3 Mega Mistakes to Avoid: Plant-Based and Chronic Kidney Disease

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In May 2019, a study was published about different plant-based diets and how they effect the kidneys the kidney function decline.

A group of nearly 15,000 people with GFR of at least 60 (stage 2 or earlier) were divided into different groups based on diet recalls.

What they found was the type of plant-based diet drastically effected the results on a person’s kidney function.

 This study has shown that the type of plant-based diet can make a difference in keeping kidney function.

It was found that those who followed a “healthy plant-based diet” or “pro-vegetarian” diet had the lowest incident of CKD compared to a “overall” plant-based diet. Those with the “less healthy plant-based diet” had the highest incident of CKD. The GFR decline was noted to be lesser in the healthy plant-based diet.

So what should you avoid when going plant-based if you have kidney disease?

1. Limiting potassium just because you have kidney disease.

Potassium is arguably one of the biggest concerns those with CKD have in their diet. And it’s understandable – too high of potassium in our blood can cause cardiac arrest and kill us.

If you have kidney disease, it means your kidneys are not functioning as much as they should, which can result in an abundance of toxins that collect in the body.

The problem, though, is when people with CKD start in fearing foods that are high in potassium. There becomes a limitation in some of the most nutritious and delicious foods available!

What I talk with people about is knowing when you need to limit potassium. Because there are a lot of benefits in keeping potassium-rich foods in your diet!

Think of giving up avocados, bananas (although there are plenty of other foods higher in potassium), mangoes… so many yummy and beautiful foods that people turn away from because of their fear of potassium.

It is true – many with CKD may need to be careful with the potassium in their diet. However, it may not be the case when assisted by a registered dietitian trained in renal nutrition.

Bottom line: Potassium may not be something you need to worry about, but working with a dietitian will give you a definite guide.

2. Focusing on vegan packaged foods

This may sound confusing at first. After all, aren’t we talking about vegan diet when we say plant-based?

Not exactly.

When we talk about eliminating animal proteins to protect the kidneys, I have found clients gravitating towards animal protein replacements.

Think of the popular plant-based burgers and meat substitutes.

People start leaning into a vegan diet that focuses on foods marketed as vegan – meaning packaged, processed, and not nearly as good for us as we think they are.

When I speak with clients about changing their diet, I mean literally going plant-based.

I do not intend for them to transition to a diet filled with processed foods that can actually continue to do damage. Not because they’re plant-based, but because they’re high in sodium and phosphorus – two things people with kidney disease need to watch for.

3. Failing to Commit to a Plant-Based Diet

This may not sound like a big mistake, but it truly can be when it comes to the “why” behind such a big diet change.

Think of our classic New Year’s resolutions. People make changes in their diet, but if it’s not for a solid and important reason (“I wanna lose 3 pounds.” – Regina George), it probably isn’t going to stick.

With a chronic, lifetime diagnosis like kidney disease, there’s some motivation right there to keep it from getting worse! Who wants to spend 12+ hours per week for life on dialysis?

Plant-based for CKD is not just a trendy diet or temporary plan, it’s a lifetime commitment to keeping your kidneys healthy!

But I get it – this kind of big change can be really hard. In working with clients one-on-one, I’ve heard consistent challenges that I have worked with them to overcome.

Do you have CKD and are looking for support to prevent kidney failure while moving towards a plant-based lifestyle?

Be sure to check out our free and private Facebook community! This is a safe space to meet others in the same boat as you – keeping kidney function with healthy diet and lifestyle changes.

And if you want to learn more about changing to a healthy, kidney-friendly plant-based diet, be sure to check out my group program, Plant-Powered Kidneys!

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board-Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition | Website | + posts

Jen Hernandez is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in renal nutrition. She has nearly a decade of experience with kidney disease patients in all stages - from stage 1 through kidney transplant. Jen writes on the blog of Plant-Powered Kidneys to help reach and teach more kidney patients about how they can enjoy more foods in a plant-based diet while protecting kidney health.

2 thoughts on “3 Mega Mistakes to Avoid: Plant-Based and Chronic Kidney Disease”

  1. My friend was just diagnosed with stage 3 CKD. Her problem is she has no insurance. She was diagnosed at a free clinic when she went in for her migraines. That was the end of what they did for her. No referrals. She was told to “look it up online”. The problem is there’s no way for her to figure out what she should/shouldn’t, can or can’t eat. Plus, she’s not going to give up (completely) eating meats.
    What can she do since everything online seems to contradict everything else online. The free clinic does not have a dietician of any kind let alone a renal dietician.

    1. Jen Hernandez RDN, CSR, LDN

      Hey Corleen,
      That is definitely a tough position to be in. My recommendation would be to be careful with going too deep into Google searches. Stick with a couple sources that know their stuff (😉).
      Giving up meat isn’t a requirement. We do include articles about meat and including them in the renal diet.
      She may also be able to learn from dietitians without insurance. Our course for example, does not take insurance but includes dozens of educational videos & support from renal dietitians.
      I hope that helps you both!

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