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Eating Well on Dialysis
Food is not just about basic sustenance. It is an important part of our culture, celebrations, comfort and general everyday enjoyment. Unfortunately having kidney failure can mean that you may no longer be able to eat and drink exactly what you want, when you want but it is still important to ensure that you have a balanced and pleasurable diet.
Why do I need to be careful with what I eat?
The kidneys remove waste that builds up in the blood. This results from the food and drink that we take each day and from the constant breakdown of our body tissues. These waste products include potassium, sodium (salt), phosphate and fluid. As you are probably aware your dialysis is doing the work of your kidneys in removing these products, as they are no longer able to manage alone. Dialysis itself does not completely replace the work of the kidneys so in order for you to stay fit and healthy it may well be necessary for you to change certain foods and drinks in your diet. This will prevent the excess build up of these waste products and any unpleasant and damaging side effects that can arise from this. It is important to create a healthy, balanced diet for life.
The key is to think about food in a new way. By understanding what is in the food you eat you can have more control over your well-being.
What is a healthy diet when on dialysis?
Your body needs:
  • Regular, balanced meals
  • The right number of calories
  • The right amount of protein
  • A balance of calcium and phosphate levels controlled by diet and medication
  • More of certain vitamins that are ‘washed out’ by dialysis
Your body does not need:
  • Excess potassium
  • Excess salt and fluid
There is no single diet for people with kidney failure and each person has their own individual needs. Some people may need to make very few changes to what they eat and other people may need to make several significant changes to maintain their well-being. This is usually determined by blood biochemistry, severity of kidney failure and other medical conditions. It can sometimes appear that dietary advice is conflicting, confusing and constantly changing but this is often in response to changes in treatment or condition. Remember to discuss any concerns about your advice with your Dietitian or Doctor – they will always be happy to explain!
In order to help you achieve a healthy and enjoyable diet whilst keeping well, try the following points:
  • Ensure you follow a balanced meal plan and eat regularly
  • Plan your meals. If you are having a food that is high in a nutrient you have been advised to limit, accompany it with a food that is lower in that nutrient. For example both tomatoes and potatoes are high in potassium so to have bolognaise on a jacket potato would be a very high potassium meal. But to have bolognaise with pasta (a low potassium food) would be quite suitable.
  • Take all your medication as prescribed. If you take phosphate binders make sure you know which these tablets are and take them with your food.
  • Know your fluid allowance and try hard to keep to it
  • Limit salt
Work with your Dietitian to design an eating plan that suits your needs based on your blood results, your current condition and your preferences.
Always ask if you have any questions about your food!
For more information please contact your own Dietitian or the Nutrition and Dietetic Department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Written by Elaine Turner Renal Dietitian Aston Cross Dialysis Centre