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Dialysis and a Plant-based Diet

Aug 30, 2018

The media is full of talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Many people on dialysis wonder if the benefits apply to them too. And, it’s a smart question.

People on dialysis have special dietary needs. They walk a tightrope of balancing the amount of certain minerals in their diet as well as controlling the amount of fluid they take in each day.

Plant-based protein, such as legumes, meat alternatives, and high protein vegetables can increase intake of phosphorus. While healthy kidneys filter out excess phosphorus, high levels in people with kidney disease needing dialysis can lead to fatigue, joint pain, and heart disease.

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Here are some tips that can help people living on dialysis enjoy wholesome plant-based foods while maintaining healthy levels of phosphorus.

  1. Phosphorus Binders. Binders grab onto phosphorus released from your food in the stomach so it cannot be absorbed into your blood. If you’ve been prescribed binders, be sure to take ‘em!
  2. Avoid Packaged/Processed Foods. The chemical form of phosphorus (also called inorganic phosphorus) is added to packaged foods to preserve it and add flavor and/or texture. This type of phosphorus absorbs in high amounts into the blood. Read packages carefully. Look for words containing ‘PHOS’ in the ingredient list. Too many ‘PHOS’ ingredients? Skip it and find a better snack.
  3. Eat Fruits and Vegetables. Only 10-40% of phosphorus from plant-based foods is absorbed into your blood. You can enjoy the great variety of these fresh options with less worry about your phosphorus levels going too high.

It’s usually a great idea to work in more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet. But, before you do, it’s also a good idea to check in with your nephrology dietitian.

Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase the amount of potassium, a mineral people with kidney disease find hard to filter out of their body. Your dietitian will help you figure out how to incorporate more plant-based foods into your life for a diet that’s perfect for you.

Lynn Oehler (MS, RD, CSR, ScD) has been a nephrology dietitian for over 13 years. She is now at the home office where she provides support to the dietitians in the clinics through education and mentoring as a Nutrition Services Manager.

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