6 Types of Foods to Avoid When You Have Kidney Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Unseen Caucasian businessman eating hot dog
  • We’re frequently told to eat a healthy diet. But for people with kidney disease, also called renal disease, eating a healthy diet means having to make adjustments, perhaps no longer consuming a favorite meal or drink. There are many foods, even healthy ones, that people with renal diet restrictions shouldn’t touch. They contain high levels of minerals, like sodium, potassium and phosphorus, which stress the kidneys and could cause more kidney damage. The more advanced your kidney disease, the more restrictions you may have. Here are examples of six types of foods to avoid with renal disease.

  • 1
    High-Protein Foods, Particularly Animal Products
    Sliced medium rare filet of beef

    Animal products, like red meat, poultry, fish and eggs are higher-protein foods. You do need protein to help build muscle and repair tissue, but protein also leaves behind waste that your body must eliminate. It’s the kidneys’ job to do this and too much protein in your diet makes your kidneys work harder and could speed up kidney damage. But since some protein is still essential, you can get it from fruits and vegetables, along with low-sodium breads, rice and pasta.

  • 2
    Salt and Salty Foods
    Salt shaker adding salt to plate of French fries

    Salt, or sodium, is a common additive to many foods we enjoy, particularly processed foods. However, salt plays an important role in how much fluid your body withholds. Too much fluid affects your blood pressure and can cause heart and lung disease. Healthy kidneys usually help maintain the right fluid balance, but if you have kidney disease, this may not be the case. So, avoid high-sodium products like soy sauce and packaged, processed foods. Choose low-sodium options and when cooking at home, try using spices and herbs for flavor, rather than adding salt. And leave the salt shaker off the table—it’s less tempting to use it.

  • 3
    Fruits and Vegetables High in Potassium
    Sliced cantaloupe melon on wooden cutting board

    Potassium puts stress on your kidneys, so it must be limited in a kidney disease diet. Many fruits are high in potassium, such as melons, bananas, oranges, prunes and tomatoes, both eaten and in juices. The mineral is also higher in dairy products, avocados, bran, beans, lentils and nuts. You may be surprised to learn that dark-colored sodas are higher in potassium, as are fruit punches and prepared (canned and bottled) iced tea. Lower-potassium foods include apples, grapes, strawberries, cauliflower, white breads, pita, chicken and white rice.

  • 4
    Foods With Phosphorus, or Phosphate
    Glass of milk with stack of chocolate sandwich cookies

    Phosphorus helps your body form bones and teeth, and it helps your body use carbohydrates and fats. But it is restricted if you’re following a diet for stage 4 kidney disease. Foods to avoid include dairy products, chocolate, seasoned and processed foods, baking powder, whole-grain breads, bran cereal and oatmeal, nuts, sunflower seeds, and again, dark-colored colas. Foods with lower amounts of phosphorus include corn or rice cereals, popcorn (no salt!), sourdough bread, French or Italian breads, lemonade, and some sodas that aren’t dark in color.

  • 5
    High-Calcium Foods, Including Calcium Supplements
    Large chunk of Vermont white cheddar cheese

    Another important mineral is calcium, but calcium is hard on the kidneys. The most widely known foods that contain calcium are dairy products, but it’s also found in many of the same foods that have high phosphorus levels. So, by avoiding those foods, you are helping decrease both phosphorus and calcium in your diet. If you take a calcium or vitamin D supplement, mention this to your doctor as you may have to stop taking it.

  • 6
    Alcoholic Drinks

    Most people know alcohol can affect your liver, but did you know it also can affect your kidneys? Researchers have found if your liver is compromised or injured, your kidneys can become more damaged as they try to compensate for the injured liver when you drink alcohol. Alcohol is also dehydrating to your body and this can affect how well your kidneys filter out the toxins. In addition, high blood pressure is damaging to the kidneys and too much alcohol can raise blood pressure.

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  1. Alcohol and Your Kidneys. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/alcohol
  2. Epstein M. Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function. Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(1):84-92. (PDF: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-1/84.pdf)
  3. Nutrition and Early Kidney Disease (Stages 1–4). National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/nutrikidfail_stage1-4
  4. Apples are Okay, but Bananas are not...Top 10 Dialysis Diet Tips. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/news/ekidney/june09/DietTips_june09
  5. Renal Diet Basics. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15641-renal-diet-basics
  6. Eating Right for Chronic Kidney Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/eating-nutrition
  7. Kidney-friendly diet for CKD. American Kidney Fund. http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/kidney-friendly-diet-for-ckd.html
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 13
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