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The Medicare Diet: Best Diet for Kidney Disease in Seniors


Posted on March 16, 2023 by Austin Lang

Finding the Best Kidney Disease Diet Plan Means Filtering Out Problem Foods.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with kidney disease, the sudden changes to your diet might be frustrating. Unsalted foods? Perish the thought! Still, it’s critical that you follow the kidney diet plan provided by your doctor. In this edition of The Medicare Diet, we’ll cover how the right diet works to help protect your kidney health, and show you ways that Medicare can help make sticking to your new kidney diet easier than ever.

What is Kidney Disease?

A person clutching their stomach and back. A transparent view shows their kidneys as the source of their pain.

The kidneys are a pair of organs located just below the rib cage, that function as part of the body’s filtration system. As blood flows through the kidneys, excess fluids and various waste products are removed from the blood and diverted toward the bladder, where they can be urinated out of the body. The kidneys also serve a role in maintaining the body’s pH (how acidic or basic it is), osmolality (the balance between water and electrolytes), and blood pressure. 

Unfortunately, the kidneys are also one of the more sensitive organs and can be damaged by all sorts of conditions. Some common examples of kidney disease include:

  • Renal Failure: A condition in which the kidneys are unable to filter out waste, leading to a buildup of waste products in the body. If left untreated, this will result in conditions like hyperacidemia or hyperkalemia, which can be fatal. Renal failure can occur due to a disease, injury, or overuse of medication, alcohol, or recreational drugs.
  • Kidney Stones: Kidney stones occur when minerals like calcium cannot be flushed out of the kidney quickly enough, leading them to solidify into large, painful deposits. Kidney stones can be passed through urine, though the process can be extremely painful. Larger kidney stones can inhibit kidney function, leading to renal failure.
  • Diabetic Nephropathy: Damage to the kidneys as a result of long-term diabetes, most commonly found in undiagnosed Type 2 patients. A renal diet designed to help with this condition will likely also focus on diabetes. You can learn more about diabetic-friendly diets in an earlier edition of The Medicare Diet.

What is the Right Diet for Kidney Disease?

Blocks reading "Less Salt" in a pile of salt.

Regardless of the form kidney disease takes, the right renal diet plan is focused on compensating for the organs’ reduced function by reducing their workload. This means limiting the amount of waste products the kidneys need to filter out, and reducing the amount of work they need to do to maintain your blood pressure, osmolality, and pH level. 

The basic renal diet plan comes in two stages. First, you must limit your intake of sodium, fat, and protein. While the first two will probably come as no surprise to anyone familiar with dieting, limiting protein intake might seem unusual. Aren’t proteins critical for the body’s function? You can often do this in part by making smart substitutions like swapping butter for olive oil and processed gluten for whole grain products

The issue with proteins is that the body doesn’t use all of the protein. Enzymes in the body remove the essential amino acids, leaving behind a waste product called urea. Urea is a non-toxic chemical with plenty of practical uses, ranging from reducing combustion engine pollution to browning pretzels. In fact, your bottle of dish soap probably has urea in it. However, our bodies have no use for urea, and simply expel it as part of the normal metabolic process. 

The issue with urea isn’t its presence in the body, but its build-up. Filtering out more urea means the kidneys are under more stress, and inefficiencies in the process can lead to kidney stones. As such, a kidney-conscious renal diet limits protein intake to what is needed, while trying to avoid any excess. 

At this stage, your doctor may recommend the DASH Diet, which is designed for high blood pressure and hypertension, but can also be used to slow the progression of kidney disease. It has many similarities to other medically recommended diets, boosting vitamin C and antioxidant presence via increased vegetable and fruit intake (cranberries anyone?) while lowering the consumption of meat and sweets. However, it is ineffective when treating severe kidney disease, including that which has progressed to the point of needing dialysis. 

If your kidney disease has progressed, you may be told to reduce your phosphates and potassium level. These are electrolytes, which are a key component of how we stay hydrated. If you’ve ever had Gatorade, you’re probably familiar with the concept. Electrolytes, like proteins, are vital for the body’s survival. However, they also are filtered out through the kidneys, and can cause severe kidney damage if built up. 

Phosphates, which can be found in many deli meats and packaged foods, can draw calcium from the bones. This makes them weaker and more likely to break, and can also increase your risk of kidney stones as calcium is being drawn into the bloodstream. 

Potassium, which can be found in oranges, bananas, potatoes, beans, and nuts, is key to the function of your nervous system and muscles, and an imbalance can lead to increased risk factors of severe heart problems, such as heart disease

The National Kidney Foundation keeps an archive of recipes chock full of some of the best foods for kidney disease, but you should always refer to your dietitian’s advice before experimenting with new recipes. 

The Fine Balance of Nutrition

Kidney-focused renal diet plans are some of the most complex out there, because many of the things that can cause complications are the same things we need to survive! Fortunately, there are ways Medicare plans can help. Kidney disease is one of the two conditions which Medicare will cover nutritional therapy to treat. A registered dietitian can help you develop a kidney-friendly meal plan to fit your particular needs.  You can also use a Medicare grocery benefit (if you are eligible) to cover the purchase of healthy ingredients. 

Still, there are some tips you can keep in mind to make the process of adjusting to your diet a bit easier.

  • No Salt? No Problem: If you’ve been told to cut out salt, your first instinct might be to reach for a salt substitute. Unfortunately, many of these salt substitutes are high in potassium, which is ALSO not recommended. Instead, look into alternatives. Foods like garlic and hot peppers can, when used in moderation, greatly improve the flavor of your meals. There is also some evidence that they have a positive effect on health outcomes for people with kidney disease, but as with all popular nutritional medicine, this is difficult to verify. Herbs and other seasonings are also recommended, but check with your doctor to see what is allowed!
  • Fresh is Best: While prepackaged and takeout foods are extremely convenient, they also contain large amounts of sodium and phosphates, which can exacerbate kidney disease. Make food from scratch, or check to see if your Medicare Advantage plan covers a kidney-friendly meal delivery service. If you do use canned products, be sure to rinse them well before eating.
  • Water You Waiting For?: In the early stages of kidney disease, particularly when dealing with kidney stones, drinking water is important for promoting kidney health. Water helps flush out the kidneys and can prevent minerals from building up. HOWEVER, the opposite is true for people in kidney failure, as the body may be unable to excrete water at all. If you experience swelling or difficulty breathing, that may be a sign of fluid retention. Your doctor or health care provider will advise you on a safe amount of fluid intake, so listen to what they have to say before grabbing that giant water bottle.


Medicare Advantage plans can help make managing kidney disease a breeze. Call a licensed agent today at (800) 950-0608, or enter your zip code into our free comparison tool to begin your search.

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