Diet and Transplantation

If you have a new organ transplant, you are probably wondering if your diet will differ from the one you followed before your transplant. You can get help in planning your diet after transplant from your doctor and dietitian.

Do I need to be on a special diet?

Yes. After an organ transplant, your diet still plays a big role. If you were on dialysis and had a kidney transplant, you may find that this diet is easier to follow than the one you were on for your dialysis.

Will any of my medicine affect my diet?

Yes. Your diet will be affected by the use of the medicine you need to prevent rejection of your transplant. Some common anti-rejection medicines that may affect your diet include:

  • steroids (prednisone)
  • cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral, Gengraf)
  • tacrolimus (Prograf)
  • azathioprine (Imuran)
  • mycophenolate (CellCept).

This list will continue to grow as new medications are developed. These medicines may change the way your body works in different ways.

Will I gain weight?

Many people have a better appetite after they get a transplant, and they gain unwanted weight. Weigh yourself often. Limit high-calorie foods such as fatty foods, sweets, pastries and other foods rich in fat or sugar. You can help control your calories by eating:

  • raw vegetables and fruits
  • lean meat, skinned poultry and fish
  • nonfat dairy products
  • sugar-free drinks like diet soda.

Controlling your weight will lower your chance of having problems such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. If you gain unwanted weight, you will need to exercise more and follow a low-calorie diet. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian to plan low-calorie meals and snacks.

What about my cholesterol and triglyceride levels?

Fat (cholesterol or triglyceride) levels in your blood may be high. High levels of cholesterol and triglyceride can cause heart disease. There are many steps you can take to lower the fat and cholesterol in your blood.

What about foods high in carbohydrates?

You should know some important facts about foods high in carbohydrates:

  • Carbohydrates come from sugars and starches.
  • They provide fuel and energy for your body.
  • When you take steroid medication, it is hard for your body to use extra carbohydrates. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and may cause diabetes.

Do I still need to follow a low-salt diet?

Most people still need to limit salt after they get a transplant, although it is different with each person. Transplant medicines, especially steroids, may cause your body to hold on to fluid, and salt makes this problem worse. Increased fluid in the body raises blood pressure. Controlling blood pressure is very important to your transplant. Your doctor will decide how much sodium is best for you.

What about protein?

Protein is important for the following reasons:

  • It builds and repairs muscles and tissues
  • It helps you heal after the transplant operation

Your protein intake will need to be higher than normal right after your transplant to help build up the muscle tissue that will be broken down by the large doses of steroids. Later, you can return to moderate amounts of protein.

What about potassium?

As long as your transplant is working well, you should be able to take in normal amounts of potassium from your food. However, some transplant medicines can increase your blood level of potassium, while other medicines may decrease it.

Are calcium and phosphorus a problem?

You may need to pay close attention to your calcium and phosphorus levels. If you have been ill for a period of time, your body probably lacks the balance of calcium and phosphorus needed for healthy bones, especially if you had kidney disease. In the months after your transplant, your doctor will check for possible bone loss and talk to you about the best way to keep your bones as healthy as possible. In the meantime, every adult needs about two servings a day from the dairy group (low fat milk, cheese and yogurt). Unless your doctor or dietitian has told you not to use these foods, try to include them in your meals. Your doctor may decide you need more calcium and phosphorus than your diet provides and may tell you to take a supplement. You should not start any supplements on your own as this could cause problems with your transplant.

What if I have diabetes?

After a transplant, your new diet may be higher in protein and lower in sugars due to the effects of steroids and other medicines. Work with your doctor and dietitian to keep your diet and blood sugar in good control.

Where can I get more information

More information about diet after a transplant can be found in our free brochure "Nutrition and Transplantation." You can obtain a copy by calling 1.855.NKF.CARES (1.855.653-2273).

If you would like more information, please contact us.

©2014 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.