5 Reasons You Should Follow a Vegetarian Diet if You Have Kidney Disease
Are you interested in following a vegetarian diet to manage your kidney disease? Learn more now about what it includes and if it can work for your kidney health!
One of the best - and worst- parts of kidney disease is that it is so unique to each person. There is no one specific diet that every person with chronic kidney disease can follow to find health and success. This is why physicians are encouraged to direct you to work one-on-one with a dietitian.
But one of the popular diets that are coming around is the vegetarian diet.
Why is it becoming so trendy?
Vegetarian diets have gained traction in the health and wellness communities for a variety of reasons. For example;
to cut back on carbon emissions
decrease saturated fat and animal protein
promote animal safety and wellbeing
increase fruit and vegetables
There are a ton of reasons why someone would choose to follow a vegetarian diet. But if you have kidney disease, is it right for you?
Here are my top 5 reasons you should follow a vegetarian diet if you have kidney disease.
You need more potassium
Let me be very clear that each stage of kidney disease will have certain potassium guidelines. For this reason, if you have kidney disease you should find a dietitian to work with, whether that is me or someone else.
Those with earlier stages (1-3) will generally be encouraged to increase potassium.
This can help with blood pressure control, which is very helpful for your kidneys as high blood pressure is one of the top causes of kidney disease.
The highest sources of potassium in our diet come from fruit and vegetables. When following a vegetarian diet, the goal is to have a base including fruits and vegetables. Therefore, your potassium will automatically increase as you focus on more fruits and vegetables on your plate.
Some examples of high-potassium fruits and vegetable include;
avocado (1/2 medium)- 350-600 mg per fruit depending on location
banana (1 medium)- 420 mg
baked sweet potato (1 medium)- 542 mg
coconut water (8 oz)- 419 mg
If your doctor has told you to limit potassium, it does not mean you cannot follow a vegetarian diet. You do, however, need to adjust your foods to make sure complications don’t arise from consuming too much potassium.
I can’t stress this enough - work with a dietitian to make sure you are getting the right amount of potassium for your kidney disease.
Clients using my meal plans are able to follow their recommended potassium limit since the recipes they can use are all automatically fit into their daily potassium goal.
You probably need more fiber
It’s known that most Americans don’t get the recommended amount of fiber in their diet. (That amount, for the record, is 25-35 grams per day).
Fiber is very important in gut motility and health, as well as controlling blood pressure and blood sugars - two of the most common causes of kidney disease if left uncontrolled.
So why aren’t we getting enough fiber?
Maybe it’s because some of the most trendy diets (coughketocough) simply cannot provide the amount needed!
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes among other things - food items that have become restricted in these diet trends.
While 25 grams does not sound like a lot per day, it is definitely do-able to amp up the fiber in your diet. Some examples of good sources of fiber include;
avocado (1/2 fruit) - 4 grams
black beans (1/2 cup) - 15 grams
lentils (1/2 cup) - 9 grams
navy beans (1 cup) - 19 grams
chickpeas (1/2 cup) - 17 grams
Did you know that one of the specific meal plans I offer includes a high fiber meal plan? Get delicious recipes that provide you with your daily fiber needs.
A study was done to review vegetarian diets for those with diabetic kidney disease and found that they reduced albuminuria (protein leaking in urine).
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water to go along with all that fiber! Something needs to help the fiber run its course through your digestive tract!
Better blood sugar control
Because of the additional fiber (and other parts of a balanced diet), blood sugars can become better controlled.
Additionally, when focusing on foods higher in fiber, your diet will naturally focus less on highly-processed foods. This can lead to fewer added sugars in your diet.
One study found that those with type 2 diabetes improved their glycemic control and reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including the development of kidney disease.
If you are looking to manage your blood sugars better with diet changes, take a look at my meal plans. Customized plans available for pre-, type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Did you know that diabetes is one of the top causes of kidney disease? Taking control of blood sugars early on can really help with preventing complications later in life.
4. Less saturated fats
The American Heart Association recommends we limit our saturated fat intake to about 5% of our day. This comes out to about 10-15 grams per day for the average person.
A diet higher in saturated fats has been found to increase risk of raising total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, odds of developing heart disease and cardiovascular death.
Saturated fat is found in protein sources such as fatty meats, pork, lamb, butter, cheese, and cow’s milk (although there are some great plant-based milk options available for you). Keep in mind that baked goods and packaged foods can also have saturated fats, so it’s important to read the labels.
To put it in perspective, a 3-ounce portion of ribeye steak has 8 grams of saturated fat. However, that is definitely not the serving size you’re seeing at the steakhouse, which is closer to 9-12 ounces and therefore 24-32 ounces of saturated fat if eaten in one sitting!
If you’re looking to cut down on animal proteins and find better replacements, utilizing a recipe database can provide simplicity without risking nutritional deficiencies.
While studies are showing that we get extra protein will not harm our amazing kidneys, we are learning more now that the proteins found in plant-based sources can still provide us with the essential amino acids our body requires.
No longer is it thought we need to pair plant-based proteins together to create essential amino acids!
Our bodies will put the amino acids from each plant-based food into a “pool” of resources for our body to use as needed to generate more proteins to build cells, repair inflammation and damage, and keep us healthy and thriving.
5. More antioxidants
By increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet, you will be arming your body with more antioxidants.
Antioxidants are nutrients that promote the protection of cell damage and breakdown from free radicals. Some examples of antioxidants include;
While antioxidant supplements can be found in health food stores, they are not regulated and have no scientific-backed evidence to show that supplements can provide the same protection that you will get from the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants related to disease prevention and treatment are continuing to be studied - from liver disease to breast cancer to prostate cancer to acute kidney disease. Why not invest in some “health insurance” with some extra antioxidants?
Don’t think you can go “full vegetarian?”
That’s totally okay!
Even cutting back a little on the portion of animal proteins and adding some extra veggies to your plate can make a huge difference.
Participate in #MeatlessMonday or try making your work lunches plant-based. If you need more help and ideas, use a meal planning system to stress less about the how-do-I-start part of it.
We don’t need as much animal protein as we think. Really.
How much should you aim for if you’re still including animal proteins?
Limit to about a palm-sized amount at each meal, which is about 3 ounces. Examples of animal proteins includes foods like beef, chicken, or pork.
If you enjoy fish, you can go a little larger than your palm as it tends to be lighter in weight compared to the other proteins mentioned.
And when you’re cutting back on the protein, add another (colorful) food or two onto your plate! Try a new fruit or vegetable. Some examples include;
Spice up your salad with some crunchy radishes.
Mix in cranberries and pine nuts to quinoa for a flavorful side dish.
Or just grab an orange for a refreshing after-meal treat.
Your kidneys (and heart, and body,…) will thank you!