Renal diet: Foods to eat and avoid for kidney failure

Renal dietA renal diet is recommended for patients with renal disease or kidney failure. Kidney failure patients require a specialty diet because as the function of the kidneys diminishes processing certain foods becomes more difficult. Following a diet that is less taxing on the kidneys can improve health outcomes.

Even if a person has kidney disease, it is important to stick with a renal diet specially designed to improve kidney function in order to prevent kidney failure.


A renal diet aims to reduce the intake of protein and phosphorus-rich foods along with limiting calcium, sodium, and potassium. By following a renal diet, patients can reduce the amount of waste the body produces in order to improve kidney function.

Monitoring mineral intake in a renal diet


This is a mineral found in most of the food we eat, and it’s often added to enhance flavor. Most people think that salt and sodium are the same things, but salt is actually the compound of sodium and chloride. Sodium is one of your body’s major electrolytes and helps control fluid balance of the body and cells.

Sodium helps to perform the following functions:

  • Regulate blood pressure and blood volume
  • Helps in regulating nerve function and muscle contraction
  • Regulates acid-based balance of the blood
  • Balances the amount of fluid that the body keeps or eliminates

To better monitor your sodium intake, you can do the flowing things:

  • Always read food labels looking for sodium content
  • Pay attention to serving sizes
  • Buy fresh meat instead of pre-packaged ones
  • Choose fresh fruit and vegetable or no salt added and frozen produce
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Cook more homemade meals as this will allow you to control your salt content
  • Limit your sodium intake to 400mg per meal and 150mg per snack


Another important mineral your body needs, potassium plays a role in maintaining a heartbeat regular and keeping your muscles working properly. It is also required for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance in the bloodstream. Your kidneys help keep the proper balance of potassium in the body. If for any reason your kidneys are not up to this task, high potassium levels may lead to a condition called hyperkalemia, which can present with symptoms such as muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, and even death.

To better monitor your potassium intake, you can do the following things:

  • Create a diet plan with a dietitian
  • Limit foods that are high in potassium
  • Limit milk and dairy products to 8ox per day
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Read food labels to check for potassium content
  • Avoid salt substitutes and seasonings with potassium


This mineral is critical in bone maintenance and development. It is also involved in developing connective tissue and organs. Phosphorus also plays a role in muscle movement. Imbalances in this mineral due to problems with kidney function may lead to high levels of phosphorus in the blood. This increase in phosphorus levels can pull calcium away from your bones, making them weak. The increase in calcium in the bloodstream can become deposited in blood vessels, the lungs, the eyes, or the heart.

To better keep phosphorus levels at safe levels, you can do the following things:

  • Know which foods are high in phosphorus. These include meat, fast food, cheese, milk, and canned fish
  • Eat smaller portions of foods high in protein
  • Ask your doctor about phosphate binders
  • Avoid foods that have added phosphorus. Look for PHOS on your food label

Foods to include in your renal diet plan

A study has found that adding fruits and vegetables into your diet may help protect the kidneys in chronic kidney disease patients. A typical Western diet is mainly based on animal and grain foods – which are very acidic. In kidney disease, the kidneys are unable to remove the excess acid from the body, so it accumulates and builds up (metabolic acidosis).

Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables has been found to reduce acidity and alkalize the body, this way helping to preserve kidney function.

The researchers looked at 71 patients with hypertensive stage 4 kidney disease who received fruits and vegetables or an oral alkaline medication for one year.

Researcher Donald Wesson concluded, “We showed that by addition of alkali such as bicarbonate or alkali-inducing fruits and vegetables, patients had a favorable response by reduction of urinary kidney injury markers. Our study suggests that these interventions will help maintain kidney health in those with kidney disease.”

Other dietary changes include limiting animal proteins, limiting sodium, and limiting fluid as your body may retain fluid.

Foods you should eat with kidney failure include starches such as bread, cereal, rice, pasta, popcorn, and unsalted crackers, vegetables that are low or medium in potassium like bean sprouts, eggplant, lettuce, asparagus, celery, and mixed vegetables, fruits with low to medium potassium content like grapes, pears, peaches, mangoes, and blueberries, as well as dairy and small amounts of protein including beef, pork, poultry, and eggs.

Fats like butter, margarine, or oil should be limited to either one teaspoon or one tablespoon a day.

Your doctor will be able to fully specify which foods you should eat while treating kidney failure.

The following are some of the best foods to eat for people with kidney disease:

  • Red bell peppers: This vegetable is low in potassium, making it ideal for the kidney diet. Red bell peppers are also a great source of vitamin C and A as well as vitamin B6. They are also a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against certain cancers.
  • Cabbage: These vegetables are packed with phytochemicals that help break up free radicals before they can do damage. These chemicals are also known for protecting against cancer as well as being great for cardiovascular health. Cabbage is a great source of vitamin K and C and it has an abundant amount of fiber.
  • Cauliflower: Being rich in vitamin C and a good source of folate and fiber, cauliflower can be a great addition to any diet. This vegetable is packed with indoles, glucosinolates, and thiocyanates— compounds that help the liver neutralize toxic substances that could potentially damage cell membranes and DNA.
  • Garlic: This aromatic food can help prevent plaque formation on your teeth, lower cholesterol, and even help reduce inflammation.
  • Onions: Rice in flavonoids, especially quercetin, which is a powerful antioxidant that works to reduce heart disease and protects against many cancers. Onions are known for being low in potassium and a good source of chromium—a mineral that helps with carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.
  • Apples: Known to help reduce cholesterol, prevent constipation, protect against heart disease, and reduce cancer risk. Apples even contain anti-inflammatory compounds that are great for reducing inflammation.
  • Cherries: Packed with antioxidant and phytochemicals, helping protect the heart. Cherries have also been shown to reduce inflammation when eaten daily.
  • Red grapes: Known for containing several flavonoids to give it is characteristic red color and help protect against heart disease by way of preventing oxidation and reducing the formation of blood clots.
  • Ginger: Known for having analgesic, sedative, antipyretic, and antibacterial properties, ginger can be a great addition to any diet. It also contains vitamin B5, magnesium, and manganese. Ginger can be used to help treat joint pain and also reduces nausea
  • Coriander: This herb has a pleasant aroma and flavor making it a wonderful addition to many food dishes. It is a good source of vitamins A, C, B2, and K. It also packed with calcium, selenium, iron, manganese, and fiber.

Foods to avoid in renal diet

Kidney failure patients should avoid foods that are high in phosphorus or sodium. Some examples include biscuits, muffins, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cookies, pretzels, deli-style meat, processed cheese, canned fish, artichokes, spinach, potatoes, fresh beets, dates, oranges, frozen dinners, seasoned salts, soy sauce, and other condiments and sauces.

Here is a list of items you should avoid on a renal diet divided by food group category.


  • 1 small biscuit or muffin
  • 2 x 2-inch square of cake
  • 1 (4-inch) pancake or waffle
  • ½ cup of oatmeal
  • ½ cup of whole-wheat cereal or bran cereal
  • 1 piece of cornbread
  • ¾ ounce of salted pretzel sticks or rings
  • 4 sandwich cookies


  • Artichoke or ¼ of a whole avocado
  • Brussels sprouts or okra
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato (Sweet potatoes have 40 mg of phosphorus or more per serving.)
  • Tomatoes, regular and low-sodium tomato juice, or ¼ cup of tomato sauce
  • Winter squash
  • Fresh Beets


  • 1 cup of canned or fresh apricots, or 5 dried apricots
  • 1 small nectarine (2 inches across)
  • 1 small orange or ½ cup of orange juice
  • ¼ cup of dates
  • ⅛ of a small honeydew melon
  • 1 small banana
  • ½ cup of prune juice or 5 dried prunes

Fats and meat:

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut
  • 1 tablespoon powdered coffee creamer
  • 1 teaspoon solid shortening
  • 1 ounce of deli-style meat, such as roast beef, ham, or turkey
  • 1 ounce of canned salmon or sardines
  • ¼ cup of cottage cheese
  • Processed cheese, such as American cheese and cheese spreads
  • Smoked or cured meat, such as corned beef, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage


  • Frozen dinners, soups, and fast foods, such as hamburgers and pizza (see the food label for serving sizes)
  • Seasoned salt, such as onion or garlic salt
  • Barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, and chili sauce
  • 2 medium green olives or 3 large black olives
  • Soy sauce, steak sauce, and teriyaki sauce

Other foods to avoid for healthy kidneys

You should also avoid soda, processed deli meats, butter, mayonnaise, and frozen meals when on a renal diet. These foods do not provide nutritional benefits and tend to be high in calories, sugar, and salt, which are all hazardous to the kidneys.

Here are also some prevention tips to keep in mind:

  • Pay attention to over-the-counter medications and follow the directions. Taking too many medications can increase the risk of kidney failure.
  • Work closely with your doctor to manage kidney problems.
  • Try to adhere to a healthy lifestyle as much as possible.


Natural remedies to manage kidney failure include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and reducing your intake of alcohol.

Essentially, living a healthy lifestyle can benefit your overall health – kidneys included.

Related: Renal colic: Symptoms, causes, and prevention tips


Related Reading:

Natural remedies for chronic kidney disease in older adults

Acute kidney failure in elderly: Causes and symptoms