Plant-based eating while on dialysis

The media is full of talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Many people on dialysis wonder if the benefits apply to them, too. And, it is a smart question.

As a dialysis patient, you have special needs when it comes to your food and fluid intake. You likely walk a tightrope of balancing the correct amounts of certain nutrients you consume, as well as controlling the amount of fluid you take in each day.

Plant-based protein, such as legumes, meat alternatives and high-protein vegetables, can increase your intake of phosphorus, a nutrient you have probably been told to monitor. While healthy kidneys filter out excess phosphorus, high levels of phosphorous in dialysis patients can lead to fatigue, joint pain and heart disease.

Here are some tips that can help you enjoy wholesome, plant-based foods, while still maintaining healthy levels of phosphorus:

  1. Phosphorus binders: Binders grab onto phosphorus released from the food in your stomach, so it does not get absorbed into your blood. If you have been prescribed phosphorus binders, be sure to take them!
  2. Avoid packaged/processed foods: The chemical form of phosphorus (also called inorganic phosphorus) is added to packaged foods for preservation and to add flavor and/or texture. This type of phosphorus is absorbed into the blood in high amounts. Read packages carefully. Look for words containing ‘PHOS’ in the ingredient list. Too many ‘PHOS’ ingredients? Skip it and find a better snack. 
  3. Eat fruits and vegetables: Only 10-40% of phosphorus from plant-based foods is absorbed into your blood. You can generally enjoy the great variety of these fresh options with less worry about your phosphorus levels getting too high.

It is usually a great idea to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, but you should always check in with your dietitian to make sure the foods and fluids you are putting into your body are healthy for your unique needs. Visit the American Kidney Fund’s Kidney Kitchen™ to find kidney-friendly recipes that can satisfy any taste bud, including our collections of plant-based vegan and vegetarian dishes.

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About the Author(s)

Lynn Oehler

Lynn Oehler (MS, RD, CSR, ScD) is a renal dietitian with Satellite Healthcare.

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