When you have kidney disease, dairy and cheese can seem pretty iffy. Isn’t cheese high in potassium? Is there such thing as low potassium cheese?
What about phosphorus in cheese? And what about the protein? Is there protein in string cheese?
We will be covering all of that and more in this article!
Table of Contents
Cheese and Kidney Disease
If you haven’t heard yet, many people with kidney disease are recommended to follow a low protein diet.
When it comes to dairy in the renal diet, there are certain factors that need to be considered. For example, the protein in cheese or milk.
Cheese and dairy products are also sources of potassium, phosphorus, and sodium.
If you have kidney disease, you may need to monitor one or more of these nutrients.
How much protein should I have with kidney disease?
Each person with kidney disease will have a certain range of protein that is best for them. As mentioned above, many with CKD not on dialysis are encouraged to follow a low protein diet.
This can be anywhere from 0.28 to 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. It’s important to know that under 0.8 grams per kg puts a person at increased risk for malnutrition if not being monitored by a dietitian or physician.
You can learn more about the low protein diet here.
Nutrition Facts about Cheese to Consider
As mentioned, cheese has more than just protein. This is especially important to consider when it comes to the renal diet.
Dairy and dairy products are also known to be a source of potassium.
While not considered a high potassium food, the potassium in cheese should absolutely be made aware.
On average, one ounce of cheese will provide about 35 milligrams of potassium. The cheese with the most potassium is processed cheese (like the cheese-in-a-can products).
Cheese and dairy products are also a source of phosphorus, both organic and inorganic. Those that need to follow a low phosphorus diet may need to be selective with the type of cheese.
On average, one ounce of cheese will provide about 117 milligrams of phosphorus.
Chances are you’ve heard about phosphorus in the renal diet. Phosphorus is a compound that can be either organic or inorganic.
Inorganic phosphorus is also known as phosphorus additives. This type of phosphorus is found in the ingredient list.
In general, cheese can have both organic and inorganic phosphorus. This is why it is important to read the label. If you find a cheese that does not have any phosphorus additives but does list the phosphorus content of cheese, don’t fret!
Studies show that the organic phosphorus from cheese is absorbed by about 80 percent. That means your body won’t be able to absorb all of the phosphorus from the cheese!
You can learn more about phosphorus and the low phosphorus diet here.
Cheese is a notorious culprit of adding salt to our diet. The challenge is often due to portion sizes.
If you can stick to a portion of cheese, which is generally one ounce, you will see that there are cheeses that can fit into your diet.
That being said, sodium isn’t often the first thing considered when looking at cheese and kidney disease. Most often the questions and concerns that come up are related to phosphorus and potassium.
When are cheese and dairy okay for kidney disease?
There are certain times in which dairy can be an acceptable part of a renal diet. What matters most is that you are creating a diet that is sustainable and enjoyable for you while being protective of your kidney health.
The diet for kidney stones actually relies on dairy for the diet. Calcium helps prevent the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
Read more about kidney stones here.
When a person is on dialysis due to kidney failure, the diet needs to be changed. One of the biggest changes from kidney disease without dialysis to starting dialysis is the increased need for protein.
However, it’s also important to know that sodium, potassium, and phosphorus limits are generally needed due to the limitations of the dialysis treatment and any residual kidney function.
If you’re on dialysis, talk with your dialysis dietitian and team about the best types of food choices you should make for your best health.
Chronic Kidney Disease
For many people with chronic kidney disease, dairy and cheese may be something that is allowed.
You’ll have the most direct guidance by working privately with a renal dietitian to see exactly how much protein, potassium, phosphorus, and sodium you can and should be having.
After learning about the nutrient amounts best for you, it’s a matter of keeping to portions that will allow those foods to fit!
Low Potassium Cheese
Potassium is a nutrient that many people with kidney disease need to limit. It is important to know that not everyone with CKD should be limiting potassium as it is an important nutrient to help with things like blood pressure.
That being said, for those that need to stick to low potassium cheese, here are some of the lowest potassium cheese options for you.
Gruyere cheese has some of the least amount of potassium. An ounce provides just 23 milligrams of potassium.
Swiss cheese is another low potassium cheese option. One ounce, or a slice of cheese will give you just 22 milligrams of potassium.
Feta cheese makes for a nice addition to a salad or quiche. The strong flavor allows for less to be used. One ounce of feta cheese will provide only 18 milligrams of potassium.
You’ll see feta come up again later in this article as well!
Fontina is a hard cheese that is also low in potassium. One ounce of fontina cheese will provide just 18 milligrams of potassium, just like feta.
The lowest of low potassium cheese is goat cheese! This soft cheese provides just 7 milligrams of potassium per ounce. You’ll see goat cheese listed below as well.
Just because goat cheese is a low phosphorus cheese does not make it a free-for-all food. Each ounce of goat cheese also comes with 130 milligrams of sodium.
Low Phosphorus Cheese
There are actually low phosphorus cheese options available! Here are five that are very low in phosphorus.
Coming in at just 73 milligrams of phosphorus per ounce, goat cheese is nice option when controlling phosphorus.
Another fun fact about goat cheese is that it is actually PRAL negative! Read more about why PRAL is so important to kidney health here.
Brie cheese contains less than goat cheese, with just 53 milligrams of phosphorus per ounce. Did brie just become your new favorite low phosphorus cheese?
Another soft cheese that is low in phosphorus is ricotta. It contains just 45 milligrams of phosphorus per ounce.
Ricotta is also one of the lowest sodium cheese options as well, with just 24 milligrams per serving. (You’ll see ricotta come up again later in this article too!)
Cottage cheese is a big win/win when it comes to cheese for dialysis patients. It is one of the low phosphorus cheese options and is a low potassium cheese option as well. An ounce of 2% milk fat cottage cheese is just 43 milligrams of phosphorus.
A half-cup of cottage cheese provides 24 grams of protein (excellent for dialysis), 264 milligrams of potassium, and 326 milligrams of phosphorus.
Be careful with the sodium as it can be high. Compare a few brands to find the best one for you.
This cheese has some of the lowest phosphorus per ounce. You’ll get only 39 milligrams phosphorus per ounce.
High Protein Cheese
You may be surprised to see that some cheeses have just as much if not more protein than chicken when compared in equal amounts.
This article is addressing high protein cheeses because of the high protein diet needs in dialysis. Continue reading below for information about the low protein cheese options that are also available.
The fifth highest protein cheese is gruyere. Each ounce of gruyere provides 8 grams of protein.
The fourth highest protein cheese is mozzarella. This is the type of cheese used for string cheese! Wondering how much protein in string cheese? Well it’s 8 grams of protein per serving.
String cheese is generally packaged in one ounce servings, or 28 grams.
Swiss cheese is one of the highest protein cheeses. For every ounce, you’ll get 8 grams of protein.
The second highest is Romano cheese. One ounce of this cheese will give you 9 grams of protein.
Parmesan cheese comes in at the highest protein content per ounce. An ounce of parmesan cheese contains 11 grams of protein!
This being said, parmesan cheese has a strong flavor and isn’t generally used in large quantities. It is, however, still important to know that it is more nutrient-dense than other cheeses.
Low Protein Cheese
Low protein cheese options can be a nice addition to a renal diet that is focused on keeping kidney health and staying off of dialysis.
That being said, it is still something that should be used sparingly. Think of cheese, like other protein foods, as a garnish to your plate rather than the focus.
Starting our list of lowest protein cheeses is feta cheese. An ounce of feta cheese will give 4 grams of protein. Feta cheese is also one of the lowest potassium cheeses, making it a kidney-friendly option.
Take from this what you will, but processed cheeses are considered to be lower in protein. One ounce will provide about 4 grams of protein. Be careful though! It is one of the highest in sodium at 477 milligrams of sodium per ounce.
A spreadable cheese option that is low in protein is ricotta cheese. One ounce of ricotta will provide 3 grams of protein.
Neufchatel cheese is another low-protein cheese option. It has just 3 grams of protein per ounce.
Cream cheese comes in at the lowest protein content per ounce. An ounce of parmesan cheese contains just 2 grams of protein.
Why You Should Know the Protein in a Cheese Slice
Why is protein in cheese being included in this article? Because it is important to know that cheese does have protein.
For many people with kidney disease, a low protein diet can be approximately 40 grams of protein. You’ll see soon below that some of these proteins can be up to 25% of that protein goal for the day.
If you’re not aware of the low protein diet for kidney disease, I highly recommend you read the article all about it here.
Renal Diet Cheese List
Below is a table of the protein, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium content in one ounce of cheese.
|Protein (g) Per Serving
|Potassium (mg) Per Serving
|Sodium (mg) Per Serving
|Phosphorus (mg) Per Serving
|Ricotta cheese (whole milk)
|Cottage cheese (2% milkfat)
|White queso cheese
|Mozzarella cheese (part-skim), aka string cheese
All nutrition information was obtained from the USDA Food Database.
When it comes to finding a low potassium cheese, low phosphorus cheese, or low (or high) protein cheese, the numbers are there.
What matters is truly understanding how much of these nutrients you should be getting. Understand the amount of potassium you should be having, then the amount of potassium in cheese will make more sense.
Once you get the information and confidence of knowing what and how much to eat, you will feel so much better in finding kidney-friendly foods for your best kidney health!
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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.