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How to Build Your Kidney Disease Meal Plan

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Meal planning helps you make smart food choices and streamlines shopping. And if you’re living with chronic kidney disease (CKD), it’s an excellent way to support your health. Choosing the right foods and monitoring nutrition is important for helping you feel your best by eating well every day. Planning your kidney-friendly grocery list can be a piece of cake when you learn how to create your balanced kidney disease meal plan.

Five Tips for Creating a Healthy and Delicious Kidney Disease Meal Plan

Stay ahead of kidney disease by eating well. Learn what nutrients to monitor and how to create your own tasty meal plan that’s great for your health.

1. Know your kidney health needs

If you’re living with CKD, your kidneys don’t balance the amounts of nutrients and waste in your body as efficiently as they should. By paying attention to which nutrients you’re taking in and watching portions, you can make this important job easier for your kidneys.

Every person has their own dietary needs, and depending on your stage of kidney disease and how it’s being treated, these requirements may change. For example, if you’re on dialysis, you may need to pay extra attention to your fluid intake and pump up the protein. If you have other health conditions like diabetes or heart disease, you’ll need to factor those needs into your diet as well. If you’re working with a dietitian, they can help you create a custom kidney disease meal plan that supports your whole health. If you’re not seeing a dietitian, talk to your doctor for meal-planning advice.

2. Monitor your minerals

If you’re living with CKD, there are a few nutrients you’ll need to keep a close eye on. Here’s what you should remember when choosing meals to eat with kidney disease:

  • Shake off the salt. Healthy kidneys balance the sodium and fluid levels in your body, but with CKD, you’ll need to help support this process by minimizing your sodium intake.
    Suggested recipe: Lemon Orzo Spring Salad

  • Cut down on phosphorus. With CKD, phosphorus may build up and become harmful to your bones or heart health. It occurs naturally in many foods and is sometimes added as a preservative, so check the nutrition label and watch out for any words that start with “phos-.”
    Suggested recipe: Classic Lasagna

  • Eat low-potassium foods. Potassium is important for your health, but with CKD, your kidneys have trouble keeping this nutrient in check. Excess potassium can build up and cause issues with your heart and nerves.
    Suggested recipe: Chilled Veggie and Shrimp Noodle Salad
          
  • Be picky about proteins. In moderation, protein keeps muscles strong and healthy. To minimize waste buildup, choose high-quality proteins like fish or chicken — or try plant-based proteins to put less stress on your kidneys. Eating beans, tofu, nuts, and other plant-based proteins has been shown to help slow the progression of kidney disease and keep people with CKD healthier longer.1,2
    Suggested recipe: Spicy Tofu Scrambler

3. Learn how to read nutrition labels

Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins is always a great option, but you can make kidney-smart choices when choosing packaged foods too. Packaged foods have nutrition labels that describe which vitamins, minerals, fats, and calories you can expect from each serving. The percent daily value (% DV) tells you how much each serving contributes to your daily diet (based on 2,000 calories per day). Keep a close eye on the % DV to keep your kidney disease meal planning on track.

To stay kidney-friendly, aim for the following % DV with each serving:

  • Dietary fiber — more than 10% DV
  • Saturated fat — less than 10% DV
  • Trans fat — none
  • Sodium — less than 10% DV
  • Added sugars — less than 10% DV

And remember, people living with kidney disease should avoid foods that say “phos-” on the label.
Tips on how to read nutrition labels

Instructional nutritional facts label shows people living with chronic kidney disease what to look for when shopping. The best options should have no trans fats, less than 10% of the daily value of saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars, as well as more than 10% of the daily value of dietary fiber.


4. Portion your plate

The trick to eating well—whether you’re selecting meals for kidney disease or not—is to watch your portions. Pay close attention to the serving size listed on the package. One serving might not be the same as how much you actually eat.

Hint: Remember that if you want to eat two serving sizes, all the nutrients and % DV will also double.

Here are some handy tips for estimating portion sizes:
  • 3–5 ounces of protein is about the size of the palm of your hand
  • ½ cup of fruits and veggies is the amount that could fit within your cupped hand
  • 1 cup of breads and grains is about the size of your fist
Diagram depicting recommended serving sizes for fish

A divided plate ready to be filled with suggested serving sizes: 3-5 ounces protein (about the size of your palm), half cup fruits and veggies (size of cupped hand), 1 cup breads and grains (size of a closed fist), and fluid serving of 4 ounces.

5. Enjoy kidney-friendly meals all day long

Your kidneys work around the clock, so it’s important to commit to eating well for every meal. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner all count toward your health—even on holidays and while dining out. Think about all the different foods you eat throughout the day and plan to eat well at every meal.
kidney friendly recipe egg and sausage casserole
Start your day off right with a great protein-packed breakfast. This will help keep your hunger at bay and reduce mindless munching.
Breakfast idea: Egg & Sausage Casserole
kidney friendly recipe spring salad with tarragon vinaigrette
A balanced lunch will keep your kidney disease meal plan going strong. Replace added salt with bold flavors like citrus, spices, and fresh herbs.
Lunch idea: Spring Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette
kidney friendly meatloaf
With chronic kidney disease, you still have lots of delicious options on the table. You can even make your favorite meals the kidney-friendly way. 
Dinner idea: Easier Than Your Mama’s Meatloaf
kidney friendly recipe strawberry chocolate greek yogurt bar
If you’re ready for dessert, remember to monitor your portions and keep processed foods to a minimum. Try adding fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains for a healthy boost.
Dessert idea: Strawberry & Chocolate Frozen Yogurt Bark

Strike a Balance When Making Your Kidney Disease Meal Plan 

Knowing how to eat well with kidney disease will help you build every plate with ease. The key is to read labels and understand the importance of nutrition while keeping tabs on your portions. There are plenty of good meals to eat with kidney disease, so speak with your doctor or dietitian to set up a meal plan that’s customized to fit your current diagnosis and treatments.
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References

1 1. Chen X, Wei G, Jalili T, Metos J, Giri A, Cho ME, Boucher R, Greene T, Beddhu S. The Associations of Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause Mortality in CKD. Am J Kidney Dis. 2016 Mar;67(3):423-30. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2015.10.018. Epub 2015 Dec 10. PMID: 26687923; PMCID: PMC4769135.

2 2. Alvirdizadeh S, Yuzbashian E, Mirmiran P, Eghtesadi S, Azizi F. A prospective study on total protein, plant protein and animal protein in relation to the risk of incident chronic kidney disease. BMC Nephrol. 2020 Nov 17;21(1):489. doi: 10.1186/s12882-020-02079-y. PMID: 33203389; PMCID: PMC7672990.


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