kidney-vegan-nutrition
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Jun 22, 2024

Vegan Diet for Kidney Disease: What You Need to Know

Contrary to common belief, it’s entirely possible to maintain a vegan diet while managing chronic kidney disease. In fact, not only does a plant-based diet help in coping with this condition, but it also holds significant preventive benefits. 

The inherent qualities of a plant-based diet, combined with its alignment with kidney health, offer numerous advantages.

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What is kidney disease and what causes it?

The kidneys play a vital role in maintaining overall health. They act as filters for the blood, removing waste, toxins, and excess fluid. Additionally, they regulate blood pressure, stimulate the production of red blood cells, and maintain the balance of chemicals in the blood.

When the kidneys are damaged or dysfunctional, they struggle to perform these essential functions. As a result, waste and excess fluid accumulate in the body. 


This buildup can lead to various complications such as:

  • Anemia
  • Low calcium levels
  • High potassium
  • Phosphorus levels in the blood 

If left untreated, kidney problems can progress to more severe conditions, including kidney failure and cardiovascular disease. 

The primary causes of kidney disease are often diabetes and high blood pressure. However, by managing risk factors, you can prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing kidney disease and its associated complications.

This is why it is crucial to visit a vegan registered dietitian or health care professional as soon as possible for guidance and support

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Vegan Diet and kidney disease

Your diet significantly affects your kidney health, making it crucial to be mindful of your food choices. 

Key nutrients to monitor include:

  • Protein
  • Sodium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium

Understanding protein consumption and kidney health

When you consume protein, it breaks down into waste products such as urea. If these waste products aren’t effectively removed, they can strain the kidneys. It’s recommended to aim for 2-3 servings of protein daily.

The impact of reduced kidney function on sodium regulation

Reduced kidney function impairs the kidneys’ ability to eliminate sodium from the blood, leading to sodium retention and increased blood pressure. For individuals with kidney disease, it’s advisable to limit sodium intake to no more than 2000 mg per day.

Monitoring phosphorus intake for kidney health

Additionally, decreased kidney function results in the accumulation of phosphorus in the body, as the kidneys can’t effectively filter out the excess. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of phosphorus intake.

Potassium accumulation in kidney disease

Furthermore, decreased kidney function impairs potassium filtering, leading to potassium accumulation in the body, a condition known as hyperkalemia. This imbalance disrupts the body’s equilibrium and exacerbates the underlying causes of kidney disease, posing serious health risks.

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What are the benefits of a vegan diet for kidney disease?

Nutrient absorption from plant-based sources

Not all nutrients from plant-based sources are fully absorbed by the body, unlike those from animal-based or processed foods. Therefore, strict restriction of these nutrients may not always be necessary.

Protein sources for kidney health

Protein sources like beans, nuts, seeds, and nut butters are excellent options. While they may not be fully absorbed, they provide valuable protein without needing to reduce intake, as advised by our dietitians.

Managing sodium levels

Similarly, sodium found naturally in plant-based foods doesn’t impact fluid status or blood pressure, unlike the high amounts in processed and packaged foods. Hence, it’s wise to limit intake of processed foods to manage sodium levels.

Phosphorus absorption

As for phosphorus, it’s present in whole plant-based foods but isn’t completely absorbed. However, processed and packaged foods contain high amounts of phosphorus, which should be consumed in moderation.

Potassium content

When potassium-rich foods, like certain whole plants, also contain high amounts of fiber, which then limits potassium absorption. Therefore, while these foods are beneficial, overly restricting them is not needed.

Dietary fiber benefits

Another key factor is the amount of dietary fiber that is found in plant-based foods. Dietary fiber in plant-based diets reduces waste like urea and creatinine,  which are produced from protein breakdown and muscle metabolism.

What foods to choose on a vegan diet for kidney disease?

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Vegetables:

  • All vegetables are excellent and can be consumed with no issues , except for potatoes due to their high potassium content.
  • Canned vegetables with added salt should be avoided as excessive sodium can be detrimental to kidney health.

Legumes:

  • Canned and dry beans with no added salt are good choices, as they provide a good source of protein and fiber without the added sodium.
  • Tofu and tempeh are also excellent sources of plant-based protein.
  • Meat alternative products are acceptable occasionally, but it’s important to check labels for added sodium.

Whole grains:

  • Barley, brown rice, oats, and quinoa are excellent choices as they are high in fiber and nutrients.
    • These grains contribute to a balanced diet and can help regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Corn tortillas, whole wheat breads, and pastas are acceptable in moderation, but all white grains should be avoided as they lack the fiber and nutrients found in whole grains.

Nuts and seeds:

  • All nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, protein, and various nutrients.
    • However, it’s best to choose unsalted varieties to avoid excess sodium intake.
  • Nut butters with added salt and sugar should also be avoided as they may contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues.

Fruits:

  • Fresh fruits are excellent as well and provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Dried fruits, sauces, and canned fruits in juice are acceptable choices, but those canned in syrups, jams, jellies, and fruit snacks should be avoided due to their high sugar content.

Beverages:

  • Milk alternatives like almond milk or soy milk are good choices as they are low in potassium and phosphorus.
  • However, avoid heavily sweetened drinks such as sodas and fruit juices, as they can increase the risk of diabetes.
  • Opt for water, herbal teas, or unsweetened beverages instead.

Fats:

  • Olive and avocado oil are excellent choices as they are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • These fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Vegetable and canola oils are also acceptable and should be used in moderation.
  • However, it’s best to avoid coconut oil and coconut milk as they are high in saturated fats, which can raise bad cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

By incorporating these dietary recommendations curated by our expert dietitians, you can effectively manage chronic kidney disease while adhering to a plant-based diet.

You can also book a call with one of our plant-based dietitians to get support for your plant based kidney friendly diet!

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