What a person eats when they have kidney failure may help improve the effectiveness of their treatment. It may also increase a person’s strength and energy.

Functioning kidneys keep the body’s minerals and salts in balance. When the kidneys are not working correctly, a person’s calcium, sodium, potassium, and other minerals may become unbalanced.

The type of treatment a person receives for kidney failure can determine which foods to eat and which to avoid.

This article explores the diet changes a person with kidney failure may need to make, what to keep track of, and which foods it may help to limit or avoid.

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Eating the appropriate amount of certain foods may help decrease the buildup of waste products in the blood and ease the strain on the kidneys. And as the disease progresses, a person may benefit from food adjustments. A dietician can provide guidance on whether a person needs to take further measures based on blood test results.

Individuals with kidney disease may benefit from adjusting and keeping track of how much of the following they consume:

  • Water and fluid intake: Keeping track of fluid consumption is essential to help prevent excessive fluid buildup, which can strain the kidneys. A person will need to balance fluid intake with fluid output.
  • Sodium: Monitoring sodium and salt intake is important to help manage blood pressure and fluid retention, which can worsen kidney function.
  • Protein: Tracking protein intake is necessary to avoid excessive waste production and strain on the kidneys. Managing protein consumption may help maintain kidney function and prevent complications.
  • Phosphorus: Managing phosphorus intake is vital to help prevent mineral imbalances and bone health issues, as impaired kidneys may have difficulty regulating phosphorus.
  • Potassium: A person should limit their potassium intake. This is because kidney failure leads to impaired excretion of potassium. High potassium can affect heart and muscle function.
  • Supplements: Keeping track of any prescribed or recommended supplements is important to ensure a person takes them as directed and that the supplements do not interact negatively with kidney function.
  • Calories: Monitoring calorie intake helps maintain a moderate weight, which can positively affect overall health and kidney function. Each person is different when it comes to how many calories they should consume in a day.

According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), experts suggest several diet plans for people with kidney failure. A person can also use the NKF’s online tool to find recipes suitable for those with kidney failure.

DASH diet

A person with kidney failure may find it beneficial to follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet for people with kidney failure. The diet focuses on including:

A person can eat whole grains, nuts, and beans if they do not have a high phosphate level.

The DASH diet recommends limiting:

Plant-based diet

Recent research indicates that people with kidney disease may benefit from following a vegetarian or plant-based diet.

A vegetarian or plant-based diet focuses on eating mostly:

A person can eat whole grains, nuts, and beans if they do not have a high phosphate level.

People following a vegetarian or plant-based diet limit or avoid intake of:

  • dairy
  • eggs
  • fish
  • meat
  • poultry

Managing specific nutrients

A person’s blood test results can show whether they may benefit from limiting certain minerals.

A dietician may suggest following additional diet guidelines to reduce certain minerals. They may recommend a person follow a diet that is low in:

  • phosphates
  • potassium
  • protein
  • sodium

For people with kidney failure, experts often advise avoiding or limiting certain foods to help manage the condition and prevent complications.

Individual dietary needs can vary based on factors such as the stage of kidney disease and any other health conditions a person has.

High sodium foods

Excessive salt intake can contribute to fluid retention and high blood pressure. Foods high in salt include:

High phosphorus foods

Elevated phosphorus levels can lead to mineral imbalances and bone problems. Foods high in phosphorus include:

  • dairy products
  • certain processed foods
  • meats
  • beans
  • lunch meats

High potassium foods

Excess potassium can disrupt heart rhythm and muscle and nerve function. Foods high in potassium include:

High protein foods

Consuming too much protein can increase the workload on the kidneys. However, protein is still an important part of a balanced diet.

A dietician can help a person determine how much protein they should eat. They base how much protein a person needs on their:

Every dialysis and transplant center has a dedicated dietitian who can assist with meal planning. A renal dietitian undergoes specialized training called medical nutrition therapy (MNT), which helps guide individuals with kidney failure.

Medicare covers the cost of MNT for individuals with kidney disease who have a written referral from their doctor.

For individuals with an insurance policy other than Medicare, they can inquire whether it includes coverage for MNT pertaining to kidney failure.

People with kidney failure typically need to adjust their diet to help decrease the strain on their kidneys. Limiting certain foods can help decrease the amount of toxins in the bloodstream and may increase a person’s strength and energy.

A dietician specializing in MNT can guide a person with kidney failure on balancing their minerals and how much protein and fluid they should have each day.