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Kidneys and Food. How Are the Two Related?

Written By: Nancy K. Uhland, DNP, FNP-C

Kidneys are an important organ and perform several functions in order to keep our bodies healthy. Food is an important substance we consume in order to provide our bodies with the fuel and energy it needs to maintain life. But, just how are our food choices related to the well-being of our kidneys?

One of the functions of the kidneys is to remove waste materials from the food we eat. By doing this, the kidneys help regulate important nutrients such as sodium, potassium, protein, acid content, and various vitamins. Thus, the food we choose to eat actually matters to the kidney.

For a person living with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) food choices are especially important.

Because, in CKD, the kidneys lose some of their ability to filter these nutrients, putting the person with CKD at-risk for unsafe levels of nutrients building up in the body. As the CKD progresses, the kidneys have a more difficult time filtering these nutrients, eventually leading to adverse consequences.

If you have been diagnosed with CKD, you have probably been given a list of things you are “not” supposed to do, and, dietary restrictions are no exception. Since a large percentage of persons with CKD also have diabetes and hypertension, which come with their own unique dietary restrictions, it is not uncommon to feel an extra level of anxiety related to food choices. You may find yourself asking, “Is there anything I can eat?” For some, this becomes a frustrating question, and frustration may lead to poor food choices. Instead of allowing this to have a negative association or allow it to feel complicated, let’s consider shifting our attitude and approaching our food choices in a positive manner. Your personal eating habits are where health and disease intersect, but the good news is that it is never too late to choose healthy eating habits.


Here are a few tips for ensuring your kidneys and food choices relate positively:

  1. Avoid artificial foods: The food choices you make will have an impact on your kidneys so choose natural foods, and aim to avoid anything artificial. Artificial foods have been processed, they try to mimic natural foods, and often contain ingredients that are not easily pronounced. They should simply be avoided!
  2. Be mindful: Ask yourself, “Will this food choice make me feel like an athlete or will this food choice make me feel tired?” Being aware of how certain food makes you feel (e.g., bloated, mentally cloudy, sluggish, etc.) will help you make better choices. Think before you eat!
  3. Choose plant-based proteins vs. animal- based proteins: Protein demands change depending on the CKD stage. Therefore, it is important to know your stage of CKD to know how much protein you should be eating. But, when you do choose protein, it is wise to choose plant-based proteins over animal-based proteins to support reducing the toxic products in your blood.
  4. Do plan your meals: While planning takes time, it is worth the extra steps to lessen the risk of making poor food choices when hanger strikes. Preparing your meals at home will help avoid choosing fast food and artificial foods that tend to be very high in sodium (salt). Also, when you prepare your meals at home, you are in charge of the ingredients. This is especially important when you need to avoid certain nutrients to prevent further complications.
  5. Establish healthy eating habits: Eat slower, and avoid getting too hungry or too full. Try keeping a food journal as this will allow you to be more mindful of what you are actually eating.
  6. Finally, be kind to yourself! Eating should be enjoyable and not feel punitive. And, if you do make an unhealthy choice, acknowledge it, and next time, choose a healthier option!

It is important to understand that as CKD progresses, your individual dietary restrictions will change. So, maintaining communication with your healthcare provider is essential. Living with CKD requires a careful consideration of your current relationship with food. Part of being in a successful relationship with food requires healthy eating habits. Making a shift in approaching your nutritional management may be challenging, but it is not impossible. You are powerful, you are strong, and you are who makes the difference when it comes to how you choose to fuel your body. Now go and be empowered when it comes to making healthy food choices, and remember that making positive changes in your diet will make a positive difference in your kidney health.

This article originally appeared in July 2018 aakpRENALIFE magazine.