Renal failure (also known as kidney failure or renal insufficiency) is a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter waste products from the blood. The usual options in treating renal failure is either regular hemodialysis or kidney transplant.  Upsetting as it may seem, one still has the chance to live a full and active life, provided, one is willing to make some changes in one’s lifestyle, especially in one’s renal diet.

You wonder, “A renal diet? Like a diet to lose weight?” It is pretty much the same, although a renal diet not only targets weight loss, but also helps one avoid complications of renal disease such as fluid overload, high blood potassium, bone disease.  The bottom line is that through a balanced renal diet, you can minimize causing more damage to the kidneys.  This isn’t just good news – this is great news! So read on to know how to plan a workable renal diet that suits you.

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center published The Renal Diet where it recommended that one learn to control phosphorus, potassium, sodium, protein and fluid intake.  In order for you to be able to stick to a realistic renal diet,  you have to understand the reasons why you must pay attention to what you eat and drink, and the reasons are as follows:

  • Phosphorus

o   Phosphorus is a mineral that healthy kidneys get rid of in the urine. In kidneys that are failing, phosphorus builds up in the blood and may cause many problems including muscle aches and pains, brittle, easily broken bones, calcification of the heart, skin, joints, and blood vessels

  •  Potassium

o   Potassium keeps a normal water balance between the cells and body fluids. Kidneys that are not functioning properly cannot remove the potassium in the urine, so it builds up in the blood. This can be very dangerous to your heart.

  • Sodium

o   Sodium, or sodium chloride, is used by to regulate the water content in the body.  However, a greater intake of sodium will result in poorly controlled blood pressure

  • Protein

o   Protein aids in growth and maintenance of body tissue and plays a role in fighting infection, healing of wounds, and provides a source of energy to the body.  On the other hand, large amounts of protein foods leads to a build up of waste product. 

  • Fluid Intake

o   Those with kidney disease have decreased urine output, so increased fluid in the body can put unnecessary pressure on the person’s heart and lungs.  Also, excess fluid build up causes edema.

Now you understand the importance of being conscious of what you eat.  Any excess or build up of phosphorus, potassium, sodium, protein and fluid in the body will have an adverse effect to your kidneys. Obviously, you do not want that to happen.

And so you will have to try to learn more about the renal diet, and the specific kinds of foods that you should eat and those that you should avoid or limit, such as:

High Phosphorus foods

meats, poultry, dairy, fish, milk , cheese,  lima, black, red, white  and garbanzo beans black-eyed peas, whole or unrefined grains ,  refrigerator dough, dried vegetables and fruits, chocolate and dark colored sodas

High Potassium foods

bananas, avocados, oranges, orange juice,  prunes,  prune juice,  tomatoes,  tomato juice, tomato sauce, cantaloupe, tomato puree, honeydew melon, nuts, papaya, chocolate, lentils, split peas, baked beans

Salty or high in Sodium foods

bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meats, canned meats, bologna, salted crackers, nuts, chips, canned soups, frozen dinners, instant noodles, bottled sauces, pickles, olives, and MSG

High in Protein foods

meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products, deli meats like ham, bologna, salami, bacon and sausages

It may be possible that your heart sank after seeing the list for the renal diet.  To most people, perhaps you included, the foods that are supposed to be avoided or limited happens to consist of their daily food intake.  So what happens now? Is there anything left to eat at all?

But, of course!  Take a deep breath, push away the pessimism and remember that the renal diet only suggests that you avoid and/ or limit these foods.  It does not say that you cannot totally eat them.  The key here is balance: not too much and not too little.  This is where your doctor and/ or dietitian comes in.  Ask them what their recommended serving per meal per day and you’re good to go (just make sure you follow their orders).

In case you’re curious as to what a balanced renal diet looks like, it basically means eating three (3) meals everyday consisting of vegetables (at least two kinds), grains and starches (potato, rice, corn pasta), and meats and alternatives (fish, lean meat, chicken, beans, lentils). It doesn’t sound so bad, right?

And the renal diet is going to be easier for you to do since the (VCU) Medical Center’s  Renal Dietcontains grocery list suggestions for meat/ protein foods, fruits, vegetables, breads/cereals/grains, dairy/ dairy substitutes, beverages, fats, seasonings and spices, and desserts/ snacks/ sweets.  There are even ordering tips for fast food like those of McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.  See, it definitely is not the end of the world.

What’s more, the Renal Diet has tips when dining out, whether it be in Italian, Asian, Chinese, Thai or Japanese restaurants. It has a renal friendly holiday food list that includes appetizers, meats, vegetables, breads, accompaniments, desserts and beverages. Just remember to stay within your nutritional and fluid requirements.

In order for balance and moderation in eating to be possible, The Renal Diet encourages the following:

  • Slow down while eating. It takes 20 minutes to send the signal that you’ve had enough to eat.
  • Stop eating when full. One should walk away from the table feeling that they can eat a little more.
  • Have one small helping of that chocolate cake and enjoy every bite.
  • Enjoy that piece of lasagna twice as much. Eat half in the restaurant and  take the rest home to enjoy the next day.

So there you have it: a comprehensive renal diet plan that can, and will, work for you.  No need to mope around complaining about your kidney disease.  Get a hold of that life that you want despite the disease and start working on your renal diet.  You will be amazed at how a little change in your eating habits will work wonders for you.