I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. It has been written and vetted by RenalTracker's team of kidney experts and researchers. The same team was awarded the KidneyX Prize organized by the American Society of Nephrology and HHS for pre-dialysis solution in Washington DC in 2019.   

If you want to join our exclusive coaching on how to avoid dialysis, book a call to see if you qualify.

Following a balanced and healthy diet is very important when you have kidney disease to help slow down the progression of your condition and stay as healthy as possible. Adding the right kinds of food sources within daily recommended portions for your Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) stage and other pre-existing conditions can help the kidneys do their job. For example, you can add or switch altogether to better meat alternatives for CKD patients.

meat alternatives headline

The kidney function is compromised when you have CKD, which makes it hard for the kidneys to expel the waste products produced from the foods you consume. As a CKD patient, you need to watch out for your daily recommended intake of specific nutrients to prevent waste buildup.

Among these essential nutrients needed for optimum health that a CKD patient should watch out for is Protein.

Protein and CKD

Protein is essential in muscle building, cell repair, and healing wounds. It is responsible for nearly every task of cellular life, including waste cleanup and routine maintenance. This nutrient is needed for the growth and maintenance of tissues. Furthermore, protein allows metabolic reactions to take place and coordinates bodily functions. Protein also keeps the immune system strong, transports and stores nutrients and maintains proper pH and fluid balance.

Protein and CKD

When you have CKD, consuming too much or too little Protein can put a strain on your kidneys. Too much protein can cause damage to the glomerular structure that can worsen CKD conditions. On the other hand, although a low protein diet can improve renal function, too little protein intake leads to malnutrition usually observed in CKD patients.

Additionally, one of the most common questions of CKD patients that are looking for meat alternatives for CKD is...

Is it okay to eat red meat when you have kidney disease?

Red meat intake is strongly associated with an increased risk of end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Consuming red meat is dose-dependent in such a way that the higher the meat consumption, the greater the risk for ESRD.

A study conducted showed that people with the highest amounts of red meat consumption had a 40 percent increased risk of developing ESRD than people who ate the lowest amount. 

Moreover, the study showed that substituting a serving of red meat with another protein source minimized the risk of kidney failure. Even just substituting red meat with poultry already reduces the risk by up to 62 percent. 

The connection still holds up even after compensating for factors that could affect the results, such as lifestyle and health conditions. 

Red meat

High consumption of animal protein sources, especially red meat, can increase saturated fat, cholesterol, iron, sodium, and excessive acid load. It can also elevate the production of uremic toxins, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cutting down red meat intake may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and slow the progression of kidney disease.

Animal Protein Vs Plant-based Protein

Proteins are made up of amino acids, but the amount and type of amino acids depend on the protein source. Protein sources can be categorized into two, animals and plants. 

Animal Protein Vs Plant-based Protein

Animal protein sources including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy are the same as the protein found in the body. They contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs to function. Meanwhile, plant-based proteins lack some of the essential amino acids the body needs. Animal protein sources are higher in particular nutrients including vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acid DHA, and zinc. 

On the other hand, diets rich in plant-based protein are linked to plenty of health benefits including lowering cholesterol, managing blood pressure levels, lowering body weight, and minimizing the risk of heart diseases, which are essential for a CKD patient.

Plant-based Protein for CKD

There is a range of evidence suggesting that diets involving whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods have a positive impact on preserving kidney function. A plant-based diet focuses on consuming plant foods and reducing animal-sourced food products and processed foods.

Plant-based Protein for CKD

Considering the dietary restrictions among CKD patients, following a renal-friendly plant-based diet becomes a sensible step to manage their health. Studies suggest that a plant-based diet help lower diabetes risk, control blood pressure, and maintain a healthy weight. These benefits can help slow down the progression of kidney disease over time.

Protein Limit for CKD

The amount of protein you need to consume is determined by many factors including CKD stage, body size, and pre-existing conditions. The best thing to find out your recommended protein intake is to check in with your nephrologist or renal dietitian. Nevertheless, click this link to learn more about protein limit and CKD in our separate blog.

CKD patients who are not on dialysis are recommended to limit their protein intake, as the more protein waste that needs to be removed, the harder the kidneys need to work. Plenty of studies show that including plant-based food sources may help slow down the loss of kidney function.

Protein Limit for CKD

Meanwhile, since dialysis removes protein waste from the blood, a low protein diet is not necessary. On the contrary, a higher amount of protein may be needed to maintain blood protein levels and manage kidney conditions.

List of Meat Alternatives

Studies reveal that lower overall protein consumption related to vegetarians can help slow down the progression of CKD. Moreover, studies support increased consumption of plant-based proteins among CKD and dialysis patients.

A study by Bernier-Jean et al. revealed a slower decline in kidney function in a 10-year longitudinal study for older women following a plant-based protein diet.

Although a plant-based diet is touted to be good for CKD patients, CKD patients need to also watch out for potassium and sodium content. Processed plant proteins as meat substitutes tend to have additives and preservatives, increasing overall potassium and phosphorus content.

However, if you are looking for plant proteins that don’t strain your kidneys, consider these meat alternatives:

1.) Tofu

Tofu makes a great meat alternative. It is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

Although it gets a bad rap for being soft, bland, and tasteless, tofu has amazing abilities to absorb flavors through marinades and spices. Use tofu for your salad, burger, barbecue sandwich, and even on fried rice.

2.) Tempeh

One of the advantages of cooking tempeh is that you don’t have to press it, since it is firmer than tofu. 

Tempeh has a nutty flavor and is packed with protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins. You can steam tempeh if you find it a bit bitter. Use tempeh in stir-fry recipes and peanut-based sauce.


3.) Seitan

Seitan is a great meat alternative that has a chewy texture. 

This processed wheat gluten can be similar to chicken, beef, or pork. It has a dense, chewy texture that can hold up to grilling, frying, or braising.


4.) Mushroom

Rich in fiber yet low in protein and calories, mushrooms make a meat substitute. 

You can replace meat with mushrooms when you want that savory, meaty, and umami taste. Mushrooms taste great in burgers, pasta, and salads.


5.) Beans

Although beans don’t have the same texture as meat, they are filling and high in fiber and iron.  Consider incorporating black beans, chickpeas, pinto, and lentils in your soups and stews.

We’ve covered a separate blog about plant-based protein if you are interested in transitioning to a plant-based kidney-friendly diet. Click the link here.

The Bottomline

Protein is an essential nutrient needed by the body to function. However, CKD patients need to watch out for their intake, considering the impact of protein on their kidney condition.

Too much protein can worsen CKD whereas too little protein can lead to malnutrition. When deciding between animal and plant-based sources, consider other ingredients such as sodium, potassium, and phosphorus besides protein. Furthermore, CKD patients need to consider portion and serving whether it’s an animal or plant-based protein. Check-in with your renal dietitian to know about your protein limit and guide you with your kidney diet.


Kidney health: New approach may improve outcomes for Black people -

Red meat intake in chronic kidney disease patients: Two sides of the coin -

Too Much Red Meat Might Harm Kidneys -

Is low-protein diet a possible risk factor of malnutrition in chronic kidney disease patients? -