What is the renal diet about?
People with kidney disease experience more inflammation and have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to adopt a diet that helps to manage renal disease and isn’t about avoidance, but balance.
The foundation of any meal plan based on a medical diagnosis – from renal to heart disease and diabetes to cancer – is balance, according to Alet Basson, renal dietitian at the Life Renal Dialysis unit based at Life Robinson Private Hospital.
‘People are supposed to eat in a specific way to stay healthy by including fresh foods and as few processed foods as possible, and limiting sodium intake,’ she explains.
‘Meal plans are then tweaked depending on individual requirements as well as the specific ailment, dietary preferences or limitations.’
What do you eat on a renal diet?
Alet says the renal diet can be viewed as one of the most challenging medical diets, but, as with all things, it’s about moderation.
‘Persons living with kidney disease often feel overwhelmed when presented with a diet recommendation or meal plan which feels like a major departure from their everyday eating habits, but it can be managed,’ she says.
‘It’s easy for a dietitian to tell someone to avoid a certain type of food or eat more of another, but it should really be about showing people how eating in a certain way benefits their body and helps to ensure their nutritional needs are met.
‘We then need to pinpoint preferences and requirements and adjust the plan to support kidney function – it should never be about “avoiding” certain foods.’
Find out more about the different options available through Life Renal Dialysis.
How does what you eat impact your kidneys?
The main function of the kidneys is to manage the levels of sodium, potassium and phosphates in the blood, which maintains balance. If there’s an excess of any of these electrolytes, it can impact the body in the following ways:
The body retains water when there is excess sodium in the blood. This can result in:
- an enlarged heart
- build-up of fluid in the lungs
- difficulty breathing
- increased blood pressure
Too much potassium in the blood:
- affects heart rhythm
- impairs nerve and muscle function
- damages the heart, which can result in a heart attack
When you have high phosphate levels in your blood, it causes:
- your body to draw calcium out of the bones and deposits it in the brain and blood vessels, leading to stroke
- itchy skin
- bone and joint pain
- muscle cramps or spasms
What is a renal dietitian’s role?
Alongside the nephrologist, who manages the patient’s treatment, the renal dietitian gives the patient practical information on how the food they eat affects the kidneys.
‘We can help patients by categorising foods into those that are high vs low in sodium, potassium and phosphates to help them navigate their diet,’ says Alet.
For example, a patient with renal disease should eat a maximum of 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, someone on dialysis might require 1g to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, because the dialysis machine removes more protein from the blood than the kidneys.
Alet uses a simple diagram to explain the balance to her dialysis patients – a four-piece puzzle.
‘The four pieces are medication, diet, activity and dialysis – all four are required to complete the picture,’ she says, ‘but how the patient approaches each one depends on their lifestyle and dietary requirements, which we carefully balance to help provide that complete picture.’
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