Trail Food

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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. 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). 
  4. 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.
  5. Avoid fast food as much as possible. Plan ahead. Pack your lunch so you can control what you get.
  6. Rinse canned foods or look for no-salt added varieties. (These are becoming more readily available in stores now.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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  

Magic Salt-Free Sugar-Free 8-Pack

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
Registered Dietitian
Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition

The Visit

A few days after visiting the ER, my Mother and I were heading to the nephrologist’s office to receive what we hoped would be a better diagnoses. As we were outside walking toward the doctors office, I could not make it to the office I found myself so out of breath to the point that I collapsed in the bushes. She had to get a wheelchair just so I could get into the office. As we waited for the Doctor, I don’t remember a lot, I just knew that I was very sick and didn’t want to believe that I had this disease nor did I want to go on dialysis. There had to be a mistake. The ER read something wrong or got my chart mixed up with someone else’s. An error had occurred and it was simply going to be cleared up with this visit. As my Mother and I walked in and sat down, there were so many thoughts that came to my mind. One was that I was not meant to be on dialysis. I was way too young to start. When the nephrologist walked in, he started asking me the normal questions that most would ask. As I answered them I asked him, “Are you sure that I need to go on dialysis?” He studied my blood work. He was positive that I needed to begin treatment. There were two options: I could either go to the larger teaching hospital or the one closer to my home. Then he looked at my Mom and said that she may have to make the decision for me because I might not be thinking clearly. The world I had created for myself, all the dreams and desires seemed to crumble that day. The very strength that I thought I had was gone. A feeling of loneliness permeated throughout me. Then I looked at my Mom. I now wonder what she thought. Could she have thought, “Am I going to lose this son that I longed for? The one that I raised. Is he going to be a memory? One that I will visit every now in the cemetery and then on his birthday or the holidays?” How traumatizing for her. Within a few minutes, we made the decision to go to the hospital closer to home and start dialysis. Sitting on the bench outside, I sat down and the tears started to flow. I did not think that I had the strength to do this, but somewhere deep inside a voice said that I could and would be much better for it.

A Kind Word

Do you realize that your words can help or hinder someone? After my diagnosis I made a choice not to start dialysis that day, but I asked if I could see a nephrologist. (A medical doctor who specializes in kidney care.) One was not currently available, so an appointment was made for that Wednesday . They had already started the discharge process and the final paper work was being signed. My mother was with me the entire time I was in the ER and as we were getting ready to walk out. I will never forget the look on my Mom’s face. A look of concern and fear for her son. The son that she had waited for, cried for and desired for so very long. What was going to happen to him? You see my parents had desired children, but were unable to have any for many years. They decided to go the adoption route and I am grateful they did. I can’t imagine where I would be today if they had not given me this wonderful gift. I sometimes wonder what was going through my Mother’s mind at the time of my diagnosis. Perhaps she thought, “Is this the way it’s going to end? Am I going to have to visit the graveyard to mourn the loss of my son? Will he only be a memory, that we share with each other around the holidays?” I was not the only one that had noticed her concerned look. The discharge nurse had noticed also. She touched my Mom’s arm and said, ” I am so sorry for you. I know the road ahead will be tough. I will be praying for you.” Just that simple, thoughtful action made such an impression on me through my time on dialysis and beyond. I have never forgotten that a kind word or action can make all the difference in the life of another person. A kind word or gesture can truly make a positive impact for years to come.

How to be prepared for the unknown

Once I was diagnosed with Kidney Failure, there were so many questions going through my mind. I had thoughts like what is kidney disease? The doctor mentioned that my GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate) was 3. What does that even mean? Will I be able to keep the job that I currently have? What is dialysis? Thoughts like these were crowding my mind. I was so confused that day that I was unable to focus or make any solid decisions. There were a few reasons for this. First of all, I was simply overloaded with too much information. Secondly, due to the extent of my kidney disease, it had physically effected my thinking, (The lower your GFR number, the less your kidneys is functioning. My kidneys were working at about 3-5%.) Lastly, I didn’t want to accept the diagnosis.

So how do you prepare for the unknown? The first thing you need to do to prepare is to create and maintain a positive attitude. This could be finding encouraging quotes or something that someone may say to you, or something you may hear from motivational seminar or audio program. If you do this during the good times in life you will not have to search during the challenging times. Can’t I just do this anytime even when the difficult time comes? Well let me ask you a question. Can we reap the field in famine or must you take it from your storehouse? If you try to harvest from a barren field, there will not be enough to feed you in your time of need. You must take from your storehouse. When all these thoughts were going through my mind, I had to take from my storehouse. One such quote was by Zig Ziglar that I mentioned in my first post. “You are born to win.” Another thought that helped was by Les Brown “It’s Possible”. By keeping my mental storehouse full with good thoughts, it helped me to get through my difficult diagnosis.

Lesson 1-Lessons from the trail.

What was the cause of my kidney failure? Lets take a step back in time. In 2008 at the young age of 18 I had a stroke. I had woken up in the middle of the night and felt very strange. My right side was not working quite right and I could not move my hand or fingers. This was devastating to me for I had started to play the piano at 16 and played by ear. After this had happened I tried to play some of the songs that I knew. My left hand worked but I could barely pluck out one note on my right hand. Within a few days of this happening, I went in to the ER. I found out I had very high blood pressure. The first time they checked it, they could not believe what it was. They tried a different cuff and then a different machine but the readings always came back the same, 320/280……….. Yes, I can hear that gasp when I go out to speak and I get to this part of the speech. It does not fail I hear it through out the audience. By the end of the day I was diagnosed with a stroke, Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and congested heart failure. They put me on meds and within a few months things were looking good. My blood pressure was good and my right side hands and finger’s came back. I can still sit down and am able to play the piano with no issues. Within a year or so I thought that I knew better. Why take meds? I am doing great I said to myself. So what did a young man of 19 or 20 do? I stopped everything. By 2013, it caught up with me. My diagnose was hypertension and a horse shoe kidney. A horse shoe kidney happens during the pregnancy. The two kidneys don’t separate. By them not separating, one of the potential complications is high blood pressure. Had I did what I was supposed to do, I more than likely would not have had to start dialysis until later on in life if it all. Lesson 1-Learn the lesson that life is trying to teach you the first time. Think about it this way, if you go to school and you don’t try to learn what is being taught, and then you take the test and fail. What do you have to do? Many times you will have to retake the test or course and you may even have to go back to summer school. So it is with life if you don’t learn the lesson the first time it is almost guaranteed you will have to learn it all over again, and the test may be greater than it was the first time. One piece of advice that I will give you and believe in is learn it the first time so you don’t have to go back and retake the test. I did not learn it from when had the stroke I had to do dialysis. Since then I have learned this lesson very well and apply it to my life.

Traveling Into the Unknown

As I think back to the day when I was first diagnosed, I can distinctly remember what it felt like. It was as though I was walking on a smooth path and all of a sudden I came to this trail that was dark and overgrown.

When the ER doctor said those fateful words, ” Your kidneys have failed you and you need to start dialysis very quickly,” I was shocked. I had no prior warning that my kidneys were failing and those words shook my small world to its very core. In that instant It seemed to take my dreams for my future. The dreams that I had held for all my life. I saw them slip right through my hands like grains of sand.

While sitting in that room, my life changed dramatically. The path that I was comfortable traveling and knew very well was now gone. All I could see was the unknown.

Traveling into the unknown can be scary for many. Some will refuse to take even the first step. Looking back I now realize that the path I was facing was a path full of adventure.

There is a quote by Jim Rohn that says, ” I would rather live 30 years of adventure then 100 years of safety and security.” This is one of the lessons that I have learned. To live for adventure or else you may die in security. In my life, I have known many people that live in security. They resemble zombies going about their daily life. They have no purpose. This path called dialysis was a path that I had to travel to find my purpose.

Some of the hardest times in my life have yielded the best lessons. A few days after being diagnosed, I took my first step towards adventure and began to travel the Kidney Trails.

Start of the Journey on the Kidney Trails

The Journey may be unexpected, but if you are prepared to travel you can make it to the top. A.Reed

In today’s times many things around us are very negative. Imagine if you are diagnosed with a critical illness such as kidney disease during these uncertain times. How would you feel? How would you react? Is there anything positive that you can turn to? Throughout this blog I hope to help you along this winding path.

In the spring of 2013, I was diagnosed with stage 5 Kidney failure. I was told that I would need to start dialysis very quickly. If not, my future that I had planned for myself, would be cut short. In the days following my diagnosis, I started this unknown journey called dialysis.

When I started this trail it was not easy. There were days that I needed encouragement to press on. I would like to share with you some quotes and tips that helped me along the way and to eventually reach the end of the trail.

Words that are well spoken and written can lift you up and give you strength to journey on. Similarly, when you’re hiking and you’re feeling tired, a word of encouragement from a fellow hiker can encourage you to go a little farther. When dialysis was my only option for surviving, there was a lot of things going through my mind. What is ahead? Will I make it? And is there a future for me? So many questions and very few answers.

One of the first quotes that went through my mind was one from Zig Ziglar, “You are born to win.”

Just take a moment and ponder that we, you and I, were born to win. What an encouraging thought this was and still is today! We may be facing something greater than we have ever faced before, but when it comes down to it, we are born to win!

There is a lot of wisdom in Zig Ziglar’s message. I kept this thought throughout my journey. It has given me the mojo to continue the trail that I was on. To stay the course. Just that one quote gave me hope that I would come out the victor, because I was born to win!

Photo by Gabriela Palai on