Proteins play an important role to build and repair tissues in the body as well as produce hormones and enzymes. However, too much protein waste in the blood can work up the kidneys. People with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) must be careful with their protein limit intake to avoid stressing their kidneys.
One way to preserve kidney functions is to eat plant-based food that includes vegetables and grains as a replacement for animal-based protein. Studies suggest that embracing a plant-based diet has few risks but possible benefits for delaying CKD progression.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet emphasizes consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and minimally processed food. A healthier plant-based diet also means cutting down, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened drinks. Plant-based diets are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help prevent the risk of health problems such as kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Popular plant-based diets include the Mediterranean diet, Dash Diet, and the combination of the two – the MIND diet. There are 2 different types of plant-based diets – regular and whole food. A regular plant-based diet involves refined or lightly processed plant-based products whereas the whole food plant-based emphasizes whole, minimally processed food.
Kidney-friendly plant-based diet
There isn’t a universal diet that applies to people with kidney disease. Everyone has different nutritional requirements depending on different factors such as CKD stages and other health conditions. However, with the supervision of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), following a plant-based diet can be beneficial in managing CKD. A plant-based diet focuses on consuming food that is low in sodium, protein, potassium, and phosphorus. It includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, salt-less nuts, and healthy oils.
Benefits of a kidney-friendly plant-based diet
Plant-based diets are a rich source of fiber and different vitamins and minerals. People with CKD can benefit from a kidney-friendly plant-based diet as it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, minimizes the risk of diabetes, and increases antioxidant levels. According to the National Kidney Foundation, people with CKD who follow a plant-based diet are at an advantage in slowing their kidney disease progression.
Impact of a plant-based diet to kidney disease
Chef Duane Sunwold was diagnosed with CKD at 40 years old. The gradual decline of kidney function took its toll on his body and his quality of life. His nephrologist suggested eliminating animal protein from his diet and following a whole-food plant-based diet. He has never looked back since and he is now on remission.
The more protein waste that needs to be filtered, the harder your kidneys work. This can put a strain on your kidneys. A low protein diet is recommended for people with kidney disease to slow down the decline of kidney function.
Besides managing CKD, a plant-based diet also prevents the causes of CKD including:
- May prevent EGFR decrease – A study published in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology linked plant-based diets to a 12% lower risk of EGFR decline compared to animal-based diets.
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels – plant-based diets have positive effects on cholesterol, blood sugar regulation, and control of heart disease. This diet has low animal-saturated fat, lower sulfur-containing amino acids (less acid loads), and lower phosphorus that are linked to cardiovascular disease and CKD.
- Minimized inflammation – increasing the intake of fiber-rich foods produces anti-inflammatory compounds and reduces the toxic substances released by a damaged kidney.
- Lowers risk of diabetes – over 200,000 cases of kidney failure in the US are caused by diabetes. An early change in diet is essential in preventing diabetic kidney disease. Diabetics can manage their blood sugar level and prevent kidney function decline by embracing a plant-based diet.
Embracing a plant-based diet doesn’t entirely mean quitting cold turkey on animal products. The key to sustaining this diet is to gradually introduce plant-based products to your meals. Check with your medical provider and or RDN first before starting any form of diet. They are fully-equipped and knowledgeable in helping you embrace a healthier lifestyle.