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Nutrition and Early Kidney Disease (Stages 1–4)

Kidney-friendly nutrition & COVID-19

Why is good nutrition important for people with kidney disease?

Making healthy food choices is important to us all, but it is even more essential if you have kidney disease (CKD). Good nutrition helps:

  • Provide energy to do your daily tasks
  • Prevent infection
  • Avoid muscle-mass loss
  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Slow down the progression of kidney disease

What are the basics of good nutrition?

A well-balanced diet gives you the right amounts of protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals each day. Eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and taking all your medicines as prescribed are all important parts to keeping you healthy and feeling well.

Will I need to change my diet if I have kidney disease?

Your kidneys help keep the right balance of nutrients and minerals in your body. But if you have kidney disease, your kidneys may not do this job very well. You may need to make some changes to your diet.

Registered dietitians and kidney disease

Ask your doctor about meeting with a Registered Dietitian with special training in kidney disease. A dietitian can:

  • Teach you to make the best food choices based on your lifestyle and lab tests
  • Make changes in your diet to help you better control diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Help you to keep your kidney disease from getting worse

Meeting with a dietitian is a covered service by Medicare and may also be covered by other types of insurance. You may need to call your insurance provider to determine if your plan covers meeting with a dietitian.  

Are you looking for nutrition guidance? Contact a CKD dietitian in your area.

What kinds of changes will I need to make to my diet?

There is no one correct eating plan for everyone with kidney disease. What you can or cannot eat may change over time, depending on your kidney function and other factors. If you are following a special diet for diabetes or heart conditions, you will need to continue following it.

What will I need to control in my diet?

People with kidney disease may need to control the amount of:

  • Protein
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium 

Eating the right amount may help control the buildup of waste and fluid in your blood. This means your kidneys do not have to work as hard to remove the extra waste and fluid. If your kidney disease gets worse, you may need to limit other nutrients as well. Your dietitian or healthcare provider will tell you if you need to do this based on your blood test results. 


Your body needs protein to help build muscle, repair tissue, and fight infection. If you have kidney disease, you may need to watch how much protein you eat. Having too much protein can cause waste to build up in your blood, and your kidneys may not be able to remove all the extra waste. If protein intake is too low, however, it may cause other problems so it is essential to eat the right amount each day.

The amount of protein you need is based on:

  • your body size
  • your kidney problem 
  • the amount of protein in your urine

Your dietitian or healthcare provider can tell you how much protein you should eat. 


Healthy kidneys control how much sodium is in your body. If your kidneys do not work well, too much sodium can cause fluid buildup, swelling, higher blood pressure, and strain on your heart. Your dietitian or healthcare provider can tell you the right amount of sodium you should have each day. 



Potassium works with the muscles, including the heart. Too much or too little potassium in the blood can be very dangerous. The amount of potassium you need is based on how well your kidneys are working and your medications. Your dietitian or healthcare provider can tell you about foods with potassium and the right amount for you to eat each day.


As kidney function gets lower, extra phosphorus can start building up in the blood. High phosphorus levels can cause bones to get weaker. Your dietitian or healthcare provider can tell you if you need to limit goods that are high in phosphorus.


Foods that are good sources of calcium are often high in phosphorus. Your dietitian or healthcare provider will tell you if you need to limit calcium. Before taking any over-the-counter vitamin D or calcium supplements, talk to your healthcare provider.

Will I need to limit fluid?

Most people in the early stages of kidney disease do not need to limit how much fluids they drink. If you do not know your stage of kidney disease, ask your healthcare provider. If your kidney disease worsens, your dietitian or healthcare provider can let you know if you need to limit fluids and how much to drink each day.

How many calories do I need?

Every person is different. Calories are like fuel. If you don’t eat enough, your body will take protein from the muscles for energy. It’s important to make sure you get the right amount of calories or you may get weak and cause damage to the kidneys. Eating the proper amount of calories will:

  • Help you stay at a healthy weight
  • Give you the energy to do your daily tasks
  • Help your body use the protein in food to build muscle and tissues 

Too many calories can cause extra weight gain, which can burden the kidney. If you are overweight, some weight loss may be beneficial. If weight loss is desired or you have diabetes, you should meet with a dietitian to set up a plan based on your kidney blood tests, current food choices, and daily activities. 

Should I be taking any vitamin and mineral supplements?

Most people get enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy by eating various foods each day, but kidney patients may need to limit these foods. If so, you may need to take special vitamins or minerals but only if a dietitian or healthcare provider tells you to. Some may be harmful to people with kidney disease.

You should check with your healthcare provider before taking any medications you can buy without a prescription. Some over-the-counter medications may be harmful to people with kidney disease. You should also avoid taking herbal supplements.


Download the full PDF of Nutrition and Chronic Kidney Disease (Stages 1-4).

Learn more about the support options available through the National Kidney Foundation.

Your Guide to Create a Balanced Kidney-Friendly Meal


© 2020 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.

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