans, legumes and tofu.

How do you reduce the amount of these nutrients in your diet?

It is best to talk to your healthcare provider about specific foods you should limit or avoid. But here are some tips to help you lower the amount of sodium, potassium and phosphorus in your diet.

To consume less sodium:

  • Don’t put salt on your food at the table.
  • Season your food with a variety of herbs and spices instead of salt when cooking.
  • Limit the amount of processed foods you eat. Much of the sodium consumed in the standard American diet comes from foods such as soups, lunch meats, processed meats (like bacon and hot dogs), canned entrees (like ravioli and chili), frozen dinners (like chicken nuggets and pizza), breads, cheeses and salty snacks.
  • Limit refrigerated or frozen meat and poultry that has been flavored or packaged in a solution. Chicken, pork chops and other meats may contain more sodium than you think.
  • Eat fresh whole foods as much as possible. The less you eat food from a can, box or jar, the more likely you will naturally consume less sodium.
  • Read food labels. Avoid foods that have salt as one of the first few ingredients and check the amount of sodium per serving. Opt for “no salt added” foods when available.
  • Eat out less often. Restaurant meals usually contain a lot of sodium.

Potassium is found primarily in foods considered healthy, such as vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts. There is also potassium in foods like meat, milk, molasses and some cereals. These foods contain higher amounts of potassium – ask your doctor if you need to limit or avoid them:

  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe/honeydew melon
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Cooked greens, such as kale, spinach and chard
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Winter squash
  • Nuts
  • Dried beans

Phosphorus is primarily found in dairy foods. It may also be in some vegetables and grains. If you have been told to limit the phosphorus in your diet, here are some ways to do that:

  • Limit dairy products to 1 cup of milk, 1 container of yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese per day.
  • Limit these vegetables that are high in phosphorus: leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms.
  • Limit dried beans to 1 cup per week.
  • Limit some whole grains to 1 serving per week, including cereals, breads and crackers made with oatmeal, bran or whole wheat.
  • Avoid beer, soft drinks and other bottled drinks that contain phosphorus.

Also talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much protein you should eat each day.

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Date Last Reviewed: January 16, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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