Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist. You have two kidneys, one on each side of your spine just below your rib cage. Your kidneys have three main functions:
- To remove extra water from your body.
- To get rid of waste products from food and the normal breakdown of your body's tissues.
- To make some hormones.
If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD) your kidneys slowly stop working properly over several months or years. There are five stages of chronic kidney disease. At each stage the body is less able to get rid of extra water and waste.
In the early stages (1 and 2), your kidneys do not function normally, but they work well enough that you probably do not feel unwell. At this point, you do not need to change your diet very much. The main goals are to eat healthy foods and to be at a healthy weight. This will help your kidneys function better for longer.
Many people who are diagnosed with kidney disease also have heart disease and/or diabetes. If this is the case for you, it is important to follow the right diet to help control these conditions and to prevent more loss of kidney function. Your doctor and dietitian can help you with a diet to manage all of your health conditions.
If your kidneys continue to lose function (stages 3 to 5), your doctor may advise you to make more changes to your diet. Your doctor and a dietitian who are familiar with your medical history will work closely with you to find the best diet for you, based on how your kidneys are working at that time. There is no one diet that is right for everyone with kidney disease.
Steps You Can Take
- Follow a healthy diet based on "Eating Well with Canada‘s Food Guide" at www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guides.html. Use the food guide to choose the number of servings for each of the four food groups, based on your age and gender. This will help you eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks to meet your nutritional needs.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you are overweight, aim for a slow gradual weight loss of ½-1 kg (1-2 lbs) per week. Losing weight will help slow the loss of kidney function and help control blood pressure.
- Being underweight can make you more likely to develop complications from kidney disease. If you are losing weight or having trouble eating, speak to your doctor or dietitian as soon as possible.
- If you are not sure if you are at a healthy weight, use Health Canada‘s "Body Mass Index (BMI) Nomogram" at www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/healthy-weights/canadian-guidelines-body-weight-classification-adults/body-mass-index-nomogram.html. For tips on healthy weight loss, see the fact sheets "Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Taking Action" listed in the Additional Resources section below.
- Get enough protein, but not too much. Protein is important for building and repairing body tissues, healing wounds and fighting infection. Not eating enough protein may cause muscle loss and malnutrition, but eating too much protein may lower kidney function.
- Use "Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide" to plan your meals and snacks. This will help you get the right amount of protein. It is important to choose the recommended number of Food Guide Servings each day and to pay attention to the suggested portion sizes.
- Protein is found mainly in foods from the Meat and Alternatives and Milk and Alternatives food groups.
- Adults should get 2 servings (women) or 3 servings (men) of Meat and Alternatives each day. Examples of one serving are: 75g (2 ½ oz) meat, fish or poultry; ¾ cup cooked beans, lentils or tofu; 2 eggs; or ¼ cup nuts or seeds.
- Adults should get 2 servings (adults 19-50 years) or 3 servings (adults over 50 years) of Milk and Alternatives each day. Examples of one serving are: 1 cup milk or soy beverage; ¾ cup yogurt; or 50g (1 ½ oz) cheese.
- Limit sodium to 2300mg per day. This amount is recommended to prevent or manage high blood pressure, and to avoid swelling in your hands and feet. For information about how to limit sodium, see the Additional Resources section below.
- You do not usually need to limit fluids in stages 1 and 2 of chronic kidney disease. If you notice swelling of your hands or feet, talk to your doctor.
- You do not usually need to limit potassium and phosphorus in stages 1 and 2 of chronic kidney disease. Potassium and phosphorus are minerals found in a variety of foods.
- In the early stages of kidney disease, there is no evidence that taking vitamins, minerals or herbs is helpful, and it may be harmful. The amount in a multivitamin/mineral supplement is fine. Before taking any natural health product, you should check with your doctor or dietitian.
- Be smoke free. To get help to quit smoking, call or visit QuitNow at 8-1-1 or www.QuitNow.ca, or talk to your doctor.
- Be careful with alcohol. Talk with your doctor about whether or not you can drink alcohol. If your doctor says it is okay to drink alcohol, limit it to no more than 2 standard drinks per day for men and no more than 1 standard drink per day for women. A standard drink is equal to:
- 12oz (341mL) of beer (5% alcohol)
- 5oz (150mL) of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5oz (45mL) of liquor (40% alcohol)
- Exercise regularly. If you have not been active recently, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. Start slowly, and accumulate activity in 10 minute blocks throughout the day. Moderate physical activity includes walking briskly, cycling, dancing, and swimming. Vigorous physical activity includes running and tennis. For more information see the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines at www.csep.ca/home.
- Get plenty of rest.
HealthLinkBC www.HealthLinkBC.ca Medically approved non-emergency health information and advice.
Dietitian Services Fact Sheets available by mail (call 8-1-1) or at www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthy-eating:
- HealthLinkBC File #68a: Heart Healthy Eating
- Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Getting Started
- Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Taking Action
- Healthy Eating Guidelines for Lower Sodium (Salt) Eating
- Lower Sodium (Salt) Food Choices
The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Nutrition and Chronic Kidney Disease. Available at www.kidney.ca/Document.Doc?id=305
Canadian Diabetes Association, Just the Basics, available at guidelines.diabetes.ca/docs/patient-resources/just-the-basics-EN.pdf
Last updated: September 2010