Renal Diet Food Swaps for Your Nutrient Limits

Often, the reason for seeking out food substitutes is when we have adverse reactions to common food items.

For example, people who are lactose intolerant look for milk substitutes. Often, soy milk is a recommended food item for them.

On the other hand, people with celiac disease need to find replacements for food items with gluten, a protein found in most bread products.

In your case, as a kidney patient, your food substitutes depend on your SPPP limits: sodium, protein, potassium, and phosphorus.

Keeping these nutrients within reasonable amounts will help ease up your kidneys' workload. 

Below are swaps of common food items that you should follow:

Sodium Alternatives

There is a quick and easy way to control your sodium without having to replace foods: not using salt on your dishes.

You can replace salt on your dishes with certain herbs and spices; they enhance your food while keeping your sodium levels low. However, every herb and spice should be paired with the right ingredient to get the best results.

Find out more about these pairings in this article.

But for individual food items, here are some high-sodium foods and their low-sodium alternatives:

High Sodium Foods

Low Sodium Alternatives

regular canned vegetables

low-sodium canned foods

hot dogs and canned meat

fresh, cooked meat

packaged noodles with sauce

plain noodles without sauce, hand-pulled noodles

frozen vegetables with sauce

fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables without sauce

canned soup

homemade soup with fresh ingredients

snack foods

unsalted pretzels, unsalted popcorn

Low Protein Options

There is some confusion when it comes to choosing protein sources. One thing to remember, though, is this: you can control your protein intake by controlling your portions.

For example, milk has high-to-moderate protein and phosphorus content, but that doesn't mean that you'll have to totally swear away from milk. Unless your doctor and dietitian says otherwise, you can still drink milk in small amounts.

So instead of drinking 1 glass of milk, you can reduce it to 1/2 cup to avoid going over your nutrient limits.

That aside, below are some low-protein options you can go for.

High Protein Foods

Low Protein Options

ground beef

beef (lean cuts, reduced portion), beef stew

pork

chicken (reduced portion, no skin), eggs and egg substitutes, tofu

halibut

tuna (fresh, reduced portion)

shrimp, other seafood

imitation crab meat

Potassium Substitutes

For your potassium needs, here is a list of some high- and low-potassium food items that might be in your pantry:

High Potassium Foods

Low Potassium Substitutes

oranges, orange juice

apples, apple juice

apricots

cranberries, cranberry juice

bananas

strawberries, blueberries, raspberries

potatoes, sweet potatoes

cabbage

tomatoes

pineapple

cooked spinach

boiled cauliflower

In addition, click here to find out how much potassium is in these food items.

Low Phosphorus Replacements

Phosphorus is not often shown in the Nutrition Facts section of food labels, but one way to limit that is to avoid foods with "phos-" ingredients, like monosodium phosphate or phosphoric acid.

Some alternatives to high-phosphorus products can be found below:

High Phosphorus Foods

Low Phosphorus Replacements

8 oz milk

8 oz non-dairy creamer or 4 oz milk

cheese spread (processed)

1/4 cup cottage or cream cheese

bran cereal or granola

non-bran cereal, shredded wheat, rice cereals, cornflakes, cream of wheat, cream of rice

bread (whole grain, 100% whole wheat, multi-grain, dark rye)

bread (white, 60% whole wheat, cracked wheat, light rye, sourdough)

lima / pinto beans

mixed vegetables or green beans

chocolate bars

hard / fruit-flavored candy, jelly beans


Swapping your usual food items for kidney-friendly ones is the main idea of renal dieting. The whole point of it is to help your kidneys, in a way, recover from the stress of filtering the excessive amount of nutrients you've been taking before.

But of course, no matter the recommendations you've read here, it is still most important to consult your doctor and dietitian for professional help.

Additional Source:
Nutrition for Advanced Chronic Kidney Disease in Adults - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: 
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/eating-nutrition/nutrition-advanced-chronic-kidney-disease-adults