The RenalTracker Team
March 24, 2021

Fast foods are an affordable choice for a quick bite when you are pressed for time. Even while working on a healthier kidney diet, delicious fast foods are hard to resist especially when you are busy preparing healthy kidney-friendly meals.  You may find yourself indulging in an occasional pizza or taco after a tiresome day of work or dialysis.

Fast food and Chronic Kidney Disease

People with Chronic Kidney Disease are encouraged to go easy on fast foods. These foods have high sodium, potassium, and phosphorus that can negatively affect kidney functions. CKD patients and people on dialysis should also consider the sodium, potassium, protein, and phosphorus content of the food. This allows you to keep up with your daily dietary restrictions.

Eating processed and fast foods can have harmful effects even for people with normal kidney functions. A new study revealed that a diet mostly comprised of junk and processed food may cause long-term damage to the kidneys and trigger diabetes. Fast food and junk food can have too much-processed sugar that can cause hormonal imbalance and blood profile changes to the body.

Sodium content in fast food

The JAMA Internal Medicine has evaluated the sodium in 78 foods served at fast food and chain restaurants between 2005 and 2011. The study revealed that the average sodium in chain restaurant items increased 2.6% between 2005 and 2011. Going beyond your daily sodium intake as a CKD patient can result in shortness of breath and swelling of the face, legs and feet. It can also affect your blood pressure. If you are on stage 5 of CKD and require dialysis, you will be asked to follow a low-sodium diet. Following this diet will help control blood pressure, avoid cramping during the dialysis treatment.

Phosphorus in fast food

Phosphorus-additives are commonly added to plenty of fast foods. While phosphorus isn't required on the nutrition label, knowing the food's phosphorus content is crucial if you have CKD. Too much phosphorus in the body can lead to dangerous calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. Going above your daily phosphorus intake can also increase your heart attack risk, stroke, or death. 

While we don't encourage eating fast food regularly, you can still make smart, fast food choices during an unavoidable situation. Consider these tips:

Tip 1: Skip on the fries

Fries are loaded with potassium which can be harmful to your kidneys. Eating a sandwich or burger can be satisfying on its own. However, if your meal lacks tasty fries, go for the smallest size without salt. Typically, French fries add at least 200 milligrams of salt to your meal.

Tip 2: Watch your portion

A single serving in most fast food chains can be more than enough for a single meal. You may want to avoid large, supersized and value-sized items to stay within your diet restriction. Choose the smallest size instead or share the large portion when dining with a companion. Another great way to watch your portion is to order a la carte instead of the usual bundle offerings. When it comes to choosing a burger, stick to a 4-ounce burger about the size of a deck of cards.

Tip 3: Focus on grilled or roasted lean meats.

Stay away from fried and breaded items, including crispy chicken sandwiches. Go for turkey, chicken breast, or lean ham instead. Pan-fried, basted, creamy, and crispy dishes are typically high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. If you can't help it, go for regular instead of extra crispy. Trim the fat from fried items to lower the sodium content since most batters and coatings have high sodium seasonings.

Tip 4: Ask condiments and dressings on the side.

Dressings, spreads, sauces, sides, and condiments are rich in calories, fat, and sodium. Request for special sauces, dressings, and condiments to be served "on the side." Ask for a packet of ketchup and mustard and add them yourself so you can control your portion.

Tip 5: Be careful with side dishes.

Keep an eye on food items with side dishes as they can sneakily increase your sodium, phosphorus, potassium, and protein intake. A great kidney-friend side dish includes coleslaw or macaroni salad light dressing.

Tip 6: Salads aren't always healthy

Fast food salads are usually laced with high sodium dressings and deep-fried toppings. Consider kidney-friendly ingredients such as lettuce, beets, green peppers, green peas, cucumber, and radishes when choosing salads. Go easy or skip potatoes, avocado, bacon bits, olives, and pickles since they are rich in fat, potassium, and sodium.

Tip 7: Request for special order

A few tweaks and alternatives can make the fast food menu healthier. Don't be afraid to request a few changes.

Tip 8: Limit your fluid intake

You may be asked to restrict your fluid if you are on dialysis. Limit your fluid intake by opting for a zero-calorie beverage. Shakes can have 800 calories, while an average soda has 300 calories. Fruits drinks and lemonades aren't always a healthy choice as they are loaded with sugar. Consider the amount of fluid intake when dining in a fast food chain. Remember that soups, gelatins, and ice creams count as fluid.

The Bottom Line

Dining in fast food chains can be challenging, especially when you have diet restrictions. It is important to plan and be informed on the ingredients before ordering to stay within your limits. You can talk to your renal dietitian about your diet restrictions and food options to manage your kidney functions.

Sources:

Sodium and Your CKD Diet: How to Spice Up Your Cooking
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/sodiumckd

Fast food, phosphorus-containing additives, and the renal diet
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18721742/

Fast Food Facts
https://www.rsnhope.org/health-library/fast-food-facts-renal-diet/

Fast Foods That Are Okay For Kidney Disease
https://www.plantpoweredkidneys.com/fast-foods-that-are-okay-for-kidney-disease/

Dining Out With Confidence - On Dialysis
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/diningout

This is How Junk Food May Damage Your Kidneys
https://food.ndtv.com/health/go-easy-on-junk-food-for-healthy-kidneys-1405184