You need to have a kidney-friendly meal plan when you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Watching what you eat and drink will help you stay healthier. The information in this section is for people who have kidney disease but are not on dialysis.
This information should be used as a basic guide. Everybody is different and everybody has different nutrition needs. Talk to a renal dietitian (someone who is an expert in diet and nutrition for people with kidney disease) to find a meal plan that works for you.
How is a kidney-friendly diet different?
When your kidneys are not working as well as they should, waste and fluid build-up in your body. Over time, the waste and extra fluid can cause heart, bone and other health problems. A kidney-friendly meal plan limits how much of certain minerals and fluid you eat and drink. This can help keep the waste and fluid from building up and causing problems.
How strict your meal plan should depend on your stage of kidney disease. In the early stages of kidney disease, you may have little or no limits on what you eat and drink. As your kidney disease gets worse, your doctor may recommend that you limit:
By reducing protein intake, people with kidney disease who are not on dialysis can reduce stress on their kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation advises that limiting protein intake can extend the time before a person needs dialysis. Those already on dialysis should not follow a very low protein diet.
Diabetic nephropathy (diabetic kidney disease) is kidney damage that results from having diabetes.
Having high blood glucose levels due to diabetes can damage the part of the kidneys that filters your blood. The damaged filter becomes ‘leaky’ and lets protein into your urine.
For some people, can progress to chronic kidney disease and kidney failure. However, most people with diabetes do not develop kidney disease that progresses to kidney failure.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare disorder that occurs when the body does not make the enzyme necessary to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. For an individual who has PKU, eating foods rich in protein can cause phenylalanine to shape up in the body. Left untreated in people with PKU, it can lead to intellectual disability and other neurological symptoms, such as hyperactivity, poor coordination, and seizures.
The main treatment for PKU is a very low protein diet for life. People with the condition should consume only the minimum amount of phenylalanine necessary for healthy growth and development.
Homocystinuria is a congenital disorder that affects the body’s aptitude to process methionine, another amino acid. A buildup of methionine causes problems with vision and bone health. As with PKU, treatment includes a very low-protein diet.
Health benefits of a low-protein diet
The benefits of a low-protein diet mostly apply to people with specific health conditions or diseases, rather than those who are generally healthy.
Excess protein is typically broken down by the liver, producing a waste product called urea, which is excreted by the kidneys.
Decreasing protein intake can ease the workload of the liver and kidneys, which can be beneficial for people with liver disease or impaired kidney function. This helps improve protein metabolism and prevents a buildup of urea in the bloodstream.
Having high levels of urea in the blood causes symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and changes in mental status.
It may also be associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and death in those with heart failure.
Reducing protein intake is also necessary for those with genetic disorders that affect protein metabolisms, such as homocystinuria and phenylketonuria. These disorders impair the breakdown of specific amino acids, so reducing protein intake can help minimize symptoms.
Potential side effects
Protein is an essential nutrient crucial to growth and development.
Your body uses it to form the foundation of your muscles, skin and bones, produce important enzymes and hormones, and build and repair tissues.
Studies show that a protein deficiency can have detrimental effects on health, including impaired immune function, muscle loss and decreased growth in children.
Other possible symptoms of a protein deficiency include swelling, anaemia, fatty liver disease, hair loss and reduced bone density. Besides the possible health risks involved, decreasing your protein intake can be very challenging.