Is Milk Good for Kidney Disease? What You Need to Know

Know someone who is looking for this info? Share it!

Milk has long been recognized as a polarizing food in many ways, including in kidney disease and the renal diet. Many have wondered, is milk bad for kidneys? What about the different stages of kidney disease? There are several factors that contribute to the answer to this question. Phosphorus, potassium, and protein all play a role in kidney health, especially with the different stages of kidney disease. And with so many choices when it comes to milk, it can become very confusing to figure out the best type of milk for kidney disease. In this article, we will review the different milk options and which is the best milk for kidney disease.

*Please note that this post contains clearly identified affiliate links.  If you click on these links and choose to make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases, which helps us to write more free articles. Thank you for your support!

Is milk good for kidneys? What you need to know about milk and kidney disease
[image description: deep blue background behind text. Below is a splash of milk, droplets extending upwards towards the text]

Milk and Kidney Disease

Milk is part of the dairy food group. It is a well-known good source of calcium.

It is also a source of phosphorus and potassium. Due to concerns around these nutrients, some consider milk bad for kidneys as it makes it harder to control potassium or even phosphorus.

It’s important to know that everyone has different dietary needs. This is especially important for people with chronic kidney disease.

Protein

Many people with kidney disease that are not on dialysis need to limit protein. This is because too much protein can be hard on the kidneys.

The protein amount in milk will vary based on the type of milk. Types of milk highest in protein include cow’s milk and soy milk.

The lowest protein milk options include oat milk and rice milk.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a mineral found as an organic and inorganic substance in foods.

Organic phosphorus means it is naturally occurring, whereas inorganic phosphorus is added to foods.

Cow’s milk and milk products have organic phosphorus because it is an animal product.

They may also have inorganic phosphorus in the form of additives. Label reading for phosphorus additives is very important when it comes to limiting phosphorus in the renal diet.

Potassium

Milk is also a source of potassium. Varying types of milk will have different amounts, based on the main ingredient of the milk or milk alternative.

The highest potassium milk options include cow’s milk and canned coconut milk.

The lowest potassium milk options are cashew milk, rice milk, and ready-to-drink coconut milk.

Calcium

As mentioned earlier, cow’s milk is known as a good source of calcium. Some people with kidney disease need to eat less calcium in their diet and some need to eat more.

An example of someone who would need more calcium is a person with calcium oxalate kidney stones.

An example of someone who may need to limit calcium is someone on dialysis.

The highest calcium milk is coconut milk and cow’s milk. Many plant-based milk options are also fortified with calcium, which may provide extra calcium.

Is milk bad for kidney stones?

Kidney stones are painful and something no one wants to experience. Soy milk is bad for kidney stones due to the oxalate content of 20mg per cup.

There is no known value for the oxalate content of almond milk. However, since almonds are very high in oxalates, it’s wise to choose an alternative plant-based milk.

Better milk options for kidney stone prevention include oat milk, rice milk, or coconut milk.

Milk may be beneficial for kidney stones, depending on the type of kidney stones and the type of milk.

For calcium oxalate stones (the most common type of kidney stones) a diet with adequate calcium is very important in kidney stone prevention.

However, there are many different ways we can get calcium in our diet that does not require milk.

Getting enough calcium from either dairy or non-dairy sources is still shown to be helpful in the prevention of kidney stones.

Another reason milk may actually be helpful for kidney stone prevention is that it will be counted as part of your fluid needs. It’s important for those that currently have, are at risk, or have a history of kidney stones to get plenty of fluids throughout the day.

Shopping for the best milk for kidney disease

Shelf-stable milk vs. refrigerated milk

Milk can be found either cold or at room temperature in the grocery store. Depending on your shopping preference, you may prefer to have some cold milk on hand and shelf-stable milk available for emergencies.

Regardless of where you find your favorite milk, it’s important to follow these guidelines when it comes to choosing the best milk for kidney disease.

Label reading for additives

It is especially important to read the ingredients list to weed out any milk that has phosphorus additives. If you are looking for low potassium milk, know that added potassium additives can contribute to potassium in your diet.

Additives can be found in both shelf-stable and refrigerated milk options. It’s good practice to read labels when looking for your best milk for kidney disease.

Finding the best milk for kidney disease means label reading! Can you find the “phos” additive in these ingredients?

Low potassium milk for kidney disease

There may be a benefit in choosing low potassium milk or low phosphorus milk for kidney disease.

For many people with early-stage kidney disease, low potassium milk may not be necessary. Instead, start by focusing on avoiding additives. This can help protect kidney health.

Some with late stages (stage 4 and stage 5) may have high potassium levels.

Excessive potassium in the blood can be very dangerous. If your doctor has discussed concerns about your potassium levels, choosing low potassium milk may be a great way to help control potassium levels.

There are many different types of milk. They can be found in the refrigerated dairy section of the grocery store. Shelf-stable milk can be found in the center aisles with other pantry foods.

Animal Milk Options

Just like plant-based milk options, there are animal milk options available. The options will vary based on your geographical location and cultural food preferences.

Next are some details about the most common animal options of milk for kidney disease.

Cow’s Milk

One of the most common types of milk is cow’s milk. There are several types of cow’s milk to choose from, with different amounts of fat. Here is a table that includes the different types of cow’s milk, based on fat content.

Cow’s Milk OptionsCaloriesFat (g)Protein (g)Potassium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Calcium (mg)
Whole15088374251306
2%12058390252309
1%1002.58366232305
Skim8008411263325

Dietary information was obtained from the USDA Food Database using a 1 cup serving size. Amounts may differ significantly based on brand and product.

The acidity of cow’s milk is just in the acid range, with a pH value of around 6.7 to 6.9. (A neutral pH level is 7).

Cow’s milk is not considered low potassium milk. An 8-ounce cup of cow’s milk has approximately 375 milligrams of potassium. If potassium control is a concern, limiting cow’s milk to 1 cup per day may help.

The phosphorus content of cow’s milk is also fairly high. There are approximately 250 milligrams of phosphorus per 8-ounce serving. Even organic phosphorus from cow’s milk will be absorbed by 60-80%.

Additionally, powdered or dehydrated milk often contains several phosphorus additives of which can be entirely absorbed by the body.

Calcium has been traditionally viewed as a benefit in drinking milk. Notably, a glass of cow’s milk has over 300 milligrams of calcium – approximately 30% of the recommended daily intake for an adult

However, it is possible that a well-rounded, plant-based diet can also provide calcium.

List of Calcium-rich plants
There are ways to get in calcium that doesn’t require animal products. Many greens include calcium!

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is fermented cow milk. Bacteria are added to the milk to induce fermentation. Traditional buttermilk is considered a probiotic food due to the fermentation process, where that tangy taste comes from.

However, the typical buttermilk you find in the grocery store is generally cultured buttermilk.  Cultured buttermilk is made from the leftover liquid from making butter.

Type of  buttermilkCaloriesFat (g)Protein (g)Potassium (g)Phosphorus (g)Calcium (g)
Buttermilk, whole15088329207281
Buttermilk, 2%140510439200349
Buttermilk, low-fat (1%)1002.58368217283
Buttermilk, skim9009368217283

Dietary information was obtained from the USDA Food Database using 1 cup serving size. Amounts may differ significantly based on brand and product.

Buttermilk can be used as kidney-friendly milk. However, the traditional buttermilk may not be a good option for those that are immunocompromised.

This is because unpasteurized milk is not recommended after transplant due to the risk of getting ill from the bacteria.

Goat Milk

Another more common animal milk is goat milk. It’s commonly used in India but is becoming more popular in the United States as an alternative for those with allergies or digestive issues with cow milk.

Nutritionally, goat milk is quite similar to cow milk. Per 8-oz cup, goat milk has:

  • 168 calories
  • 8 grams protein
  • 327 milligrams calcium
  • 271 milligrams phosphorus
  • 498 milligrams potassium

As you can see, goat milk is higher in potassium than cow milk. Those on a potassium restriction may need to limit goat milk in their diet.

However, because of the higher mineral content, goat milk is an alkaline milk option. Goat milk has a PRAL score of -0.5. Because of this reason, goat milk is a more kidney-friendly animal milk option.

Read more about PRAL and how understanding this protects your kidneys here.

Plant Milk Options

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk can be a great substitution for cow’s milk in many ways.

This is not seen as milk bad for kidneys as it is derived from plants, making it naturally lower in phosphorus. There are two types of coconut milk available.

Canned coconut milk

Canned coconut milk is traditionally used in cooking. You may add it to soups, stews, or even baked goods. Canned coconut milk has a light coconut flavor that can either be hidden or emphasized depending on the recipe you’re using.

A cup of canned coconut milk has:

  • 445 calories
  • 48 g fat
  • 5 g protein
  • 497 mg potassium
  • 217 mg phosphorus
  • 40 mg calcium

However, it’s not commonly used as a beverage given that it is very thick and heavy. Canned coconut milk is most commonly used in cooking.

It’s a great option to add additional calories to a meal, which can provide more satiety. While the potassium level seems high, it doesn’t contribute very much per serving.

Assume a recipe that makes 4 servings uses 1 cup of canned coconut milk. That means per serving, the canned coconut milk adds just 125 milligrams of potassium but also adds 112 calories.

You can find canned coconut milk in the grocery store’s center aisles and even online. One of the coconut milk that does not have additives is kidney-friendly milk is Thai Kitchen organic lite coconut milk.*

The full-fat option* is also available (and I love that it has a resealable cap!).

Try using canned coconut milk in your next curry. It adds a boost of calories and flavor to make your meal more satisfying.

Carton coconut milk

Carton coconut milk, or ready-to-drink coconut milk, can be used in recipes like oatmeal, smoothies, or just poured into a glass. Its thinner consistency is due to the water-to-coconut ratio being higher.

Ready-to-drink coconut milk has

  • 70 calories
  • 5 g fat
  • 1 g protein
  • 90 mg potassium
  • 17 mg phosphorus
  • 460 mg calcium

Due to the high water content of coconut milk, ready-to-drink coconut milk can make for low-potassium milk for dialysis patients.

Coconut milk can be a part of a plant-based diet and is absolutely okay for kidney disease.

Check out Real Coco organic original coconut milk* for a kidney-friendly coconut milk option.

Almond milk

Almond milk is one of the most common plant-based milk alternatives. A cup of unsweetened almond milk has:

  • 35 calories
  • 2.5 g fat
  • 1 g protein
  • 180 mg potassium
  • 68 mg phosphorus
  • 395 mg calcium

It’s considered a low potassium milk when compared to the higher potassium cow’s milk.

The phosphorus in almond milk is quite low compared to cow’s milk. It’s a low phosphorus milk due to the fact that phosphorus from plant sources is not easily absorbed.

Some examples of kidney-friendly almond milk include:

Oat milk

Oat milk is being seen more and more often as a plant-based milk option. Many restaurants even now offer oat milk as a plant-based milk substitute, including coffee shops!

Per 8 ounce serving, oat milk has:

  • 130 calories
  • 5 g protein
  • 2 g fat
  • 131 mg potassium
  • 150 mg phosphorus
  • 18 mg calcium

Many oat milk options have phosphorus or potassium additives. Therefore, it is very important to read labels to find kidney-friendly oat milk.

Some examples of kidney-friendly oat milk include:

Be careful in choosing your oat milk as many include phosphorus or potassium additives.

Cashew milk

Cashew milk is a great plant-based milk option for kidney disease. More creamy than almond, but still made from a nut, cashew milk has

  • 30 calories
  • 1 g protein
  • 2.5 g fat
  • 50 g potassium
  • 48 mg calcium

The phosphorus content of cashew milk is difficult to find. But by sticking to guidelines of no phosphate additives, less phosphorus will become absorbed.

Some examples of kidney-friendly cashew milk include:

Soy milk

Soy often gets a bad reputation in the diet. Many have heard that soy causes cancer or affects hormone balances.

The facts are that soy provides protection against cancer. Soy also has no proven connection to affect hormone levels in men.

That being said, soy milk can also be a great option for milk for kidney disease. One cup of unsweetened soy milk provides:

  • 105 calories
  • 4 g fat
  • 6 g protein
  • 298 mg potassium
  • 105 mg phosphorus
  • 300 mg calcium

Soy milk can be an excellent choice of milk for dialysis patients as the potassium level is no higher than cow’s milk. The phosphorus content is lower and still provides plant-based protein.

Some examples of kidney-friendly soy milk include:

Renal Diet Milk Options
soy milk
6 g protein
 298 mg potassium
105 mg phosphorus
300 mg calcium

almond milk
1 g protein
180 mg potassium
68 mg phosphorus
395 mg calcium

coconut milk
1 g protein
90 mg potassium
17 mg phosphorus
460 mg calcium

rice milk
 2 g protein
 66 mg potassium
137 mg phosphorus
288 mg calcium

Rice milk

Rice milk is one of the oldest recommended plant-based milk for kidney disease. This is due to the low nutrient content of the rice used to make rice milk.

One cup of rice milk has:

  • 115 calories
  • <1 g protein
  • 2 g fat
  • 66 mg potassium
  • 137 mg phosphorus
  • 288 mg calcium

An example of kidney-friendly rice milk is Rice Dream classic rice milk.*

Be sure to get the classic and not enriched. Enriched milk often includes additives.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds. The ingredient is a source of healthy fats which can help with satiety.

One cup of hemp milk has:

  • 60 calories
  • 3 g protein
  • 7 g fat
  • 101 mg potassium
  • 317 mg phosphorus
  • 283 mg calcium

Hemp milk has more phosphorus compared to other plant-based options.

It’s also especially important to read the label for additives as hemp milk can have phosphorus or potassium additives.

Comparison Chart of Milk for Kidney Disease

Here is a table to compare the different options when adding milk to the renal diet.

Type of milkCaloriesFat (g)Protein (g)Potassium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Calcium (mg)
Cow’s (whole)15088374251306
Cow’s (2%)12058390252309
Cow’s (1%)1002.58366232305
Cow’s (Skim)8008411263325
Canned coconut milk44548549721740
Ready-to-drink coconut milk70519017460
Almond milk302.5118068395
Oat milk1305213115018
Cashew milk302.515015048
Soy milk10546298105300
Rice milk115<1266137288
Hemp milk6073101317283

Dietary information was obtained from the USDA Food Database using 1 cup serving size. Amounts may differ significantly based on brand and product.

Homemade milk

Homemade plant-based milk that is good for your kidneys can be a simple process with the right tools and ingredients!

Take 1 cup of raw almonds (like these*) and soak in a bowl of filtered water overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Drain almonds and add to a high-powered blender (this is our fave blender at home*) along with 2 cups of filtered water.

Blend on high until smooth. Add in an additional 2 cups of filtered water and blend again until smooth.

Filter into a pitcher or jar using a cheesecloth* or fine mesh strainer to remove the almond meal. Milk will keep for up to 1 week.

Instead of almonds, try rolled oats or raw cashews. If using rice, soak rice in hot water for 2 hours first.

Summary

With so many plant-based milk options available, shelf-stable or refrigerated, even people with kidney disease can find milk that is good for kidney disease.

The best type of milk will depend on the individual’s health goals. This may be to keep potassium controlled, limit protein, or avoid phosphorus additives.

Cow’s milk is typically higher in protein, potassium, and phosphorus compared to plant-based milk alternatives.

One of the most common plant-based milk that is kidney-friendly is rice milk. This is because it is low in most nutrients, especially when phosphorus and potassium-additive free.

If you want to keep milk in your renal diet, first determine with your nephrologist or primary care doctor what is most important to your health. A renal dietitian can help you learn how to add this creamy, cold beverage into your day.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.