Nutrition for Later Chronic Kidney Disease in Adults

As kidney disease progresses, nutritional needs change as well. If you have reduced kidney function, your doctor may recommend that you change your diet to protect your kidneys.

You can prevent or delay health problems from chronic kidney disease (CKD) by eating the right foods and avoiding foods high in phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Eating too much protein can also burden the kidneys and speed the progression of CKD. Protein foods like meat and dairy products break down into nitrogen and creatinine, waste products that healthy kidneys remove from the blood. But diseased kidneys can’t stop waste products from building up in the blood and causing health problems.

With reduced kidney function, you may need to start paying attention to the protein, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium content of the foods you eat. Learning about your food will help you understand what changes you need to make.


Calories are units of energy provided by food. Work with your dietitian to determine how many calories you need each day to maintain a healthy weight.

As CKD progresses, you may find that foods do not taste the same, and you may lose your appetite. Your dietitian can help you find healthy ways to add calories to your diet if you are losing too much weight.


Protein is an essential part of any diet. Proteins help build and maintain muscle, bone, skin, connective tissue, internal organs, and blood. They help fight disease and heal wounds. But proteins also break down into waste products that must be cleaned from the blood by the kidneys. Eating more protein than your body needs may put an extra burden on the kidneys and cause kidney function to decline faster.

Doctors have long recommended that patients with CKD eat moderate or reduced amounts of protein. Some worried, however, that restricting protein would lead to malnutrition in many patients. In the 1990s, a major clinical trial measured the benefits and dangers of protein restriction for kidney patients. The Modification of Diet in Renal Disease (MDRD) Study assigned groups of CKD patients to diets with different levels of daily protein intake. The study found that patients who succeeded in reducing their daily protein intake by 0.2 grams for each kilogram of body weight for 1 year had healthier levels of bicarbonate, phosphorus, and urea nitrogen in their blood.

For example, a man who weighs 154 pounds (70 kilograms) and who normally eats 56 grams of protein a day would have to reduce his protein intake to 42 grams a day. To cut back on protein, he might eat oatmeal at breakfast (6 grams of protein) instead of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (18 grams of protein).

Medical Nutrition Therapy

Figuring out what to eat can be tricky at first. You may need to cut down on foods you’ve always considered healthy, like fruits and vegetables. First, you need to learn how certain foods affect your kidneys and how reduced kidney function changes the way your body uses food. Then learn about the nutritional content of foods so you can recognize foods that are acceptable and foods that contain the substances you need to limit or avoid, like sodium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Working with a dietitian can help you understand how foods affect your health. Ask the dietitian to review your lab reports for problems that you can address by changing your diet. For example, your lab report might show a high level of phosphorus in your blood. Your dietitian can show you how to lower your phosphorus level by avoiding high-phosphate foods like dairy products, nuts and peanut butter, beer, cola, canned iced teas and lemonade, and certain vegetables.
Together, you can plan meals that fit your habits and your preferences but also provide the nutrition you need and avoid or restrict the foods that can cause problems.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian who specializes in nutrition for people with chronic kidney disease. The dietitian’s fee may be covered by your health insurance. Check with your insurance provider. You may need a referral from your doctor. If you qualify for Medicare, you can receive a benefit for medical nutrition therapy (MNT) from a registered dietitian or nutrition professional when your doctor provides a referral indicating that you have diabetes or kidney disease. Medicare covers 80 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for MNT after you have paid the $100 deductible for Part B services.

One way to locate a qualified dietitian is to consult the American Dietetic Association website at, which features a “Find a Nutrition Professional” page. Users can enter their address or ZIP code and a list of dietitians in that area will appear. Click on “Renal nutrition” in the specialty field.

The typical American diet contains more than enough protein. Most people can get the protein they need by eating two 3-ounce servings of meat or meat substitute each day. Learning about portion sizes can help you limit your protein intake.

What’s the Right Size?

A 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. You can moderate your protein intake by limiting meat in your diet to two 3-ounce servings each day.
Talk with your dietitian about the amount of protein and the sources of protein in your diet. Animal sources such as egg whites, cheese, chicken, fish, and red meats contain more of the essential amino acids your body needs. A well-balanced vegetarian meal plan can also provide these nutrients. Your dietitian can suggest ways to make small adjustments in your eating habits that can result in significant protein reduction. For example, you can make sandwiches using thinner slices of meat and filling out the sandwich with lettuce, pickles, cucumber slices, apple slices, and other garnishes.

Protein Content of Foods

High-Protein Foods Lower Protein Alternatives
Ground beef
Chicken breast
Chili con carne
Egg substitutes
Imitation crab meat
Chicken drumstick
Beef stew

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17–1

(; accessed June 2, 2005)


Fat provides energy, helps produce hormone-like substances that regulate blood pressure and other heart functions, and carries fat-soluble vitamins. You need fat in your diet, but some fats are healthier than others. Saturated fats and trans-fatty acids can raise your blood cholesterol levels and cause clogging of blood vessels.

Talk with your dietitian about healthy and unhealthy sources of fat. Saturated fats are found in animal products like red meat, poultry, whole milk, and butter. These fats are usually solid at room temperature. Trans-fatty acids are often found in commercial baked goods like cookies and cakes and in fried foods like doughnuts and french fries.

Your dietitian can suggest healthy ways to get fat into your diet, especially if you need more calories. Vegetable oils like corn or safflower oil are healthier than animal fats like butter or lard. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils because they are high in trans-fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats—olive, peanut, and canola oils—are healthy alternatives to animal fats.

Sources of Fats

Bad Fats Good Fats
Saturated fats


  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Whole milk
  • Butter
  • Lard
Monounsaturated fats


  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
Trans-fatty acids


  • Commercial baked goods
  • French fries
  • Doughnuts
Hydrogenated vegetable oils



Sodium is found in ordinary table salt and many salty seasonings like soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Canned foods, some frozen foods, and most processed meats have large amounts of table salt. Snack foods like chips and crackers are also high in salt.
Too much sodium in your diet can be harmful because it causes your blood to hold fluid. The extra fluid raises your blood pressure and puts a strain on your heart and kidneys. Talk with your dietitian about ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Look for the sodium content on the nutrition labels of the foods you buy. Choose “sodium-free” or “low-sodium” food products. Aim to keep your daily sodium intake less than 1,500 milligrams.
Try alternative seasonings like lemon juice, salt-free seasoning mixes, or hot pepper sauce. But avoid salt substitutes that use potassium.
Sodium Content of Foods

High-Sodium Foods Lower-Sodium Alternatives
Canned vegetables
Hot dogs
Packaged rice with sauce
Packaged noodles with sauce
Frozen vegetables with sauce
Canned soup
Tomato sauce
Snack foods
Salt-free herb seasonings
Frozen vegetables
Plain rice
Plain noodles
Unsalted pretzels
Unsalted popcorn

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17–1

(; accessed June 3, 2005)


Potassium is found in many fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, potatoes, avocados, and melons. Check your blood tests to make sure that your potassium level stays in the normal range. If it begins to climb, talk with your dietitian about ways to limit the amount of potassium you eat. You may need to avoid some fruits and vegetables. You can reduce the potassium content of potatoes by soaking them in water for several hours before cooking.

Potassium Content of Foods

High-Potassium Foods Lower-Potassium Aternatives
Oranges and orange juice
Sweet potatoes
Cooked spinach
Beans (baked, kidney, lima, pinto)
Apples and apple juice
Cranberry juice
Canned fruit
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
Mustard greens

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17–1

(; accessed June 3, 2005)


Phosphorus is a mineral found in many foods. Too much phosphorus in your blood pulls calcium from your bones. Losing calcium will make your bones weak and likely to break. Too much phosphorus may also make your skin itch. Foods like milk and cheese, dried beans, peas, colas, canned iced teas and lemonade, nuts, and peanut butter are high in phosphorus. Talk with your dietitian about how much phosphorus you should have in your diet.

As your kidney disease progresses, you may need to take a phosphate binder like sevelamer hydrochloride (Renagel), calcium acetate (PhosLo), or calcium carbonate (Tums) to control the phosphorus in your blood. These medications act like sponges to soak up, or bind, phosphorus while it is in the stomach. Because it is bound, the phosphorus does not get into the blood. Instead, it is passed out of the body in the stool.

Phosphorus Content of Foods

High-Phosphorus Foods Lower-Phosphorus Alternatives
Dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt)
Beans (baked, kidney, lima, pinto)
Nuts and peanut butter
Processed meats (hot dogs, canned meat)
Canned iced teas and lemonade
Bran cereals
Egg yolks
Liquid non-dairy creamer
Pasta rice
Rice and corn cereals
Green beans
Lemon-lime soda
Root beer
Powdered iced tea and lemonade mixes

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17–1

(; accessed June 3, 2005)


As your kidney disease progresses, you may need to limit how much you drink because your kidneys can’t remove the extra fluid, so it builds up in your body and strains the heart. Tell your doctor if you notice you are making either less urine or more urine or if you have any swelling around your eyes or in your legs, arms, or abdomen.

Keep Track of Test Results

If you have CKD, your doctor will order regular blood tests. Many patients find that keeping track of their test results helps them see how their treatment is working. Ask your doctor for copies of your lab reports and ask to have them explained. Note any results that are out of the normal range. When you learn how to read your reports, you will see how the foods you eat affect your kidneys. Talk with your doctor or your dietitian about what you can do to make healthier food choices. Remember that you are the most important member of your health care team.

Hope Through Research

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) has many research programs aimed at slowing the progression of chronic kidney disease. For example, the NIDDK is sponsoring the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort study to determine the risk factors for rapid decline in kidney function and development of cardiovascular disease. This study of about 3,000 patients with chronic renal insufficiency, another way of describing CKD, will reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the people in the United States who have permanent kidney failure.

The data collected and specimens obtained from people in this study will serve as a national resource for investigating CKD as well as cardiovascular disease. Establishing this group of patients and following them into the future will also provide an opportunity to examine genetic, environmental, behavioral, nutritional, quality-of-life, and health resource use factors in this population. The main part of the study will consist of monitoring patients and following up at regular clinic visits with kidney function measurements, cardiovascular studies, and laboratory tests. In addition, participants will answer questionnaires to assess various demographic, nutritional, and quality-of-life factors.

The U.S. Government does not endorse or favor any specific commercial product or company. Trade, proprietary, or company names appearing in this document are used only because they are considered necessary in the context of the information provided. If a product is not mentioned, the omission does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

3 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3580
Phone: 1–800–891–5390
Fax: 703–738–4929

The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Established in 1987, the Clearinghouse provides information about diseases of the kidneys and urologic system to people with kidney and urologic disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. The NKUDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about kidney and urologic diseases.

Publications produced by the Clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This publication was reviewed by Lisa Murphy-Gutekunst, MSEd, RD, CSR, Cleve-Hill Dialysis, Buffalo, NY; and Marcy Bushman, MPH, RD, LDN, Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals.

This publication is not copyrighted. The Clearinghouse encourages users of this publication to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

Kidney Urology