From sweet tea to fluid restrictions…
Allow me to introduce myself…I was raised in rural southeastern North Carolina, where we say “ya’ll”, drink sweet tea daily and make biscuits from scratch. In my family, making good food is a way of showing love for one another. My mom was a caterer, so I literally “grew up” in a kitchen. By default, I was destined to work in the food industry but it wasn’t until I was fourteen years old that I figured out where this journey might take me.
In my 4-H club, I did a presentation on how foods rich in Vitamin A and Beta-carotene may reduce the risk of cancer. I was fascinated to learn that what we eat makes such a big impact on our health! Keep in mind, this was back when research was just coming out about a link between antioxidants and how they effect our health. (Ya know… before we had internet and cell phones, when Atari was still a thing-got it?)
That same year, my biology teacher assigned a paper researching a “science based” occupation. I chose to research about registered dietitians (RD). I did not even know such an occupation existed, but after I completed my paper and interviewed a local dietitian, I knew that was the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up.
If we fast forward to the present, my journey has taken me here. To meet you…whether you are on a wellness journey for general health or for kidney health. I enjoy working with folks with kidney disease to stay as healthy as possible with whatever stage of kidney disease they are in. March is National Kidney Month and National Nutrition Month so it’s a perfect time to celebrate and discuss these areas of interest!
The renal diet can vary depending on the stage of kidney disease a person is in. It can involve low sodium, high protein, low phosphorus, low potassium foods and sometimes a fluid restriction. Talk about a lot to juggle! This is why it is so important to talk with your renal dietitian to get tips and strategies of “survival” (literally), to eat well and live well.
Because each patient’s needs are so different it is nearly impossible to specify exactly what each person should eat. I recommend that you meet with your local Registered Dietitian who knows your medical history and lab work to better guide you.
For now, I’d like to touch on a nutrient that most Americans get too much of in their diets.
(Hint, hint… even if you do not have kidney disease it’s probably still a good idea to pay attention here.)
Sea salt, Kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt… no matter how you shake it (or grind it), it’s sodium.
Sodium does not just come from the salt shaker. As a matter of fact, most of the sodium Americans consume is from processed foods and eating out.
If your kidneys are not working properly, too much sodium in the diet can cause high blood pressure and fluid retention (swelling).
Eating a lower sodium diet may help reduce risk of fluid retention, high blood pressure and potentially help preserve kidney function.
How can I reduce the sodium in my diet? You say… (I thought you would never ask.)
- Read the Nutrition Facts labels. Try to limit meals to 600-700 mg sodium and each item (snack or side) to 140-160 mg/serving. I usually recommend less than 2,400 mg of sodium per day if you have kidney disease, but check with your doctor or dietitian to see what is right for you.
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible. The fresher the better (for taste and health)! When you start cooking fresh foods and stop using as much salt, I believe you enjoy the flavor of the actual food so much more.
- Consider more fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts, legumes and whole grains (as your diet allows as some of these items are high in phosphorus and potassium).
- Plan ahead when dining out. Many menus are on-line for you to look ahead and make better choices. Also, ask your server for condiments and sauces to be on the side or left off. Ask for the seasonings to be left off or very light.
- Avoid fast food as much as possible. Plan ahead. Pack your lunch so you can control what you get.
- Rinse canned foods or look for no-salt added varieties. (These are becoming more readily available in stores now.)
- Keep everything in moderation. We know sodium is everywhere these days. If you eat sensibly and actively avoid high sodium foods the majority of the time, you may be able to have small amounts of some higher sodium foods on occasion. (Just being real here folks. Life happens, but when you are already being cautious, you are ahead of the game.) Each person’s health is different, so follow what your dietitian has discussed with you.
- I encourage you to try new seasonings and food combinations! Some of my favorite go-to ingredients are:
Fresh garlic, onions, peppers
Fresh lemon/lime juice or zest
Balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar
Liquid Smoke (for marinades)
Olive oil or Garlic infused oils (for stir-fry’s and roasted vegetables)
Black pepper (dah!)
Dry ranch dressing mix (1/4 tsp = 60 mg sodium)
Crushed red pepper
A splash of hot sauce such as Tabasco® or Franks’ Hot Sauce®
Essential oils (lemon, lime, orange, rosemary, oregano, etc), but just a drop will do ya!
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasonings® There are several types. Check it out at
What makes them so great? There is no salt, sugar or added potassium and they taste great! WIN WIN!
These are just a few of my favorite tips for patients and their families. I hope you find some of these tools helpful in your journey. I know they were game changers for success for me and my patients.
Knowledge, motivation, tools and a guide will help you as you travel the kidney trails.
Carol Jones, MS, RDN, CSR
Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition