Milk for Kidney Disease: What You Need to Know

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Milk has long been recognized as a controversial food in many ways, including kidney disease. Many have wondered, is milk bad for kidneys when it comes to 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.

Read on to learn all about milk and kidney disease!

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Milk and Kidney Disease

Many people, for many reasons, tend to fear milk. When it comes to milk and kidney disease, there are special factors that need to be considered.

Milk is in the dairy food group and is a well-known source of calcium as well as phosphorus and potassium. Because of the amounts of 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, and that especially goes for people with chronic kidney disease.

Is milk bad for kidney stones?

Soy milk is bad for kidney stones due to the oxalate content at 20mg per cup. There is no known value for oxalate content of almond milk, but knowing that almonds are very high in oxalates, it’s wise to choose an alternative plant-based milk. Better milks for kidney stone 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 preventing kidney stones. 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 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 needed fluids. It’s important that if you’re at risk or have a history of kidney stones to get plenty of fluids throughout the day.

Milk and Gout

If you are one of those that suffer from gout, you may find that adding some milk to your diet may be helpful.

An article published in 2015 found that those who consumed one serving of milk or yogurt daily had lower serum uric acid levels. The recommendation was to include non-fat or low-fat yogurt or skim milk.

Shopping for the best milk for kidney disease

Shelf-stable milk vs. refrigerated milk

Milk can be found either cold or room temperature in the grocery store. Depending on your shopping preference, you may like 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 a milk that is okay 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 a low potassium milk, know that added potassium additives can contribute to potassium in your diet.

Picture of a rice milk nutrition label
Milk for kidney disease means label reading! Can you find the phos in this ingredients

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.

Low potassium milk or low phosphorus milk for kidney disease

Depending on your kidney health situation, you may choose to focus on either low potassium milk or low phosphorus milk for kidney disease. You can figure out which one is more important for you by talking with your kidney specialist and looking at your renal function panel results.

For many people with early stage kidney disease, a low potassium milk may not be necessary. In this case, focusing on avoiding additives can help with your kidney health.

In later stages of kidney disease, some may find their potassium levels become uncontrolled. Excessive potassium in the blood can be very dangerous. If your doctor has discussed concerns about your potassium levels, choosing a low potassium milk may be a great way to control potassium levels.

Types of milk

There are many different types of milk. You can find them in the dairy section, in the refrigerated area. You can also find shelf-stable milk in the center aisles with other pantry foods.

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.

Type of Cow’s milk Calories Fat (g) Protein (g) Potassium (g) Phosphorus (g) Calcium (g)
Whole 150 8 8 374 251 306
2% 120 5 8 390 252 309
1% 100 2.5 8 366 232 305
Skim 80 0 8 411 263 325

Dietary information obtained from the USDA Food Database using 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 a low potassium milk, as 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.

Phosphorus content of cow’s milk is also fairly high, around 250 milligrams per 8 ounce cup. Even organic phosphorus from cow’s milk will be absorbed by 60-80%.

Additionally, dehydrated milks often contain 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 calcium that don’t require animal products. Many greens include calcium!

Is buttermilk good for kidney patients?

Buttermilk is fermented 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  buttermilk Calories Fat (g) Protein (g) Potassium (g) Phosphorus (g) Calcium (g)
Buttermilk, whole 150 8 8 329 207 281
Buttermilk, 2% 140 5 10 439 200 349
Buttermilk, low-fat (1%) 100 2.5 8 368 217 283
Buttermilk, skim 90 0 9 368 217 283

Dietary information 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 a kidney-friendly milk, but for those that are immunocompromised, the traditional buttermilk may not be a good option.

Unpasteurized milks are not recommended after transplant due to the risk of getting ill from the bacteria.

Coconut milk for kidney disease

Coconut milk can be a great substitution for cow’s milk in many ways. This is not seen as a milk bad for kidneys as it is derived from plants, making it naturally lower in phosphorus.

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 and 40 mg calcium.

You can find canned coconut milk in the grocery store’s center aisles and even online. One of the coconut milks that do not have additives is a 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. It’s 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 and 460 mg calcium. Due to the high water content of coconut milk, ready-to-drink coconut milk can make for a 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 30 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g protein, 180 mg potassium, 24 mg phosphorus, and 482 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. 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 and 18 mg calcium. Many oat milks have phosphorus or potassium additives, so it is especially important to read labels here to find a 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 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, and 48 mg calcium.

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 rap in the diet. Many have heard that soy causes cancer or affects hormone balances. The facts are that soy actually 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 a 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, and 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, but the phosphorus content is lower and still provides plant-based protein.

Some examples of kidney-friendly soy milk include:

Rice milk

Rice milk is one of the oldest recommended plant-based milks for kidney disease. This is due to the low nutrient content of the rice that is 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 and 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, which has additives. Rice milk is more difficult to find without additives.

Comparison Chart of Milk for Kidney Disease

Here is a table for you to compare the different types of

Type of milk Calories Fat (g) Protein (g) Potassium (mg) Phosphorus (mg) Calcium (mg)
Cow’s (whole) 150 8 8 374 251 306
Cow’s (2%) 120 5 8 390 252 309
Cow’s (1%) 100 2.5 8 366 232 305
Cow’s (Skim) 80 0 8 411 263 325
Canned coconut milk 445 48 5 497 217 40
Ready-to-drink coconut milk 70 5 1 90 17 460
Almond milk 30 2.5 1 180 24 482
Oat milk 130 5 2 131 150 18
Cashew milk 30 2.5 1 50 150 48
Soy milk 105 4 6 298 105 300
Rice milk 115 <1 2 66 137 288

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

How to make your own milk for kidney disease

Making your own plant-based milk that is good for your kidneys can be a simple process if you have the right tools and ingredients!

Take 1 cup of raw almonds* and soak in a bowl of filtered water overnight or for at least 4 hours. Drain almonds and add to a high-powered blender* along with 2 cups of filtered water. Blend on high until smooth. Add in 2 cups additional filtered water and blend until smooth.

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

Instead of almonds, try rolled oats*, raw cashews*, or rice*.

So is milk bad for kidneys? Let’s Summarize!

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

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.