Are Processed Foods Good for Kidney Disease?

RenalTracker Team: May 6, 2020

Processed foods are found just about everywhere. And it is easy to get confused about which foods are processed and which are not. But the question is: are processed foods good for kidney disease?

According to The National Kidney Foundation, the consumption of processed foods is the third most common habit that may harm our kidneys.

Processed foods are significant sources of sodium and phosphorus. Many people who have kidney disease also need to limit phosphorus in their diets.

Processed Foods for Kidney Disease

Here’s a list of the commonly consumed processed foods and the reasons you should avoid them:

High in sodium

  • seasonings like soy sauce, sea salt, teriyaki sauce, garlic salt, or onion salt
  • most canned foods and frozen dinners (unless they say “low sodium”; check the label)
  • processed meats like ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and deli meats
  • salted snack foods, like chips and crackers
  • canned or dehydrated soups (like packaged noodle soup)
  • most restaurant foods, take-out foods, and fast foods

High in potassium

  • most restaurant foods, take-out foods, and fast foods
  • dried beans and peas, such as kidney beans, split peas, and lentils
  • beverages such as cocoa, beer, and dark cola drinks
  • processed, convenience, and fast foods, including some meats that have additives to make them tender

Why are they bad for you?

Scientific studies have revealed that processed foods are bad for those who have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). It is recommended that CKD patients either limit or altogether avoid their consumption of these food types. 

As mentioned earlier, processed foods contain high salt content. Dietitians recommend flavoring foods with natural and fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano, chili, ginger, cinnamon, and basil, lemon juice, or other spices like allspice, bay leaf, caraway, tarragon, thyme, and sage as an alternative to salt.

Instead of eating high-sodium processed foods such as regular canned vegetables, canned meat or hot dogs, packaged noodles or rice, frozen vegetables, or canned soup, you can prepare home-made meals with these low-sodium salt alternatives listed below:

  • Fresh garlic and fresh onion
  • Garlic powder
  • Black pepper
  • Salt-free seasoning blends
  • Vinegar

Dr. Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), further asserts in his book Fat Chance: “Processed foods of many sorts contribute more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day to the average American diet. Salt is one method by which the food industry can preserve foods and increase their shelf life. So salt and calories almost always go together.”

Meaning: more salt, more calories, more risk for your kidneys.

Sugar found on these types of food, on the other hand, contributes to weight gain which in turn increases the risks of developing high blood pressure and diabetes. It really pays to be critical in the nutrition label of the products you buy from the grocery or convenience store.

What do we know so far? Processed foods contain high levels of sugar which contributes to weight gain and increases risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Also, much of processed foods are meat. Animal protein produces high amounts of acid in the blood that can be harmful to the kidneys and cause acidosis, an illness in which malfunctioning kidneys cannot eliminate acid from the body fast enough. Although protein may be needed for growth and repair, your kidney-friendly diet moreover should be well balanced with fruits and vegetables.

Renal dietitians recommend that instead of animal protein from ground beef, shrimp, salmon, tuna, chicken breast, roasted chicken, or their processed versions, plant protein from beans, nuts, or whole grains or these lower-protein alternatives are more preferable:

  • Chili con carne
  • Beef stew
  • Egg substitutes
  • Tofu
  • Imitation crab meat

Cliché as it sounds, moderation is key. But cutting down or avoiding processed foods can be one of the healthiest things you can do.


National Kidney Foundation

Nutrition and Chronic Kidney Disease (Stages 1–4) | Are You Getting What You Need?

Sodium and your CKD diet | How to spice up your cooking

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease

Eating Processed Foods │National Health Service – UK

10 Common Habits That May Harm Your Kidneys │National Kidney Foundation 

Nutrition for Advanced Chronic Kidney Disease in Adults │National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: 

Sodium and phosphorus-based food additives: persistent but surmountable hurdles in the management of nutrition in chronic kidney disease │US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health  

Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis │US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health   

Processed meat consumption, dietary nitrosamines and stomach cancer risk in a cohort of Swedish women │US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health   

Consumption of cured meats and prospective risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in women │US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health    

Kidney-friendly diet for CKD │American Kidney Fund


Lustig, R.H. 2013. Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press. Retrieved from