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Learn kidney-friendly substitutes to everyday meal ingredients including:

  • Meat and fish
  • Dairy milk

Many chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients are concerned if there are plant-based alternatives for their favorite foods. 

As you dip your toes in plant-based dieting, you’ll discover there’s a bevy of choices you can eat without putting your kidneys at risk! These options can even help you gratify your cravings in a healthy way.

Meat and Fish


These plant foods can provide you with high-quality protein and amino acids your body needs. Make sure to throw in variations to your daily consumption. 

  • Tofu - You can use tofu in a lot of ways in your dishes. It may taste plain on its own, but it takes on many flavors when combined with other ingredients in a dish. Tofu is a rich source of calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

    Where to use it: Use tofu for your salad, barbecue, burger, sandwich, tacos, veggie stir-fry, or fried rice.
  • Beans - Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and pinto beans are just a few examples of commonly used plant proteins. They may not have the same texture as meat, but they make for a filling meat alternative. Beans are also high in fiber and iron. 

    Each type of bean has a unique flavor, so there’s always a great option depending on the dish you want to cook. 

    Where to use it: Chickpeas complement Mediterranean recipes while black beans and pinto beans work well with Mexican dishes
  • Mushroom - If you prefer unprocessed foods, mushrooms can make a great meat alternative. They’re also low on protein and calories but rich in fiber. Shiitake mushrooms have lower potassium content than portobello and white button mushrooms, making them suitable for people who are on a CKD diet.


  • Seitan - For a high-protein choice with a dense and chewy texture, seitan is your best bet.

    Where to use it: Seitan is commonly used in any recipes that require beef or chicken.
  • Tempeh - Unlike tofu, this meat substitute gives off a stronger flavor, has a firmer texture, and has higher levels of fiber and protein.

    Where to use it: Use tempeh in stir-fries and peanut-based sauces.

Considering there’s a variety of meat substitutes available, how do you know which one to use for a specific dish? It all comes down to the purpose of the ingredient.

How to Choose the Right Plant-Based Substitute

Consider the function of the plant-based alternative. Do you want it for its protein, texture, or flavor?

  • If you want a protein source - Check the Nutrition Facts label and see how much protein the food contains. If you’re on a low-protein diet, make sure to stick to your allowable daily protein intake (as advised by your dietitian).
  • If you need to limit your sodium and phosphorus - Choose products that are low in, or free of, these minerals.

Dairy Milk

Almond milk

It’s easy to find the right plant-based milk substitute as there are lots of options in grocery stores as well. The American Society for Nutrition says that dairy-alternative milks are lower in calories, fat, and protein, which is ideal for people with CKD. 

Drinking plant-based milk is also a wise choice for people who are lactose intolerant, since plant milk doesn't contain "lactose" (a type of carbohydrate called disaccharide and the only natural sugar commonly found in cow's milk).

Lactose causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating, loose stools, and cramps or pain in the lower belly.

Below are popular dairy milk substitutes:

  • Soy milk - It’s packed with vital amino acids, vitamin D, fiber, and calcium and is the closest thing to cow’s milk. Go for unsweetened soy milk brands if you need to control your blood sugar. 

    How to use it: You can add soy milk to your breakfast oats, pancakes, smoothies, and even to your coffee.
  • Rice milk - If you want a low-fat, low-calorie option, you can opt for rice milk. It’s also rich in antioxidants and vitamin B which boost brain function and cell cell metabolism. 

    How to use it: It’s a good alternative if you’re allergic to nuts, soy, and dairy. Rice milk goes well with fruits and any plant-based ingredients. 

Rice milk may not be healthy for you if you have diabetes, as it is high in carbohydrates. 

  • Almond milk - This plant milk is a popular choice for vegans due to its nutty flavor and creamy texture. Almond milk helps strengthen the bones and lower the risk of heart disease. 

    It’s also suitable for diabetic patients who adhere to a low-carb diet to lower their blood sugar levels. 

How to use it: Add almond milk to your coffee, tea, smoothie, soups, sauces, or salad dressings. You can also use it as a milk replacement in baked foods.

While these plant milk options provide a number of health benefits, there are factors you need to consider first before using any of them. So what are these factors?

Reminders When Choosing Milk Substitutes

  • Check the protein, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium content of the product. Seek you dietitian’s advice when determining the right milk alternative to add in your diet. 

  • Avoid milk products that contain phosphate additives. Soy, almond, and rice milk may contain certain amounts of calcium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate, and magnesium phosphate. Read the ingredients list carefully.

The transition to a whole-food plant-based diet can be tough from the get-go, but these kidney-friendly foods will help you ease your way into the diet. In the next article, we will discover kidney-friendly substitutes to oil, butter, and eggs.


Plant-Based Substitutions


Going Nuts About milk? Here’s What You Need to Know About Plant-Based Milk Alternatives