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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Improving the understanding, detection, and management of kidney disease.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

People with kidney disease can continue to live productive lives: working, enjoying friends and family, and staying physically active. You may need to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle to help you live a healthier and longer life. Because heart attack and stroke are more common among people with kidney disease, these changes are good for your heart and for your kidneys.

Lifestyle Changes

Following a healthy lifestyle is good for people with kidney disease, especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or both. Talk with your dietitian, diabetes educator, or other health care professional about which actions are most important for you to take. As you will see, many of these actions are related.

An older woman on a bicycle

Diet Changes

What you eat and drink may help slow down kidney disease. Some foods may be better for your kidneys than others. Most of the salt and sodium additives people eat come from prepared foods, not from the salt shaker. Cooking your food from scratch gives you control over what you eat.

Your provider may suggest you see a dietitian. A dietitian can teach you how to choose foods that are easier on your kidneys. You will also learn about the nutrients that matter for kidney disease. See factsheets about sodium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, and how to read food labels.

The steps below will help you eat right as you manage your kidney disease. The first three steps (1-3) are important for all people with kidney disease. The last two steps (4-5) may become important as your kidneys become more damaged.

Step 1: Choose and prepare foods with less salt and sodium.

Why? To help keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.

Look for Food Labels that Say

Sodium free

Salt free

Very low sodium

Low sodium

Reduced or less sodium

Light in sodium

No salt added

Unsalted

Lightly salted

Step 2: Eat the right amount and the right types of protein.

Why? To help protect your kidneys.

Animal-protein foods Plant-protein foods

Chicken

Fish

Meat

Eggs

Dairy

Beans

Nuts

Grains

Step 3: Choose foods that are healthy for your heart.

Why? To protect your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.

Heart-healthy foods

Lean cuts of meat, like loin or round

Poultry without the skin

Fish

Beans

Vegetables

Fruits

Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese

An older and younger woman prepare vegetables
As your kidneys become more damaged, you may need to eat foods that are lower in phosphorus and potassium. Your health care provider will use lab tests to watch your levels.

Step 4: Choose foods with less phosphorus.

Why? To help protect your bones and blood vessels.

Foods Lower in Phosphorus Foods Higher in Phosphorus

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Breads, pasta, rice

Rice milk (not enriched)

Corn and rice cereals

Light-colored sodas/pop

Meat, poultry, fish

Bran cereals and oatmeal

Dairy foods

Beans, lentils, nuts

Colas

Step 5: Choose foods that have the right amount of potassium.

Why? To help your nerves and muscles work the right way - if potassium is too high or too low, your nerves and muscles will not work normally.

Foods Lower in Potassium Foods Higher in Potassium

Apples, peaches

Carrots, green beans

White bread and pasta

White rice

Rice milk (not enriched)

Cooked rice and wheat cereals, grits

Oranges, bananas

Potatoes, tomatoes

Brown and wild rice

Bran cereals

Dairy foods

Whole wheat bread and pasta

Beans and nuts

Having kidney disease also means you may need to change what you drink.

Water

Most people don't benefit from drinking water when they are not thirsty unless they have kidney stones. Drink as much water as you normally do.

Soda and other drinks

If you are told to limit phosphorus, choose light-colored soda (or pop), like lemon-lime, and homemade iced tea and lemonade. Dark-colored sodas, fruit punch, and some bottled and canned iced teas can have added phosphorus.

Juice

If you are told to limit potassium, drink apple, grape, or cranberry juice instead of orange juice.

Alcohol

You may be able to drink small amounts of alcohol. Drinking too much can damage the liver, heart, and brain and cause serious health problems. Talk to your health care provider first.

Page last updated: September 17, 2014