Five Myths About Nutrition For CKD

Nutrition plays an important role in preserving kidney function and helps to delay disease progression. I’ve said this many times before. And it does not matter if you are newly diagnosed or have been living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) for a while. But there are five myths about nutrition for CKD that I hear all the time.

So, you’ve probably looked on Google or maybe you’ve been given a handout on some outdated information at the doctors office. It can be quite confusing and overwhelming. 

Can you even eat tomatoes, avocado, oranges or bananas anymore?

Do you need to avoid nuts?

What is better plant or animal protein?

I could go on and on with this list.

So, let’s break down some of the five myths about nutrition and CKD.

Five Myths About Nutrition For CKD

You need to avoid potassium

Potassium is an important mineral. It helps to manage nerve and muscle functions in the body. Too much or too little potassium is a concern with CKD.

But, not every needs to restrict potassium. In fact, we really only need to limit potassium in our diet if our blood potassium is elevated. This is called hyperkalemia.  

Some medications can cause potassium to rise. So it is important to speak with your doctor about your blood work.

Having your bloodwork checked can help you determine if you need a potassium restriction. 

Potassium is important to help manage blood pressure, which can rise when we have CKD. In fact it potassium actually helps to decrease blood pressure and relax the veins/arteries. So, this is why including foods with potassium can be achieved when we have CKD.

Remember, not every needs a potassium restriction. If you do, you can still include a variety of foods as long as you are within your potassium target.

You can’t have nuts or seeds

Nuts and seeds have a lot of great nutrition. They include many heart-healthy fats, omega 3s, plant sterols, fibre, plant protein, vitamin E, selenium, and calcium. They also help prevent inflammation, which is common with CKD.

Nuts also contain potassium, phosphorus and protein. So how much and how often we consume when we have CKD should be considered. 

Here are some facts to help you choose kidney-friendly nuts and seeds in your diet:

Nuts and seeds (1/4 cup)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Protein (g)
Pumpkin seeds43153.0
Sunflower seeds3752766.3
Macadamia661222.6
Pecan821182.7
Hazelnuts932264.5
Walnut881123.9
Almonds1652507.3
Cashew1701965.2
Pistachio1463146.5

Whole grains should be avoided

Whole grains are a great source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals (like iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E), and are generally low in sodium.

You may have read online that whole grains should be avoided due to their potassium and phosphorus content with CKD. This is an old way of thinking. 

In fact, whole grains should be included in a kidney-friendly diet because they help to keep us full and control our blood sugar, cholesterol and manage bowel movements. 

What we do now know is that the potassium and phosphorus from whole grains are not absorbed as well as other sources. You can check out this article for more information. 

Some of my favourite whole grains include:

  • 60% whole wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Oatmeal
  • Wild rice

Animal protein is bad for the kidneys

Plant-based proteins have gotten a lot of media recently. While there is no concrete recommendation from nutrition societies that plant-based is the only proteins we should be eating with CKD, being aware of our protein sources is important.

Plant-based proteins provide us with fibre as well as have lower amounts of potassium, phosphorus and protein compared to animal proteins. 

But, it is definitely a personal choice for what you decide to consume. Because fish like salmon, trout, mackerel are a heart healthy fish which can help to reduce cholesterol. And dairy products are a good source of calcium and you may have osteoporosis.

However, if you are interested in including more plant-based proteins like chickpeas, lentils and beans check out this article for some tips and tricks.

You need to avoid coffee

Here is another myth about nutrition for CKD and this is one of the biggest myths I get from clients. People love their coffee for many reasons. And it can still be included on a kidney-friendly diet, but there are some things to consider.

While coffee does have some potassium, around 113 mg in 250 mL coffee. We need to be aware of our portion sizes, because more than 250 mL coffee can turn into a high potassium drink.

We also need to think about what we put into our coffee. For example adding cream or sugar can be inflammatory and not so kidney-friendly. 

Lastly, coffee counts as fluid intake. We don’t typically need to limit fluids until later stages of CKD. But this is important to still remember.

Does today’s article speak to you?

If you’re looking to feel empowered and supported with your nutrition needs, and these five myths about nutrition for CKD inspired you, working with a dietitian can help you gain confidence and understand your kidney-friendly diet.

Want to work together? Connect with Emily here.

Want to learn more about Emily? Learn more here.

Published by Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN

Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in renal nutrition helping those with chronic kidney disease. Emily holds a Master's degree in Foods and Nutrition and is a co-chair of the Southern Ontario Canadian Association of Nephrology Dietitians.

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