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Best Foods for Kidney Health

Living with chronic kidney disease, you need to pay close attention to what you eat and drink. Find out the secrets to a kidney-friendly diet.

Grandmother and granddaughter preparing a healthy meal together
Updated August 21, 2023

By Brett Rosenthal, DO, Nephrologist — Virtua Nephrology

If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), you need to pay close attention to what you eat and drink. That’s because your kidneys can no longer effectively remove fluids and waste products from your body.

In the early stages of CKD, you may have few limits on what you can eat and drink. But as your condition progresses, your health care provider or dietitian may place you on a more kidney-friendly diet. Indeed, many foods that are part of a typical healthy diet may not be right for you.

Here are some choices they may recommend.

Items to Avoid

It’s important to have the right balance of foods that provide enough nutrients for your body but do not stress your kidneys. Limit foods high in:

  • Sodium—Increases your blood pressure and contributes to fluid buildup in the body. Steer clear of table salt, seasonings like soy sauce and garlic salt, and processed, pickled, and canned foods. Try fresh garlic, lemon, ground pepper, dill, or onion powder instead.
  • Phosphorus and calcium—These minerals help keep your bones healthy and strong, but in large quantities can damage your blood vessels, eyes, and heart. Foods high in phosphorus include meats, dairy products, most grains, legumes, nuts, and some seafood.
  • Potassium—Potassium keeps your nerves and muscles working well. However, high levels in your blood can lead to heart problems for people with CKD. Limit foods like oranges, prunes, bananas, tomatoes, egg yolks, avocados, and potatoes (including French fries).
  • Protein—Protein makes your kidneys work harder and eating high amounts can lessen their ability to remove wastes from the body. Minimize eating animal proteins like meats, some seafood, and dairy products. Plant-based alternatives, such as soy- and legume-based products, are satisfying and easier on your kidneys.
  • Alcohol—Drinking alcohol hinders your kidneys’ ability to filter blood and keep the right amount of water in your body.

Kidney-Friendly Foods

These foods are easier on your kidneys:

  • Arugula—Lower in potassium than other greens, but still contains fiber and other beneficial nutrients.
  • Apples—High in fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds, you can eat them raw, cooked, or as juice or cider.
  • Berries—Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, red grapes, and cherries are good sources of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
  • Peaches, plums, and pineapples—Sweet and lower in potassium than nectarines, mangos, and papaya.
  • Fish—Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce fat levels in the blood and lower blood pressure.
  • Cabbage—High in vitamins B6, C, fiber, and folic acid, you can eat it raw or cooked.
  • Cauliflower—Packed with vitamin C, folate and fiber, it also contains compounds that help the liver neutralize toxins. It’s also a good replacement for rice or mashed potatoes.
  • Asparagus—Dense in almost every vitamin and mineral you need.
  • Green beans, wax beans, and snow peas—Low in potassium, but eat them fresh rather than dried.
  • Onions—Can help reduce inflammation and boost immune health.
  • Red bell peppers—High in flavor, they’re low in potassium and good sources of vitamins A, C, and B6, folic acid, and fiber.
  • Garlic—Fresh or minced, it reduces inflammation and can replace salt for seasoning.
  • Olive oil—Helps reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Egg whites—Provide protein with less phosphorus.

If you are on dialysis, your provider may further refine your diet to meet your nutritional needs.

Get Started on a Kidney-Friendly Diet

A Virtua Health registered dietitian can help you develop a healthy, well-balanced eating plan, to help with kidney health as well as weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease management.

Find a Virtua Nutrition location near you and schedule an appointment online today.