Kidney-Friendly Diet: What to Eat for Healthy Kidneys
Your kidneys play several important roles to keep you healthy.
They filter toxins and other waste products from your blood, regulate blood pressure, balance the bloodstream’s pH or acid-base balance, help produce red blood cells, and convert vitamin D to its active form, among other roles.
Therefore, it’s essential to keep your kidneys healthy by eating a diet rich in foods that support kidney function and limiting foods that may harm kidney function.
This article explains what to eat and avoid on a kidney-friendly diet and provides a three-day sample kidney-friendly diet menu.
Who can benefit from a kidney-friendly diet?
The purpose of a kidney-friendly diet is to preserve kidney function and reduce kidney damage.
Anyone can benefit from following a kidney-friendly diet, but people who have mild kidney damage can benefit the most to prevent kidney disease progression.
A kidney-friendly diet is also beneficial for people who have a greater risk of developing chronic kidney disease due to conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure (1).
Some components of a kidney-friendly diet may not be appropriate if you have advanced kidney or renal disease or receive dialysis.
In these instances, you may need to increase or decrease your protein intake and monitor your intake of sodium, potassium, and phosphorus more closely.
Anyone can benefit from a kidney-friendly diet, but it’s most beneficial for people who have mild kidney damage and for people who have a greater risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
Foods that support kidney health
Fill up on these foods for their kidney protective effects.
Fruits and vegetables
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for you.
They’re rich in beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols which have strong anti-oxidant and blood pressure-lowering effects (2).
Certain vegetables like beets, arugula, and spinach are also rich in nitrates, which decrease kidney strain by lowering blood pressure (3).
Make sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables of various colors in your diet.
Lean, whole proteins
Protein is commonly linked with kidney disease and kidney disease progression, but there is no supporting evidence to suggest protein leads to kidney disease.
However, the source of protein matters when it comes to kidney health, with lean, whole-food sources like poultry, eggs, fish, nuts, whole grains, and legumes being the best options.
Dairy — especially high-fat — products are commonly believed to increase inflammation and promote heart disease due to their high saturated fat content.
However, dairy products like milk and yogurt have anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to lower blood pressure, thereby decreasing kidney strain (4, 5).
Avoid dairy products rich in added sugars like flavored milk and certain yogurts.
Beyond its energizing effects, coffee may support kidney health.
A review of 12 studies involving more than 500,000 people observed a lower incidence of chronic kidney disease and end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis among coffee drinkers (6).
The greatest benefits were found in people who consumed four or more cups of coffee daily.
The exact reason why coffee may be beneficial for kidney health remains unclear, but it’s thought to be related to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the various compounds found in coffee.
Fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like poultry and fish, dairy products, and coffee are beneficial for kidney health.
Foods that may harm kidney health
Limit your consumption of these foods as they may harm or worsen kidney function over time.
Processed meats are those that are canned, smoked, salted, cured, or dried.
Examples of processed meats include hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, bacon, beef jerky, and deli meats.
Processed meats are extremely high in sodium and contain preservatives like nitrites that can harm the kidneys.
The nitrites used as a preservative in processed meats are different than the nitrates found in vegetables like beets.
Lean cuts of red meat are unlikely to have the same detrimental effect on kidney health as processed meats, but replacing some red meat — depending on how often you consume it — with other sources of protein like nuts, dairy products, whole grains, and legumes may lower kidney disease risk (7).
A high intake of sugar-sweetened is linked with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease (7).
Sugar-sweetened beverages include regular soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks sports drinks, and coffees and teas with added sugars.
These beverages are rich in sugar, which when consumed in excess, can increase blood sugar levels.
Over time, increased blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are also high in calories and can promote weight gain, a known risk factor for the development of kidney disease.
In addition to sugar-sweetened beverages, you should also limit other foods rich in added sugars, including:
- sugary breakfast cereals
- condiments like barbeque sauce and ketchup
- dairy desserts like ice cream
- cakes, cookies, and pies
Other highly-processed foods
Processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages are two examples of highly-processed foods but you should also limit others to support kidney health.
Examples of other highly-processed foods to limit include:
- syrups and jams
- chips and snack foods
- fried foods like French fries and onion rings
- frozen pizza
- frozen breakfasts sandwiches
- canned foods
- boxed dinners like microwavable macaroni and cheese
These foods are heavily altered from their natural state and are often rich in added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Diets rich in these foods are associated with the development and progression of kidney disease, in part, because of their high sodium content (8, 9).
Consumed in excess, sodium increases blood pressure and strains the kidneys, and can also increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
Processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other highly-processed foods like frozen and boxed dinners can harm kidney function since they are rich in sodium, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
Three-day sample kidney-friendly diet
Here’s a three-day sample kidney-friendly diet:
- Breakfast: overnight oats topped with nuts and berries
- Lunch: grilled chicken avocado salad
- Snack: Greek yogurt and cucumber slices
- Dinner: baked salmon, white rice, and roasted broccoli
- Breakfast: spinach and scramble
- Lunch: black bean soup and cilantro lime rice
- Snack: apple slices with peanut butter
- Dinner: roasted pork, mashed sweet potatoes, and asparagus
- Breakfast: protein smoothie
- Lunch: turkey and avocado wrap with mixed greens
- Snack: carrot sticks with hummus
- Dinner: tilapia fish tacos
Use this three-day sample kidney-friendly diet to guide your meal and snack choices.
The bottom line
A kidney-friendly diet is ideal for anyone who wants to take a proative approach to their health to prevent kidney disease or prevent its progression.
Fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, dairy products, and coffee support kidney health, while processed meats, sugary drinks, and other highly-processed foods my harm kidney function.