Plant Based Diet Slows Advance of Chronic Kidney Disease


Nov 4, 2022

Plant Based Diet Slows Advance of Chronic Kidney Disease

Plant Based Diet Slows Advance of Chronic Kidney Disease

Eating more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and whole grains in place of animal-based foods such as red meat, may help prevent and slow progression of Chronic Kidney Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease”. -National Kidney Foundation


Eating a diet that is filled with lots of whole grains, nuts, and fruits and vegetables is important to keep kidneys healthy.  Recent studies have suggested that people who have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) can follow a plant based or a vegetarian diet if they know how to do it wisely.  Plant based or vegetarian diets may also help to lower the chances of a person developing kidney disease or could even be helpful in early stages of kidney disease, preventing the disease from becoming worse.  

What is a Plant Based Diet?

Plant based diets are those that reduce animal based foods such as dairy, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry. You instead eat a diet with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), unsalted nuts, and healthy oils.  

In order to make a plant based diet as healthy as possible, you should also avoid processed foods and refined grains (this includes white breads and pastas, highly processed or high sugar cereals, white rice). Snack foods like potato chips and candy and cookies, and sugar sweetened beverages such as sodas are also avoided. Foods that have animal products are also generally avoided in a plant based diet. These include pizza, meat or cheese based soups, and mayonnaise.

Plant based diets are rich in fiber and vitamins and minerals that help lower your risk of developing heart disease and other health problems.  Some studies have suggested they may even help keep your kidney disease from getting worse.

Recently, plant based diets have become quite popular. The following list includes some well known plant based diets. 

  • The Mediterranean Diet This is a diet that is typical of foods in many Mediterranean countries.  The diet is made up of mainly cereals, grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, and nuts. Along with moderate amounts of fish, cheese, olive oil, yogurt, and a little amount of red meat. 
  • The DASH Diet  This is a diet that is often recommended for those people with high blood pressure.  It consists of eating fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy foods, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts.  The diet also limits salt, sweet sugary drinks, red meats, foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats.  
  • The MIND Diet  This diet combines the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create a diet focused on brain health.  Green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans, and poultry are the main focus of foods to eat.  

Benefits for CKD Patients

There are several important benefits of a plant based diet that could specifically benefit those people with kidney disease in the early stages.  

  • Healthy weight  Plant based foods are usually lower in calories than most animal based foods.  This may be helpful in losing a few pounds or in maintaining a healthy weight. 
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol which helps reduce risk for heart disease.  Having kidney disease puts you at a greater risk for heart disease.  Over 50% of people with kidney disease develop heart disease.  If your kidneys are healthy they help to control blood pressure.  However, if the kidneys are damaged and cannot do this well you may develop high blood pressure.  Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and can cause further damage to your kidneys.  Plant based diets are also helpful to your heart because they help to lower your “bad” cholesterol level, and may be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight. 
  • Lower your risk for diabetes  Healthy plant based foods can help your body to use insulin better.  Insulin is a hormone that controls how much sugar (or glucose) is in a person's blood.  Having too much sugar in your blood can lead to diabetes.  Having diabetes can make your kidney disease worse.  If you already have diabetes, eating a plant based diet can help you to manage your blood sugar.
  • Improve antioxidant levels  Antioxidants are compounds found in foods that help protect your cells from damage.  Antioxidants are plentiful in plant based foods like fruits and vegetables.  Some examples of antioxidants are vitamins C and E.  

Slows Progression

Plant based diet may help to keep kidney disease from progressing.  Some studies have shown that lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, bad cholesterol, and weight gain with a plant based diet can help to slow or stop kidney disease from getting worse.  

People with kidney disease also have acid that can build up in your blood.  This acid load can make kidney disease worse.  Eating more plant and less animal based foods can lower acid load which puts less stress on your already damaged kidneys. 

When you have kidney disease phosphorus can build up in the blood and cause harm to bones and blood vessels, because your kidneys are not filtering phosphorus from your blood the way that they should.  Plant based foods that are not highly processed, like fresh vegetables and whole grains have phytates.  Phytates can bind phosphorus so that you don't absorb as much as you would from highly processed foods or from dairy based foods such as cheese and milk. 

Benefits for ESRD

If you have End Stage Renal Disease, you may still be able to follow a plant based diet, but because you must be especially careful about the nutrients you are getting and in the proper amounts, you need to talk with a dietitian. Plant based diets have many benefits but it could also have risks for people in kidney failure. A Dietitian will be able to help you to create a plan to follow so that you remain as healthy as possible, and get the proper amount of nutrients.  A recent study showed that patients on dialysis who followed a plant based diet had: 

  1. Lower blood pressure
  2. Higher antioxidant levels
  3. Less protein in the urine
  4. Less inflammation 
  5. Better use of body’s insulin
  6. A lower risk for heart disease.

If you are interested in following a plant based diet whether you have kidney disease or are interested in preventing disease and maintaining your health, please speak with your healthcare provider before you begin. Your provider can help you to create a diet plan to follow that takes into account any conditions you may have, and any health goals you may want to achieve. Your provider may consult with or refer you to a dietitian that will be able to guide you in choosing the best plan for you to follow.    


In the WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore Video, National Kidney Foundation Registered Dietitian Christine Hare explains the benefits of a plant based diet for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients.

Video Transcript

Jennifer Franciotti: In this morning's Medical Alert, March is National Kidney Month, looking to raise awareness of kidney disease all over the world. If you're looking to keep your kidneys in top shape, you might want to consider a plant-based diet.  Joining us, Christine Hare, good morning.

Christine Hare: I teach a no cost kidney education class to learn about kidneys and how to keep them healthy.

Jennifer Franciotti: Your goal is prevention?

Christine Hare: Prevention and learning what to do to slow down the process for those who have the disease.

Jennifer Franciotti: You find changes in diet can make a big difference?

Christine Hare: It can. Everything we put in our body; kidneys have to break down. Making sure we eat healthier choices can make a difference.

Jennifer Franciotti: You have a couple of examples of fun food to make, that are kidney healthy.

Christine Hare: They are. for someone we're looking at preventing kidney disease, one thing research suggests is following a plant-based diet can be helpful. Some people kind of when they hear that, they think I'm not ready to be a full vegetarian. It doesn't necessarily mean that. It may be trying to do meatless meals occasionally. I came up with ideas. instead of doing beef or turkey tacos, substitute avocado or cilantro. Instead of having chicken on a salad, use unsalted walnuts and whole grains as a substitute. Really easy things people can incorporate.

Jennifer Franciotti: What have you found that people make changes to the diet?

Christine Hare: It depends on where people are. Any kind of small diet shift can find things as far as numbers in blood work, a decrease in kidney numbers and improvements in high blood pressure, diabetes management and hopefully weight loss too, which helps with all of that.

Jennifer Franciotti: You encourage people to be on top of their health. if someone doesn't know that they might be having problems with their kidneys, what should they do?

Christine Hare: That's a great question, because kidney disease, especially early on, is something people don't see or feel. The only way to detect it is through blood work or a urinalysis. Biggest thing as far as prevention, talk with your doctors, make sure you're seeing your primary care provider on a regular basis.  If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, make sure you're getting screened regularly.

Jennifer Franciotti: When doctors tell you to go get your blood work, don't ignore it.


Related Article

The Benefits of a Plant Based Diet for CKD Patients


National Kidney Foundation


About the Author

Monica Thomas

Monica McCarthy has bachelors in Political Science and Criminal Justice from Central Washington University.  A majority of her career was spent as a political consultant.   She currently works at KidneyLuv as a staff writer.

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