When your kidneys are not working as well as they should, waste and fluid build up in your body. Over time, the waste and extra fluid can cause heart, bone and other health problems. A kidney-friendly meal plan limits how much of certain minerals and fluid you eat and drink. This can help keep the waste and fluid from building up and causing problems.

How strict your meal plan should be depends on your stage of kidney disease. In the early stages of kidney disease, you may have little or no limits on what you eat and drink. As your kidney disease gets worse, your doctor may recommend that you limit:

  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Fluids

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral found in almost all foods. Your body needs some potassium to make your muscles work, but too much potassium can be dangerous. When your kidneys are not working well, your potassium level may be too high or too low. Having too much or too little potassium can cause muscle cramps, problems with the way your heart beats and muscle weakness.

If you have kidney disease, you may need to limit how much potassium you take in. Ask your doctor or dietitian if you need to limit potassium.

Use the list below to learn which foods are low or high in potassium. Your dietitian can also help you learn how to safely eat small amounts of your favorite foods that are high in potassium.

Eat this ... (lower-potassium foods)

  • Apples, cranberries, grapes, pineapples and strawberries
  • Cauliflower, onions, peppers, radishes, summer squash, lettuce
  • Pita, tortillas and white breads
  • Beef and chicken, white rice

Rather than ... (higher-potassium foods)

  • Avocados, bananas, melons, oranges, prunes and raisins
  • Artichokes, winter squash, plantains, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes
  • Bran products and granola
  • Beans (baked, black, pinto, etc.), brown or wild rice

Your doctor may also tell you to take a special medicine called a potassium binder to help your body get rid of extra potassium.

Learn more about high potassium and its treatment here

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a mineral found in almost all foods. It works with calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones healthy. Healthy kidneys keep the right amount of phosphorus in your body. When your kidneys are not working well, phosphorus can build up in your blood. Too much phosphorus in your blood can lead to weak bones that break easily.

Many people with kidney disease need to limit phosphorus. Ask your dietitian if you need to limit phosphorus.

Depending on your stage of kidney disease, your doctor may also prescribe a medicine called a phosphate binder. This helps to keep phosphorus from building up in your blood. A phosphate binder can be helpful, but you will still need to watch how much phosphorus you eat. Ask your doctor if a phosphate binder is right for you.

Use the list below to get some ideas about how to make healthy choices if you need to limit phosphorus.

Eat this ... (lower-phosphorous foods)

  • Italian, French or sourdough bread
  • Corn or rice cereals and cream of wheat
  • Unsalted popcorn
  • Some light-colored sodas and lemonade

Rather than ... (higher-phosphorous foods)

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Bran cereals and oatmeal
  • Nuts and sunflower seeds
  • Dark-colored colas

Fluids

You need water to live, but when you have kidney disease, you may not need as much. This is because damaged kidneys do not get rid of extra fluid as well as they should. Too much fluid in your body can be dangerous. It can cause high blood pressure, swelling and heart failure. Extra fluid can also build up around your lungs and make it hard to breathe.

Depending on your stage of kidney disease and your treatment, your doctor may tell you to limit fluid. If your doctor tells you this, you will need to cut back on how much you drink. You may also need to cut back on some foods that contain a lot of water. Soups or foods that melt, like ice, ice cream and gelatin, have a lot of water. Many fruits and vegetables are high in water, too.

Ask your doctor or dietitian if you need to limit fluids.

If you do need to limit fluids, measure your fluids and drink from small cups to help you keep track of how much you’ve had to drink. Limit sodium to help cut down on thirst. At times, you may still feel thirsty. To help quench your thirst, you might try to:

  • Chew gum
  • Rinse your mouth
  • Suck on a piece of ice, mints or hard candy (Remember to choose sugar-free candy if you have diabetes.)