Plant-Based Protein Diet
Table of Contents:
Proteins play a vital role in keeping our bodies healthy. It fuels essential functions in our bodies, including the growth and repair of cells, tissues, muscles, and organs.
Every person also needs a healthy dose of protein on a daily basis to strengthen their immune system and fight off infection.
While our bodies rely on proteins to sustain growth, people with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) must limit their intake of this macronutrient to avoid stressing their kidneys.
Too much protein waste in the blood requires more work for your kidneys to filter out, and you want to avoid that to preserve your kidney functions.
This is why a low-protein diet is highly recommended for CKD patients who are not undergoing dialysis. KDIGO, a non-profit organization advocating for evidence-based clinical practice in managing kidney disease, suggests lowering protein intake to 0.6 to 0.8 g/kg a day.
Following a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to minimize protein levels in the blood and slow down the decline of kidney function.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A kidney-friendly plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, SALT-LESS nuts, and healthy oils. Common plant-based diets like the MEDITERRANEAN diet gives you fiber, vitamins, and minerals that increase your defense against chronic diseases.
A plant-based diet requires you to lessen your intake of animal protein sources like eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, and to fill your plate with natural foods (meaning whole, unrefined, and minimally processed).
The Benefits of a Plant-Based Protein Diet to People with CKD
Research published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases (AJKD) suggests that eating plant-based protein sources instead of meat could play a significant role in improving the health of people with declining kidney function.
Vegetarian diets are believed to reduce the protein content in urine, the renal acid load (acid absorbed by the intestines), and renal hyperfiltration (increased glomerular filtration rate). The reduction of these factors help prevent kidney disease as well.
The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) also states that CKD patients who follow a plant-based diet are at an advantage of slowing down the progression of their kidney disease. These are other known benefits of eating plant-based protein sources:
- Allows you to maintain a healthy weight
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease
- Aids your body to use insulin better and ward off diabetes risk
- Nourishes your body with antioxidants (e.g. Vitamins C and E) to prevent cell damage
Meatless protein sources that provide you with all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs are called “complete” proteins. These foods are packed with essential amino acids (including lysine and tryptophan) which are proteins converted by your body to build your cells, muscles, and organs.
How Much Protein Do I Need to Eat Daily?
Every person has unique nutrient requirements. The right amount of protein your body needs depends on your age, gender, weight, general health condition, and your CKD stage.
To give you an idea, below are estimates (in grams) of how much protein do common plant sources contain according to the NKF:
½ cup (cooked) steel cut oatmeal
½ cup chickpeas
½ cup cooked quinoa
1 cup (cooked) wild rice
½ cup (cooked) Lima beans
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 soy patty
1 cup tofu
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re planning to switch to a plant-based diet, you must consult with your nephrologist or renal dietitian first before making any dietary adjustments. They will help you determine the exact amount of protein as well as the right food sources you need to consume.
Common Plant-Based Foods for People with CKD
There are a number of vegetarian sources from which you can get your daily protein fix. You can even mix and match them accordingly to your taste and preference!
Here are the top plant-based food sources you can swap with meat:
- Soy products - Research suggests that soy protein can help prevent renal malfunction in people at the early stages of kidney disease. Popular soy products include tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, and a type of soy paste called tempeh.
- Beans and legumes - Another staple of a plant-based diet are beans and legumes which are also rich in carbohydrates and fiber. You can add them in your soup or salad for added taste and texture. Examples of these are red/kidney beans, black beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Make sure to choose salt- and additive-free varieties if you are getting packaged beans.
- Meat substitutes - Tofu or bean burgers look and taste like meat, but are low in protein and saturated fat. However, it may not be healthy for everyone with CKD. Seek your nephrologist/renal dietitian’s advice to know if they are good for you.
- Whole grains - Rice, cereals, breads, pastas, and flour that are made from whole grains are abundant in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Regular consumption of whole grains is linked to lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and improved digestion. CHOOSE WHOLE GRAIN PRODUCTS THAT DON’T HAVE ADDED SUGARS. OTHER EXAMPLES OF WHOLE GRAINS ARE QUINOA, BARLEY, OATMEAL, AND BROWN RICE.
- Nuts and seeds - They are not only healthy snack options, but nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, you can count on peanuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or walnuts to make your salads, baked goods, and other dishes more flavorful.
- Healthy oils - You can flavor up your salads, soups, and stir-fried dishes and still make it easy on your kidneys by using healthy oil varieties. Examples of these are olive oil and sesame oil. Olive oil is great for people with kidney disease as it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Natural herbs and spices - Perk up your meals with dried thyme, paprika, cumin, ground chillies, and cinnamon. Avoid salt substitutes as they are loaded with potassium (a no-go especially for people with late-stage CKD and high blood pressure).
- Condiments - Vinegar, hot sauce, black pepper, lemon juice, tahini (sauce made from ground sesame seeds), and salt-free seasoning products are great options for making vegetarian dishes more appetizing.
Every CKD patient’s condition is unique, which means your approach to your weekly or daily meal preparation might be different from every other person with CKD. And that’s fine—or great even—because this is going to work best if you find the approach that is just right for you.
As you make healthier options to manage your kidney disease, always remember to work closely with your nephrologist and/or renal dietitian. They, above anyone else, are equipped with the right knowledge and expertise to help you take better care of your kidneys moving forward.
It’s also important that you increase your knowledge on the basics of renal-friendly diet and lifestyle. With greater awareness of your kidney condition while putting into practice your doctor’s advice, you’ll be on your way to preserving your kidney function (and hopefully prevent dialysis).
RenalTracker has a support group on Facebook for people with CKD. In this group, you can share your story, interact with people with CKD and learn how to live with CKD. Click this link to join our support group.
Adequacy of Plant-Based Proteins in Chronic Kidney Disease
What Are Complete Proteins? - Definition & Food Examples
Renal diet for Vegetarians: What About Protein?
CKD Diet: How Much Protein is the Right Amount?
9 Health Benefits of Eating Whole Grains
Soy Protein and Chronic Kidney Disease: An Updated Review
Guideline on CKD