Meet your treatment team: Renal dietitian

Whether you are in the earlier stages of kidney disease, on dialysis or living with a kidney transplant, you likely rely on information from your renal dietitian every day. Renal dietitians are experts in diet and nutrition specifically for people with kidney disease. Your dietitian is an important member of your care team and they work closely with the other members of your care team to help you be as healthy as possible.

Unlike other dietitians, renal dietitians see their patients regularly, often for many years. They get to know your food habits and preferences, and can work with you to create a meal plan that you will want to follow when at home or out and about. Sticking to the food, fluid and nutrition plan developed by your dietitian is key to managing kidney disease and kidney failure. Renal dietitians provide education and monitor your levels to make sure what you consume is healthy for your body.

Patient education

One of your dietitian’s main responsibilities is education. They provide patients and caregivers with the guidance needed to make healthy food and fluid choices every day. They explain basic nutrition and help make you aware of the nutrients and minerals you need to stay on top of. They tell you how much of specific nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals to consume. If you have too much of certain minerals in your body, like phosphorus or potassium, your dietitian may recommend different foods that do not contain as much of those minerals, or work with your doctor to suggest medicines, like binders, to help control your levels.

If you have kidney disease but have not reached kidney failure, your dietitian can recommend how to eat healthy for your stage of kidney disease, so you may be able to slow down or stop the progression to kidney failure. If you are on dialysis, your dietitian will likely recommend how much fluid you should consume each day to control fluid buildup in your blood between treatments. If you also have diabetes or high blood pressure, your dietitian should help you tailor your diet, so you are eating the right way for all of your conditions.

If you are post-transplant, it is still important to follow your dietitian’s guidelines because they will help you keep your new kidney healthy. You may have a different eating plan that is high in protein directly after surgery to help you recover. You may also need to adjust the nutrients you consume based on how your body tolerates anti-rejection medicines. Your dietitian can help you adjust to any changes you need to make for the life of your transplant.

If you are unsure if something is healthy for you, it is a good idea to check with your dietitian at your next appointment before consuming it.

Monitoring your health

Your renal dietitian conducts a regular nutrition assessment for you and monitors your lab work, medicines and weight, so they can make recommendations for you during each visit. They also monitor your blood pressure and adjust your eating plans as needed to control it. They know that what you consume not only affects your kidneys, but your overall health.

If you are on dialysis, your dietitian likely monitors your dry weight and weight between appointments to determine how well the treatments are working for you. If you need to lose weight before transplant surgery, your dietitian can also help you with that.

If you are post-transplant, your dietitian likely recommends that you to stick to a low-sodium meal plan to help control your blood pressure. They should make sure you are consuming well-balanced foods and drinks that help you keep a healthy weight, are good for your overall health and work well with your immunosuppressive medicines. They can also teach you and your and caregiver about food safety to help avoid infections and minimize any bacteria that can get into your body from food.

Following your renal dietitian’s recommendations is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. For more information on kidney-friendly eating, kidney-friendly recipes, sample grocery shopping lists, nutrient trackers and more, visit Kidney Kitchen™.

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About the Author(s)

Elissa Blattman

Elissa Blattman is the associate director of communications at the American Kidney Fund.

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