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Food Considerations For Dialysis Patients

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:02pm

I recently wrote an article on why dialysis patients must be sensible on their eating habits, and the equal importance of consulting with your Nephrologist and Renal Dietitian before starting a diet plan. This time, I’m writing about the basic minerals found in food that concerns a dialysis patient, like Protein, Potassium, Phosphorus, Sodium, etc. You can work closely with your renal dietitian to decide on the meal plan that includes some of your favorite foods and is best for you.


Your individual meal plan will be based on your age, your weight, foods you like, your dialysis treatment and other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It will be tailored to your needs but may not meet the specific needs of other patients. Most people with kidney disease must modify their intake of certain nutrients such as protein, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and fluid. Following the meal pattern suggested by your renal dietitian will help you feel your best.

The following are some things a dialysis patient needs to know about:

  • Protein is used to build and repair tissue. Several of the foods you eat contains protein. The best sources are meat, poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.), seafood, dairy products, and eggs. The best source, also called High Quality Protein, comes from red meat like beef, though it produces more excess waste in the body than other sources. Your renal dietitian might limit you from taking these.
  • Potassium regulates nerve and muscle function. Since your heart is made mostly of muscle, this mineral plays a vital role in the regulation of heartbeat. Excess potassium in the body is removed by the kidneys. For people with malfunctioning kidneys, dialysis performs this job. But if you accumulate too much potassium in between treatments, it might cause heartbeat irregularities. Worse, your heart might suddenly stop if potassium is left uncontrolled. Almost all foods contain some potassium. Some foods that are very high include bananas, avocados, oranges, tomatoes, winter squash, dried fruits, milk and nuts. How often these foods can be eaten, and/or their portion size may need to be limited.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus work together in the body. They are balanced to keep your bones strong and healthy. There’s an imbalance of these minerals in kidney failure but it can be restored with medications and a moderate level of phosphorus in your diet. Since calcium and phosphorus are found in many of the same foods, it is difficult to get enough calcium without getting too much phosphorus. Almost all foods have some phosphorus, but the highest levels are found in dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), eggs, meats, dried beans and nuts. You may be asked to take a calcium supplement and a phosphorus “binder”. It is advisable to ask your doctor about it.
  • Sodium helps regulate the fluid balance in your body. High-sodium foods may upset this balance in kidney disease. Some foods that have the highest amounts of sodium are cured, processed, and smoked meats and cheeses (ham, bacon, sausage, cold cuts, cheese and snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, corn chips, salted nuts and pickles). Some foods that do not taste salty have a lot of sodium. Examples are soups, ketchup, mustard, relishes, some seasonings, steak sauces, meat tenderizers, canned or packaged foods and restaurant foods, When you prepare foods from scratch, you can control the amount of sodium used, like salt, for instance. Also, avoid using salt substitutes because they’re most likely to be high in potassium, and it’s more harmful to you than sodium.

These are meant to serve as a guide and a patient is still advised to consult with his/her doctor and renal dietitian for individual meal plans. Eating wisely and sensible food choices are vital for a kidney failre patient to stay healthy while undergoing dialysis treatment.

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