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Vital Signs: Eating well while living with chronic kidney disease

Vital Signs: Eating well while living with chronic kidney disease

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Many people have little understanding of what to do once they are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, or CKD. Even more, they seem unaware of the vital role that dietitians can play in helping them delay or prevent progression of the disease, especially in its early stages.

CKD often develops as a result of other conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. Adhering to a healthy lifestyle can improve outcomes and delay disease progression. Following a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, but is limited in the amount of processed foods, can be effective in managing CKD.

Here are a few things to consider concerning nutrition and CKD:


For kidney health, it’s best to eat more lean proteins, including those from plant-based sources like beans, nuts and seeds. Consumption of red meat should be limited, along with processed meats that are loaded with sodium and unhealthy fats. People with CKD also should avoid excessive protein in the diet, particularly in later stages of the disease for those not receiving renal replacement therapy. With diminished kidney function, too much protein in the diet can lead to a buildup of waste products in the blood that healthy kidneys normally would excrete.


Abundant amounts of sodium are present in restaurant foods; it is also found in most processed and packaged items found on grocery store shelves. People with compromised kidney function should limit their sodium intake, as should those with heart failure and hypertension. Sodium aids in fluid retention; it also raises blood pressure, which can further reduce kidney function in those with CKD. Eating out less and buying fresh food items instead of prepackaged, frozen or prepared meals are just a couple of ways to reduce your sodium intake. For instance, making a meal at home using low- or no-sodium seasonings such as garlic, onions and herbs may contain as few as 500 milligrams of sodium, or even fewer, for that one meal. A restaurant meal, on the other hand, may contain as many as 3,000 milligrams. Other ways to reduce dietary sodium includes buying low-sodium products (such as frozen vegetables without sodium) and banning the saltshaker during mealtimes.

Plant-based eating

Plant-based diets have been a focus in the media as a preventive measure for certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption is also beneficial for kidney health. Fruits, vegetables and other plant foods are packed with vital nutrients that research shows are effective in delaying the progression of CKD.

Weight management

Maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and many types of cancer. It also can help prevent worsening kidney function. Keep in mind that a healthy weight is not the same for every individual, and that traditional weight standards may not be ideal for every body type.

Hyperkalemia and hyperphosphatemia

Potassium and phosphorus are two minerals that build up in the blood when the kidneys are no longer able to clear them efficiently from the body. For many CKD patients, phosphorus levels remain within normal range or, if they increase at later stages of the disease, the level can be controlled with a phosphorus binder. It’s more common for potassium to reach high levels in the blood of some CKD patients, and following a low-potassium diet is necessary in these instances.

If you’re reading this and don’t have CKD, following these recommendations still can help you avoid multiple health problems related to poor diet and being overweight.

To ease the confusion that can come with a diagnosis of CKD and to learn how to maintain your health, seeking out the expertise of a registered dietitian can help. Another resource to check out is the National Kidney Foundation at

Patricia Tyndale is a registered dietitian with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

VITAL SIGNS This column, which promotes community health, is sponsored by Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Region Ten Community Services Board, Thomas Jefferson Health District and the University of Virginia Heath System.

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