Kidney Nutrition: Plant-Based Diets and PKD
Nutrition plays an important role with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), and it is never too early or too late to start making nutrition changes for your kidney health. While the ideal PKD diet is still under review, the foods we choose play an important role in managing blood pressure, PKD progression and overall kidney disease.
Protein is important for our bodies because it helps to build muscle and fight infection. Protein is found in animal products like meat, eggs, dairy and fish, but it is also found in plant-based foods like legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, grains, and even vegetables. How much and what type of protein we choose matters with kidney disease. Too much protein causes the kidneys to work harder to filter. When we think about the type of protein, diets high in animal protein are more acidic and have higher amounts of purines, which can lead to metabolic acidosis, gout, and kidney stones with PKD. Choosing more plant-based proteins with PKD has beneficial health effects.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
At their roots, plant-based diets mean reducing animal products like dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, etc., and increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. There a few different types of plant-based diets.
Types of Plant-Based Diets
With nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach. With plant-based eating, these diets come in lots of shapes and sizes. It is important to find a version that works best for your taste preferences and your lifestyle, so that your nutrition changes can be sustainable. Here are a few options:
- Flexitarian includes more plant foods, but occasionally consumes animal products
Semi-vegetarian includes eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and seafood.
- Lacto vegetarian includes dairy but avoids eggs, meat, poultry, fish and seafood
- Ovo vegetarian includes eggs but avoids dairy, meat, poultry, fish and seafood
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian include eggs and dairy but avoid meat, poultry, fish and seafood
- Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy foods, ﬁsh, and seafood, but no meat or poultry
Vegan includes no animal products
Are There Health Benefits to Eating Plant-Based with PKD?
The answer is YES. Including more plant-based proteins like tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes or beans can help to manage our urine pH and the workload on our kidneys. There are many more health benefits to eating plant-based. Here are just a few:
- Research shows that plant-based eating can help to lower blood pressure. Since the kidneys play a role in helping to control blood pressure, and with PKD they are unable to control blood pressure as much, plant-based diets can help to prevent further damage to the kidneys by controlling blood pressure.
- Plant-based eating has also been shown to further reduce heart disease by helping to lower the LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol; because plant-based meals are lower in saturated fat, this heart healthy diet can help to decrease your risk of heart disease with PKD.
- Finally, plant-based eating has been shown to preserve kidney function because plant-based proteins are easier to process than animal proteins on the kidneys. Plus, eating fewer animal foods helps to lessen the acid load on your kidneys. In turn, this helps to preserve kidney function.
Looking for Meal Inspiration?
Incorporating more plant-based meals in your diet does not need to be complicated. Start with these ideas. Remember that everyone’s needs are different, so make changes based on your own lab values.
- Start with your plate and focus on eating more vegetables at meals and snacks. Aim for half your plate, especially at lunch and dinner. Choose a variety of colours like red, orange, green, yellow, purple, white vegetables to provide you with a variety of nutrients.
- Change the way you think about protein. Don’t make meat the star of the show. Use plant-based proteins to provide you inspiration for your meals. Try incorporating a variety of plant-based proteins like tofu, edamame, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans or lentils, tempeh.
- Choose more whole grains like oatmeal, barley, wild rice, couscous. These provide fibre to help keep you full.
- Breakfast burrito on a whole grain tortilla with scrambled tofu, onion, peppers, arugula, and salsa
- Salad with leafy lettuce, cucumber, tomato, low sodium feta, couscous, lentils and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice
- Tofu stir fry with peppers, mushrooms, onion served with brown rice and homemade stir fry sauce (check out the recipe below)
Homemade Stir Fry Sauce
¼ cup coconut animos (low sodium soy sauce substitute)
¾ cup vegetable broth, no added salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
- In a medium-size pot over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, broth, honey, vinegar, garlic powder, and ground ginger and stir together.
- Let simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, until thickened.
Do You Want to Include More Plant-Based Foods in Your Diet?
There is no one diet that is right for everyone with PKD. You have learned the benefits of including more plant-based foods in your diet to preserve your kidney function, as well as manage PKD. If you are looking to manage your PKD through nutrition, connect with a renal dietitian to help you make sustainable changes.
Written by: Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in renal nutrition helping those with chronic kidney disease. Emily holds a Master's degree in Foods and Nutrition and is a co-chair of the Southern Ontario Canadian Association of Nephrology Dietitians. You can connect with Emily at emilykidneynutrition.com.