With all meal plans, including the kidney-friendly diet, you need to track how much of certain nutrients you take in, such as:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrates

To make sure you are getting the right amounts of these nutrients, you need to eat and drink the right portion sizes. All of the information you need to keep track of your intake is on the “Nutrition Facts” label.

Use the nutrition facts section on food labels to learn more about what is in the foods you eat. The nutrition facts will tell you how much protein, carbohydrates, fat and sodium are in each serving of a food. This can help you pick foods that are high in the nutrients you need and low in the nutrients you should limit.

When you look at the nutrition facts, there are a few key areas that will give you the information you need:

Calories

Your body gets energy from the calories you eat and drink. Calories come from the protein, carbohydrates and fat in your diet. How many calories you need depends on your age, gender, body size and activity level.

You may also need to adjust how many calories you eat based on your weight goals. Some people will need to limit the calories they eat. Others may need to have more calories. Your doctor or dietitian can help you figure out how many calories you should have each day. Work with your dietitian to make a meal plan that helps you get the right amount of calories, and keep in touch for support.

Protein

Protein is one of the building blocks of your body. Your body needs protein to grow, heal and stay healthy. Having too little protein can cause your skin, hair and nails to be weak. But having too much protein can also be a problem. To stay healthy and help you feel your best, you may need to adjust how much protein you eat.

The amount of protein you should have depends on your body size, activity level and health concerns. Some doctors recommend that people with kidney disease limit protein or change their source of protein. This is because a diet very high in protein can make the kidneys work harder and may cause more damage. Ask your doctor or dietitian how much protein you should have and what the best sources of protein are for you.

Use the table below to learn which foods are low or high in protein. Keep in mind that just because a food is low in protein, it is not healthy to eat unlimited amounts.

Lower-protein foods:

  • Bread
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Pasta and rice

Higher-protein foods:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are the easiest kind of energy for your body to use. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include fruits and vegetables. Unhealthy sources of carbohydrates include sugar, honey, hard candies, soft drinks and other sugary drinks.

Some carbohydrates are high in potassium and phosphorus, which you may need to limit depending on your stage of kidney disease. We'll talk about this in more detail a little later. You may also need to watch your carbohydrates carefully if you have diabetes. Your dietitian can help you learn more about the carbohydrates in your meal plan and how they affect your blood sugar.

Fat

You need some fat in your meal plan to stay healthy. Fat gives you energy and helps you use some of the vitamins in your food. But too much fat can lead to weight gain and heart disease. Try to limit fat in your meal plan, and choose healthier fats when you can.

Healthier fat or “good” fat is called unsaturated fat. Examples of unsaturated fat include:

  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil

Unsaturated fat can help reduce cholesterol. If you need to gain weight, try to eat more unsaturated fat. If you need to lose weight, limit the unsaturated fat in your meal plan. As always, moderation is the key. Too much “good” fat can also cause problems.

Saturated fat, also known as “bad” fat, can raise your cholesterol level and raise your risk for heart disease. Examples of saturated fats include:

  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Shortening
  • Meats

Limit these in your meal plan. Choose healthier, unsaturated fat instead. Trimming the fat from meat and removing the skin from chicken or turkey can also help limit saturated fat. You should also avoid trans fat. This kind of fat makes your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol higher and your "good" (HDL) cholesterol lower. When this happens, you are more likely to get heart disease, which can cause kidney damage.

Sodium

Sodium (salt) is a mineral found in almost all foods. Too much sodium can make you thirsty, which can lead to swelling and raise your blood pressure. This can damage your kidneys more and make your heart work harder.

One of the best things that you can do to stay healthy is to limit how much sodium you eat. To limit sodium in your meal plan:

  • Do not add salt to your food when cooking or eating. Try cooking with fresh herbs, lemon juice or other salt-free spices.
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables. If you do use canned vegetables, drain and rinse them to remove extra salt before cooking or eating them.
  • Avoid processed meats like ham, bacon, sausage and lunch meats.
  • Munch on fresh fruits and vegetables rather than crackers or other salty snacks.
  • Avoid canned soups and frozen dinners that are high in sodium. • Avoid pickled foods, like olives and pickles. • Limit high-sodium condiments like soy sauce, BBQ sauce and ketchup.

Important! Be careful with salt substitutes and “reduced sodium” foods. Many salt substitutes are high in potassium. Too much potassium can be dangerous if you have kidney disease. Work with your dietitian to find foods that are low in sodium and potassium.

Portions:

Choosing healthy foods is a great start, but eating too much of anything, even healthy foods, can be a problem. The other part of a healthy diet is portion control, or watching how much you eat.

To help control your portions:

  • Check the nutrition facts label on a food to learn the serving size and how much of each nutrient is in one serving. Many packages have more than one serving. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda is really two-and-a-half servings. Many fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, do not come with nutrition facts labels. Ask your dietitian for a list of nutrition facts for fresh foods and tips for how to measure the right portions.
  • Eat slowly, and stop eating when you are not hungry any more. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. If you eat too quickly, you may eat more than you need.
  • Avoid eating while doing something else, such as watching TV or driving. When you are distracted you may not realize how much you have eaten.
  • Do not eat directly from the package the food came in. Instead, take out one serving of food and put the bag or box away.

Good portion control is an important part of any meal plan. It is even more important in a kidney-friendly meal plan, because you may need to limit how much of certain things you eat and drink.