What to Eat on a Renal Diabetic Diet

Health Conditions

What to Eat on a Renal Diabetic Diet

Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Jan 21, 2020
Sack of vegetables sprawled along a yellow background to help with good renal diet

If you have diabetes and chronic kidney disease, or CKD, you may feel as if there’s almost nothing you can eat, because many of the foods on the diabetic diet aren’t allowed on the renal diet. The good news is, you’re not alone. Millions of people live with both diabetes and CKD. With a little information and planning, you can continue to eat well and stay healthy.

Why Diabetes Can Lead to Kidney Failure

Diabetes is a major risk factor for kidney disease. That’s because diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels that keep your kidneys healthy. Over time, this can make it harder for your kidneys to filter your blood properly, allowing salt and other nutrients to accumulate in your blood. At the same time, diabetes can damage the nerves that help you relieve your bladder, increasing your risk of urinary tract infections that can sometimes spread to the kidneys.

Balancing Diabetes and Kidney Diets

People with kidney disease need to follow a special diet, called a renal diet, that avoids foods high in the nutrients that their kidneys have a hard time processing, like salt, potassium, phosphorus, and protein. At the same time, if they have diabetes, they need to limit how many carbohydrates they eat, in order to keep their blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

These two diets don’t always line up. For example, people with diabetes are encouraged to eat whole grains, but because brown rice is high in phosphorus and potassium, it’s one of the foods to avoid for kidney disease.

You may have switched from regular to diet cola when you were diagnosed with diabetes, but dark-colored colas are bad for kidney patients because they contain phosphorus in an additive form which is highly processed and easier for the body to absorb. And while you may have been told to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables on the diabetic diet, you might be surprised at the list of phosphorus- and potassium-rich foods that are limited on the kidney diet, like bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, tomatoes, and spinach.

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So What Can You Eat?

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make the renal diabetic diet work. First and foremost, start by cutting out or limiting the foods that both diets say you should avoid, like red meat, salt, animal fats like butter, and sugar. In addition to limiting these ingredients in your own cooking, it’s a good idea to steer clear of processed foods and packaged convenience foods in general, since they tend to be loaded in hidden sodium, sugar, and fat. Avoid sweets, and skip sugary drinks, including most juices.

Here are some of the foods you can eat on a renal diabetic diet:

  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Red and green peppers
  • Summer squash
  • Turnips
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Red Grapes
  • Plums
  • Pineapples
  • Strawberries
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs (especially egg whites)
  • Low-fat dairy
  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • White rice
  • Bagels
  • Unsalted crackers
  • Clear diet sodas
  • Unsweetened tea
  • Cranberry juice

To manage your diabetes, you’ll want to continue watching carbohydrates, working with your doctor to set a personalized carb goal based on factors like your age, how much exercise you get, and the medications you may be taking. At the same time, to avoid stressing your kidneys, you’ll want to make sure you’re not eating too much protein. The amount of protein you need will depend on how far your kidney disease has progressed. In the early stages, you may need to limit protein to 12 to 15 percent of their total calories every day, while people with late-stage CKD may need even less.

What to Avoid

Finally, you’ll need to get to know the list of fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are high in phosphorus and potassium, including dairy products, whole-wheat bread, orange juice, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, many beans, dates and raisins.

Here are fruits you should avoid while on the renal diabetic diet:

  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Melons
  • Apricots
  • Dried fruits like raisins, prunes and dates
  • Fruits canned in syrup

Think about substitutions you can make to replace the foods you can’t eat with healthy alternatives, like tossing pasta with roasted onions and peppers instead of tomato sauce; swapping corn for potatoes for a starchy side dish; or using egg whites in place of whole eggs in an omelet or frittata.

If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, check out some of the online tools and kidney-friendly cookbooks that can help you get started.

Food as Medicine

When you focus too much on what you can’t eat, it’s easy to get discouraged. So let’s talk about what you can eat. In fact, there are plenty of foods that are not just allowed on a renal diabetic diet, they can actually help you manage your condition and improve your health. When you’re planning your meals and shopping at the grocery store, fill up your cart with some of these healthy foods:

  • Blueberries. Fresh or frozen, blueberries are low in sodium, potassium, and phosphorous and are extremely rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant which can protect against diabetes and heart disease.
  • Cauliflower. Steamed, roasted, grilled, or raw, cauliflower has lots of healthy fiber and is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. For a low-carb swap, replace mashed potatoes with steamed, mashed cauliflower.
  • Garlic. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties and is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. It’s also a great flavor-booster for low-sodium dishes.
  • Bulgur and buckwheat. Unlike other whole grains, which are high in phosphorus and potassium, bulgur and buckwheat are safe for a kidney diet and are a great source of dietary fiber, as well as nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and iron.
  • Arugula. Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are too high in potassium to be safe to eat. Instead, try low-potassium arugula, which is packed with nutrients like vitamin K and calcium, as well as nitrates, which can be beneficial for high blood pressure.
  • Pineapple. When you’re craving something sweet, try pineapple, which has lots of fiber and vitamin C, as well as an enzyme called bromelain, a natural inflammation-fighter.
  • Cranberries. Along with vitamin C, cranberries contain phytonutrients that can promote urinary tract health and reduce your risk of urinary tract infections.

In addition to watching your diet, there are many ways you can take care of your health while living with diabetes and CKD, including staying physically active, keeping your blood pressure under control, and working with your doctor to manage medications. Use the RxSaver tool to find discounts and coupons on medications at nearby pharmacies.

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Managing diabetes and chronic kidney disease can seem daunting, but you’re not alone. Millions of people are living with these comorbid conditions. By avoiding salty, processed foods, limiting carbs and protein, and eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables that are low in phosphorus and potassium, you can sit down to a good meal with confidence.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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