Plant-Based Diet for Kidney Disease: Why It’s The Right Choice

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There has become so much discussion around the plant-based diet for kidney disease. However, many tend to start such a change without understanding why. When making a change in the diet, one of the ways to help make sure it sticks is to understand why a plant-based diet for kidney disease can help. Can you answer that? It goes beyond just “it’s what I was told to do,” or “it’s healthier.”

Let’s dive into the plant-based diet for kidney disease.

Plant-Based Diet Trends

Plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan diets have gained traction in the health and wellness communities for a variety of reasons. For example;

  • to cut back on carbon emissions
  • decrease saturated fat and animal protein
  • promote animal safety and well-being
  • increase fruit and vegetables

No matter what the trend or reason is behind making the switch to a plant-based diet, there are benefits that you can enjoy!

Pin this for later for a reminder of why a plant based diet for kidney disease is so important!

Potassium is not bad in a plant-based diet for kidney disease

One of the first recommendations a physician may give someone with kidney disease is “stop eating potassium.”

However, what studies are now showing is that even those with later-stages of kidney disease can benefit in not having such a significant restriction, especially if following a plant-based diet.

Potassium can help with blood pressure control, which is very helpful for your kidneys as high blood pressure is one of the top causes of kidney disease.

The highest sources of potassium in our diet come from fruit and vegetables. When following a plant-based diet, the goal is to have a base including fruits and vegetables.

A study in 2013 found that after one year of increased intakes of fruits and vegetables in those with stage 4 CKD found no impact on potassium levels, but did result in improved metabolic acidosis and better kidney health.

If your doctor has told you to limit potassium, it does not mean you cannot follow a plant-based diet. Work with a dietitian to learn your best potassium needs and goals to keep your kidneys healthy. Learn more about the low potassium diet here.

Better Gut Health

It’s known that most Americans don’t get the recommended amount of fiber in their diet. The Dietary Guidelines recommend 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.

Fiber is very important in gut motility and health, as well as controlling blood pressure and blood sugars – two of the most common causes of kidney disease if left uncontrolled.

So why aren’t we getting enough fiber?

Kidney patients are traditionally advised from an early stage to avoid foods high in potassium. These foods are often associated with fiber.

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes among other things – food items that have become restricted in these diet trends.

While 25 grams does not sound like a lot per day, it is definitely do-able to amp up the fiber in your diet.

Did you know my free meal plan includes a ton of fiber? Get delicious recipes that provide you with your daily fiber needs!

A study was done to review vegetarian diets for those with diabetic kidney disease and found that they reduced albuminuria (protein leaking in urine).

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water to go along with all that fiber! Something needs to help the fiber run its course through your digestive tract!

Plant-based can mean better blood sugar control

Because of the additional fiber (and other parts of a balanced diet), blood sugars can become better controlled.

Additionally, when focusing on foods higher in fiber, your diet will naturally focus less on highly-processed foods. This can lead to fewer added sugars in your diet.

One study found that those with type 2 diabetes improved their glycemic control and reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including the development of kidney disease.

Did you know that diabetes is the top cause of kidney disease? Taking control of blood sugars early on can really help with preventing complications later in life.

Heart-Healthy Fats

The American Heart Association recommends we limit our saturated fat intake to about 5% of our day. This comes out to about 10-15 grams per day for the average person.

A diet higher in saturated fats has been found to increase risk of raising total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, odds of developing heart disease and cardiovascular death.

Saturated fat is found in protein sources such as fatty meats, pork, lamb, butter, cheese, and cow’s milk (although there are some great plant-based milk options available for you).

Keep in mind that baked goods and packaged foods can also have saturated fats, so it’s important to read the labels.

To put it in perspective, a 3-ounce portion of ribeye steak has 8 grams of saturated fat. However, that is definitely not the serving size you’re seeing at the steakhouse, which is closer to 9-12 ounces and therefore 24-32 ounces of saturated fat if eaten in one sitting!

A plant-based diet for kidney disease can be loaded with healthy fats from plant-sources, which can be beneficial for getting enough calories in as well as lowering risk for complications like cardiovascular disease.

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Boost

The traditional renal diet has been shown to have inadequate antioxidants, which increases oxidative stress.

Antioxidants are nutrients that promote the protection of cell damage and breakdown from free radicals. Some examples of antioxidants include;

  • beta-carotene
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • lutein
  • lycopene

While antioxidant supplements can be found in health food stores, they are not regulated and have no scientific-backed evidence to show that supplements can provide the same protection that you will get from the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants related to disease prevention and treatment are continuing to be studied – from liver disease to breast cancer to prostate cancer to acute kidney disease. Why not invest in some “health insurance” with some extra antioxidants?

“High Biological Proteins” is Outdated

Old nutrition ideas used to swear by the thought that we needed to eat proteins that had high biological value – aka animal proteins or paired plant proteins.

What we know now is that our body does a wonderful job at storing amino acids in a “pool” in our body that can be paired up and used as needed. No longer do we need to eat rice and beans at the same meal – as long as we eat a variety in our diet our body can manage quite well!

In fact, many with chronic kidney disease should be focusing on a low protein diet rather than focusing on getting more protein.

What if I can’t Stop eating Animal Proteins?

If reaching a fully plant-based diet for kidney disease is still a challenge, take peace in knowing that just by reducing your animal protein intake can be helpful in protecting your kidneys.

Even focusing on just eliminating red meat and processed meats can be protective in kidney health.

Tips to Eat Less Animal Protein In Renal Diet

Limit to about no more than 3 ounces at a meal, which is about the size of an adult’s palm. Examples of animal proteins include foods like fish, chicken, or turkey.

If possible, try to only include animal proteins in no more than 2 meals daily. The less animal protein you eat, the less your proteins have to filter. And that means the less your kidneys have to work.

Try focusing on the meal you have the most plant-based favorites. If you’re an oatmeal fan for breakfast, make that your go-to instead of eggs and bacon.

Love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Choose that or a hummus and veggie sandwich for your midday meal instead of turkey or other deli meats, which can be loaded with added phosphates.

When you’re cutting back on the protein, don’t forget to add another (colorful) food or two onto your plate! Try a new fruit or vegetable. Some examples include;

  • Spice up your salad with some crunchy radishes.
  • Mix in parsley, cranberries and pine nuts to quinoa for a flavorful side dish.
  • Or just grab an orange for a refreshing after-meal treat.

Your kidneys (and heart, and body,…) will thank you!

Getting Support when Moving to a Plant-Based Diet for Kidney Disease

A study conducted by fellow renal dietitian Melanie Betz found that of the 657 healthcare professionals, 79% felt a plant-based diet would be effective for treating CKD but only 56% reported recommending a plant-based diet to their patients. Why?

Because of the perceived barrier to change. It’s not that many don’t see it’s benefits. Making big dietary and lifestyle changes is a hard thing to do.

Making huge diet changes, like going plant-based for kidney disease, can definitely be a challenge. But why go at it alone?

In our signature 6-week course for Plant-Powered Kidneys, you’ll learn fundamentals each week about kidney health and nutrition alongside hundreds of other kidney warriors.

Besides soaking up tons of information, you’ll also get weekly meal plans and recipes to try for yourself and learn more about cooking for kidney health!

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

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.

6 thoughts on “Plant-Based Diet for Kidney Disease: Why It’s The Right Choice”

      1. Hi Jen, Where in the FB page can I find those recipes please? are those suggested by you??



    1. Jen Hernandez RDN, CSR, LDN

      It can depend! Sodium, potassium, phosphate, and protein amounts will vary based on the product. Lightlife has a plant-based version with 350 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of protein, and 350 milligrams of potassium. No phosphate additives, too. Bolthouse Farms just came up with their version of a carrot dog, which uses as a carrot for the hot dog (how creative)! It has 0 grams of protein, 350 milligrams sodium and 188 mg potassium with no phosphate additives. My suggestion is do so some nutrition facts digging in your store to see what is available to you. Aiming for the lowest sodium option can be a good choice. Try to pair it with some fruits and veggies of your choices to add more nutrients to the meal.

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