Renal diet for vegetarians: Which protein sources are best?

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Renal diet for vegetarians: Which protein sources are best?

Question

I have end-stage kidney failure. I'm not on dialysis, but I do follow a special renal diet and I'm a vegetarian. What are the best sources of protein for someone like me who must also limit phosphorus and potassium?

Ken
Arizona

Answer

The answer depends on what type of vegetarian you are. It also depends on your level of kidney function and how restrictive you need to be with protein, phosphorus and potassium.

A proper renal diet is an essential part of any treatment plan for chronic kidney disease. Although a renal diet limits protein, you still need to eat some high-quality protein every day. Your kidneys are responsible for preventing too much potassium and phosphorus from building up in your blood. Therefore, it's important to have the right amount of potassium and phosphorus in your diet in order to avoid overwhelming your kidneys' ability to maintain healthy levels.

In general, dairy foods are the main sources of phosphorus in the diet. So by limiting or avoiding dairy products, you may be able to control blood-phosphorus levels. You can make up for dairy products by choosing milk and yogurt made from rice or soy-based products.

The majority of potassium comes from fruits, vegetables and dairy products. So by limiting the dairy in your diet and keeping the amount of fruits and vegetables in check — and choosing ones that are lower in potassium — you can control blood-potassium levels.

Because vegetarian sources of protein also contain varying amounts of potassium and phosphorus, you'll want to limit — or avoid — some of the foods in the table below. Your dietitian can provide you with information about which foods and how much you should eat each day.

Type of vegetarian dietProtein sources for renal diet
Vegan — allows only plant-based foods
  • Soy protein (tofu, tempeh)
  • Wheat protein (seitan)
  • Mycoprotein (Quorn)
  • Nut butters (up to 2 tablespoons — about 28 grams — a day)
  • Soy milk
  • Soy yogurt
Lacto-vegetarian — allows plant-based foods, milk, dairy products Foods listed above plus:
  • Low-sodium or reduced-sodium cottage cheese
Lacto-ovo vegetarian — allows plant-based foods, milk, dairy products, eggs Foods listed above plus:
  • Eggs
Pesco-vegetarian — allows plant-based foods, milk, dairy products, eggs, fish Foods listed above plus:
  • Fish, such as salmon or tuna
  • Shellfish, such as clams, crabs, lobster or shrimp
Pollo-vegetarian — allows plant-based foods, milk, dairy products, eggs, poultry Foods listed above plus:
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Note: Depending on your need to restrict sodium, avoid smoked fish, chicken and turkey, which are high in sodium. Look for unsalted varieties of canned tuna, salmon, chicken or turkey. In addition, because fresh poultry may be injected with sodium, look for "natural" on the label — which indicates no added sodium.

Last Updated: 2010-11-12
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