Tips for Plant-Based Diets and CKD

So you’ve read online that plant-based diets are helpful for CKD. In this article, I break down their benefits and tips for including more plant-based foods. Let’s dive in.

What Is A Plant-Based Diet?

At their roots, plant-based diets mean reducing animal products like dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, etc. And increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. But can you follow a plant-based diet with CKD? Read on to learn more. 

Types of Plant-Based Diets

With nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach. And just with plant-based eating, these diets come in lots of shapes and sizes. So, it is important to find a version that works best for your CKD, your taste preferences, and your lifestyle. But here are a few options:

  • Flexitarian includes more plant foods, but occasionally consumes animal products
  • Semi-vegetarian includes eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
    • Lacto vegetarian includes dairy but avoids eggs, meat, poultry, fish and seafood
    • Ovo vegetarian includes eggs but avoids dairy, meat, poultry, fish and seafood
    • Lacto-ovo vegetarian include eggs and dairy but avoid meat, poultry, fish and seafood
    • Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy foods, fish, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
  • Vegan includes no animal products.

Are There Health Benefits To Eating Plant-Based?

There are many health benefits to eating plant-based, here are just a few.

  • Research shows that plant-based eating can help to lower blood pressure. Since the kidneys play a role in helping to control blood pressure, and with CKD, they are unable to control blood pressure as much, plant-based diets can help to prevent further damage to the kidneys by controlling blood pressure. 
  • Plant-based eating has also been shown to further reduce heart disease by helping to lower the LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol. Because plant-based meals are lower in saturated fat. This heart healthy diet can help to decrease your risk of heart disease. 
  • Transitioning to more plant-based eating has also shown a benefit in lower risk of diabetes through helping your body use insulin more which means better blood sugar control. With better blood sugar control, less damage occurs to the kidneys. 
  •  Last but not least, plant-based eating has been shown to preserve kidney function because plant-based proteins are easier to process than animal proteins on the kidneys. But, eating less animal foods helps to lessen the acid load on your kidneys. In turn, this helps to preserve kidney function. But, the potassium and phosphorus in plant-based foods have lower bioavailability, meaning we absorb less of them. So plant-based eating may also help to control potassium and phosphorus levels. 

Tips for Plant-Based Diets and CKD

Here are some of my best tips for getting started with plant-based eating.

  1. Start with your plate and focus on eating more vegetables at meals and snacks. Aim for half your plate, especially at lunch and dinner. Choose a variety of colours like red, orange, green, yellow, purple, white vegetables to provide you with a variety of nutrients. 
  2. Change the way you think about protein. Don’t make meat the star of the show. Use plant-based proteins to provide you inspiration for your meals. Try incorporating a variety of plant-based proteins like tofu, edamame, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans or lentils, tempeh. 
  3. Enjoy fruit as a snack or dessert and limit added sugars.
  4. Choose more whole grains like oatmeal, barley, wild rice, couscous. These provide fibre to help keep you full. 
  5. Make it as healthy as possible. There are a lot of convenience or processed plant-based foods out there, and with CKD we want to limit these. 

Looking For Some Meal Inspiration?

Incorporating more plant-based meals in your diet does not need to be complicated. Here are some easy meal ideas. Remember that everyone’s needs are different, so make changes based on your own lab values.

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal with walnuts, ground flaxseed, chopped apple, with non-dairy milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Breakfast burrito on a whole grain tortilla with scrambled tofu, black beans, onion, peppers and salsa

Lunch:

  • Mashed chickpea sandwich on whole-grain bread with arugula, tomato, and cucumber slices
  • Salad with leafy lettuce, cucumber, tomato, low sodium feta, couscous, lentils and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice

Dinner: 

  • Low sodium tofu stir fry with peppers, mushrooms, onion served with brown rice
  • Whole grain pasta with lentils, pesto, peppers, and onion, topped with low sodium parmesan cheese

Do You Want To Include More Plant-Based Foods In Your Diet?

There is no one diet that is right for everyone with CKD.  But you’ve learned the benefits of including more plant-based foods in your diet to preserve your kidney function Now, that does not mean you can’t ever have animal products again. It is all about balance. But if you’re looking to preserve your kidney function and want to learn how to include more plant-based meals, 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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