Valarie’s Holiday Eating and Exercise Tips for Kidney Patients

By Valarie Hannahs MS RD, LD


You may feel like food is everywhere during the holidays. At home, at your dialysis center, at work, you can’t escape it! Food represents cultures, seasons, comfort, and reward for many people. The weather is colder, the seasons are changing, and during the holidays the food is richer and sweeter than ever!

Finding the balance is key for kidney patients – and for everyone reading this article! Eating in moderation is a Dietitian Cornerstone. The 80/20 approach to eating says that 80% of the time you need to watch your diet and make good choices – eat healthy. 20% of the time is your wiggle room to enjoy some of the foods you love but not over indulge. You don’t have to deprive yourself, however the majority of the time, you should be eating the foods that are healthy for you.


Holiday Foods to enjoy/”Green Light” foods...

  • Roast turkey, chicken, duck, lamb, beef, pork or wild game Note: If you are a CKD patient, enjoy smaller portions of high protein foods listed here.
  • Cranberries/cranberry sauce*
  • Yeast Rolls
  • Pie: 1 slice of Apple, Berry, Cherry, Peach, Lemon Meringue*
  • Plain or frosted sugar cookies*
  • Green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas
  • Cole slaw, pasta salad, green salad
  • Shrimp Cocktail or Steamed Shrimp
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Pasta, White Rice
  • Raw Vegetables, unsalted pretzels or crackers with cream cheese
  • Apple cider, cranberry juice, ginger ale, clear soda (diet soda if diabetic)

* Sugar free if diabetic


Maybe just a little/”Yellow Light” foods...

  • Gravy, wild rice or stuffing- made from scratch
  • White potatoes (soaked or “dialyzed”)
  • Sweet Potatoes (from a can, fresh peeled, soaked or “dialyzed”)
  • Broccoli, Corn
  • ½ Slice of Pumpkin Pie or Sweet Potato Pie
  • Biscuits (high in sodium)
  • Gingerbread or molasses cookies (higher in potassium)

**Avoid salty ingredients such as flavored salts, bouillon, and broths: These are higher in sodium, potassium and phosphorus.


Take 1 bite or maybe just skip/”Red Light” foods:

  • Ham, Corned Beef
  • Pre-boxed stuffing, rice and pastas
  • Gravy from a can, jar or packet
  • Unsoaked potatoes (white or sweet)
  • Cooked greens
  • Winter Squash: acorn, butternut
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Baked Beans
  • Cheese and sausage trays, ham spread
  • Salty snacks such as chips, pretzels, olives, pickles, sauerkraut
  • Desserts with nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, fudge, ice cream



Around the holidays it’s even more important to keep in mind your sodium in-take. Foods that contain high amounts of sodium include: ham, gravy, pre-boxed food, canned food. You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat in moderation and make smarter choices. For example, don’t use gravy from a can, try making it homemade. If you must use canned, choose the low sodium option or add just a tablespoon to your food.

Tip: prepare a dish you know you can eat to bring to a holiday gathering. For example you can prepare fresh green beans instead of green bean casserole (which is high in sodium as well as calories).



High sodium foods that you might enjoy during your holiday meal will leave you feeling thirsty. Stay on track with you fluid intake by using a smaller glass or filling a small cup with ice and slowly eating or sucking on it. If you are going to drink alcohol, try to limit it to one beverage. A 6 oz. glass of red wine is just the right amount and can provide some antioxidants. Limit intake of beer as it often contains phosphorus. Sip and drink slowly – enjoy every sip - so you aren’t tempted to have more when others do.

For caffeine, regular brewed coffee is preferred. A 6 oz. pour is just the right size. Also, watch what you put in your coffee - cream, half and half, and sugar is often what adds the extra calories and phosphorus. Dark colas also have phosphorus, so if you do indulge, limit yourself to one can. You can also try clear sodas or fresh brewed tea instead.


Keep Your Body Moving

Any time you increase you physical activity – check with your doctor first. Just get up and move. It will help you to burn-off calories from a big meal, keep your heart healthy, get your blood pumping and promotes healing in the body by getting nutrients where they need to be. Start a tradition of a family holiday walk or just get outside to enjoy nature. If you are in a wheel chair or unable to walk, move your arms, lift your legs, do what you can from a seated position.

If you go to the grocery store, try parking further away to get more steps in. If you are travelling and delayed at the airport, walk around the terminal a few times. Keep your body moving – don’t stay stagnant.


Final thoughts from Valarie

  • Prepare ahead of time – bring some of the foods that you know you can eat.
  • Watch your Yellow Light and Red Light foods.
  • Stick to small portions – just have a bite, a slice or a small pour.
  • Try a little bit of everything and you’ll be surprised at how full you will feel – without over indulging.


Valarie Hannahs MS RD, LD

Valarie has her B.S. in Medical Dietetics from The Ohio State University and M.S. in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from Cal U Penn. She has been an RDN in Renal & Wellness for over 12 years. She currently works for American Renal Associates as Corporate Manager of Renal Nutrition, where her focus is providing professional education and training to renal dietitians as well as developing patient education. Val has served on work-groups for revision to Renal Nutrition Practice SOP/SOPP, as RPG Nominating Chair and has spent the last few years working on the RPG Patient Education Committee developing patient education resources. She is passionate about nutrition and healthy lifestyle education. Val has presented to several local professional groups on Renal/ Co-morbid nutrition, Nutrition Coaching and her personal passion, sports nutrition.


Originally printed in aakpRENALIFE • NOVEMBER 2018