Eating When Your Kidneys Are Failing 


What Can I Eat?

I bet you were bewildered and scared just as I was when your doctor first told you that you needed to watch your diet and nutrition. You were probably told to limit the amount of phosphorus, potassium and sodium that you eat, and then handed a list of foods that were high and low in the big three (phosphorus, potassium and sodium).

I had no idea how to control my diet or even what not ingesting too much of the big three meant. How do you not ingest too much of something if you don’t know how much is too much, or how to measure it for that matter.

Learning to eat with a kidney diet is a long and difficult task but a worthwhile one, actually more than that, it is a necessary one. The good news is that the more you learn the easier it gets.

The first step is to find out what your nutritional limits should be. Ask your doctor or you dietitian to give them to you, demand them if necessary.  Ask specifically for phosphorous, potassium and sodium. Ask also for the amount of protein that you need. If you are diabetic, you need to worry about sugar and carbs; you need goals for these items too.

When To Start

I was at 20% kidney function when I was first told to limit my diet. This is way too late to start worrying about what to eat and how much. I was told to limit my phosphorous to 1000 milligrams; and also to limit potassium and sodium to 2000 milligrams.  Nothing was mentioned about protein.

Don’t panic over the use of metric measurement. Just think of needing 1000 phosphorous or 2000 sodiums; forget the milligrams.

It wasn’t until I started on PD that I found out I needed 100 grams of protein a day and nobody told me that the higher the protein in a food the higher the phosphorous and potassium. It is very difficult to eat this much protein with out going beyond my limit for phosphorous and potassium. I ended up taking a protein supplement. I bring this up because your diet will change drastically depending on whether you dialyze in-center, or with home hemo or home PD.

Where Do You Find This Nutritional Information?

There is a USDA food data base that lists the nutritional values of more than nine thousand food items.

Click on USDA National Nutrient Database.  Where it says “Select Source”, choose the “Standard Reference”.   Where it says “Enter one or more terms,” type “egg”. Click on “GO” on the right end of the line. Select an egg of your choice and click on it. What you now have is an overwhelming amount of information about the nutrition in, say, a fried egg.

What Do I Do with the information?

Let me warn you, many people are overwhelmed at this point and give up, but before you do, please read on. I want to help you and I can make using this data very easy, but first let me explain a little bit about what needs to be done to manage your diet.

This is where it gets hard. You need to look up the nutritional values for everything you put in your mouth and keep track of everything that you eat. You need to weigh almost everything, calculate the amount of each nutrient that you are tracking and keep a running total of each.


I feel your pain. I have endured it for the last five years. The thing about pain is that it encourages you to find ways to stop it. My husband and I have been working on doing that since before I started dialysis. I have a software app that provides you with an easy way to do a food search that gives you the nutritional values that you need to track your diet. If you enter the weight, it multiplies all the values for you. Much easier than going to the USDA data base.  Click here to get access

We also have a nutrition list of common foods you can get for free here.

Now that you have the data, you can track your nutrition. To do this you need to write it all down, either on paper or a spreadsheet or nutrition tracking software and keep track of the totals.

So What!

The point of this blog is to point out that with enough information about the nutritional values of your food, you can eat just about anything you want as long as you keep within your nutritional limits; tracking your diet gives you that ability. The KDC Data app gives you the ability to easily find nutrition information, but it is a long way to being able to track your daily numbers; without tracking, you never really know how you are doing diet wise until you get the results of your labs, which for me is once a month.

When you are first starting out you really don’t have any idea of how much and what you can eat. Your best friend is a scale. Measure everything you eat, even water or liquid of any kind; write it down and you will at least know what and how much you have eaten. Show it to your dietitian, maybe she or he can help, but it is much better if you can help yourself.


Start a spreadsheet or even use accounting paper and track a meal. How about two eggs, toast, butter, coffee, sugar and cream? Why cream? Look up cream, half & half, creamer and milk. You will find cream is the better choice for a dialysis diet, and I find it tastes better.  You can see by the charts below that cream has about half the phosphorus and potassium as the other choices.

Nutrition- Cream, Milk, Half&Half

KDC Tracker – Nutrition for Cream, Milk, Half & Half

Nutrition- cream, milk, half&half


Tracking Your Dietary & Nutritional Intake

You’ll find it much easier to use the KDC Tracker.  This video shows you how to track your food using the example of eggs, toast and coffee.  Watch the video to see how you can use the KDC Tracker to balance your nutrition and stay within your daily limits.


Check out “How Does Diet Affect My Treatment” and “Renal Diet- Why Bother Tracking It?” to see why you should track your diet.


Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field