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Potassium & The Kidney Diet


Potassium is a mineral that critically affects the proper functioning of your nerves and muscles. In particular, your heart is influenced by the amount of potassium in your bloodstream. When potassium levels become too high, your heartbeat may be become irregular, and you could even have a heart attack. In order to stay healthy, your potassium blood level should be in the range of 3.5 to 5.5 mEq/L.

When kidneys are healthy, they help balance your body’s potassium levels. However, if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), you may need to be careful about eating foods that contain potassium, or your blood level of potassium could become too high. High potassium can be life-threatening.

How do I know if my potassium level is too high?

Your health care provider will run regular blood tests to monitor your potassium levels to be sure they are in the normal range. However, if you experience any of the following, you may be experiencing hyperkalemia (elevated levels of potassium in your blood stream) and you should contact your doctor right away:

  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Slow pulse
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness or tingling

Since hemodialysis treatment is usually only three times a week, potassium can build up between dialysis treatments. You may be instructed by your renal dietitian to limit potassium in your diet.

Patient’s on peritoneal dialysis, sometimes have low potassium and can liberalize potassium in the diet, if recommended by their nephrologists

How can I control potassium in my diet?

You can take the following steps to help regulate your potassium level for better health:

  • Begin by consulting with your renal dietitian to learn which foods are high in potassium. Get help developing an eating plan that meets your unique needs.
  • Be aware of portion control and make moderate eating a way of life. Recognize that most foods contain some potassium, so eating more than a normal portion may mean putting yourself at risk for increased potassium levels. Your goal is to eat a variety of healthy foods.
  • Limit foods that are high in potassium, including certain vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products. Your renal dietitian can tell you exactly which foods you need to avoid or limit.
  • Do not consume liquids from canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Become a label reader. Check ‘low salt’ and ‘low sodium’ packaged foods to be sure that they do not contain potassium ingredients, such as potassium chloride.
  • Avoid salt substitutes with potassium. Instead, flavor your meals with healthier alternatives, such as lemon, herbs and spices.
  • Be sure to stick with your regularly scheduled dialysis treatments and stay on dialysis for the entire treatment period so that your blood can be sufficiently cleaned.

What is leaching?

If you would like to include high-potassium vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes or carrots, in your meal plan, you can use the process of leaching to lower the amount of potassium in the food. Leaching is a simple process that can help make your food healthier and still allow you to enjoy some of your favorite veggies. Ask your dietitian for help in learning which vegetables can be safely leached and eaten as part of your kidney-friendly diet.

Here’s an easy way to leach potassium from root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots:

  • Start by peeling the vegetable and cutting it into small pieces.
  • Rinse the vegetables and place in a large pot. Fill the pot with water so that the veggies are covered completely.
  • Allow the vegetables to soak overnight or for at least four hours.
  • Once they have finished soaking, rinse them once again, and cook as desired.

You can also leach potassium from mushrooms, cauliflower, squash and frozen greens.

  • If the vegetables are frozen, allow to thaw to room temperature. Drain.
  • Rinse vegetables briefly in warm water.
  • Soak in warm water for at least two hours and rinse once again.
  • You can now cook the vegetable as you normally would, using five parts of water to every one part of veggie.

Even after leaching, remember to continue to limit your portion size to one serving, which is usually about half of a cup.

Eat this; not that

With some pre-planning, you can select low potassium foods that are healthier for your body, yet still enjoy many of the food categories you’ve always loved. Take a look at the chart below for some hints on making smart choices.

ENJOY these foods

INSTEAD OF these foods

A small piece of watermelon

Cantaloupe, honeydew

Berries, grapes, apples

Bananas, oranges, kiwi

Apple, grape or cranberry juice

Orange or prune juice

Dried cranberries

Raisins or other dried fruits

Plum, peach, pineapple

Mangoes, nectarines, papaya

Lower potassium canned peaches, peaches, fruit cocktail  

Fresh fruit 

Peas, green beans, wax beans

Dried peas or beans

Mashed potatoes or hash browns made from leached potatoes 

Baked potatoes or French fries 

Summer squashes  

Winter squashes

Pudding prepared with nondairy creamer  

Yogurt or pudding made with milk

Sorbet, sherbet

Ice cream or frozen yogurt

Plain donuts or desserts that are lemon or vanilla flavored

Chocolate desserts

Rice cakes, unsalted popcorn or pretzels, jelly beans, hard candies

Nuts or seeds

Lemon, pepper, low sodium herb and spice blends

Salt substitutes

(Cook with) Garlic, onion, bell peppers or mushrooms

Tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili sauce

Ice water with sliced lemons or sliced cucumber

Vegetable juices

Unenriched rice milk or nondairy creamer

Cow’s milk

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