Choosing the Best Renal Diet Snacks with Examples and Recipes
Is your hunger mounting, but you’ve still got a while to go before dinner?
How can you feel confident in your snack choice when you’re trying to stay on track with your new renal diet goals?
I’m here to help you feel comfortable and confident in your choice!
My name is Candace and I’m a registered dietitian, specializing in kidney disease! I’m excited to share that it is possible to find a renal diet snack that hits the spot and supports your goals for better kidney health!
So let’s get started!
First things first, what in the world are you supposed to pay attention to when picking a snack?
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Nutrition components to consider in your snack:
There are a few components you need to consider when choosing a snack that’s appropriate for kidney disease.
The nutrients I consider when choosing a good renal-friendly snack are
I recommend that you consider each of these components to plan your perfect snack. And while this can feel a bit tricky at first, I promise that it gets so much easier with just a little bit of practice.
Goal: less than 300 milligrams, or as low as possible
Most everyone with kidney disease needs to consider how much sodium they eat in a day.
Too much sodium in your diet makes you retain fluid to maintain a healthy sodium level in your blood. This raises your blood pressure putting more pressure and strain on your kidneys.
The general recommendation is <2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day (1).
Keeping this in mind, choosing a snack with 300 mg or less is a good rule of thumb.
Goal: less than 7 grams, choose plant over animal protein
If you have kidney disease, lower protein amounts in your diet will help preserve your kidney function (1).
The recommended amount can vary from person to person. It could be as low as 40 grams of protein per day or as high as 70 grams per day depending on your body composition and medical history.
Another thing to consider when choosing protein is the source: animal or plant-based protein. The goal is to choose foods that offer a lower potential renal acid load (PRAL) to help your kidneys maintain your blood pH at the right level. Animal protein has a higher PRAL than plant proteins. Choosing plant protein is better for your kidneys than animal protein (2).
So how much protein should you have in your snack? I recommend choosing a snack that has 7 grams or less of protein from a plant, instead of an animal, as a good rule of thumb.
Carbohydrates and Fiber
Goal: 15-30 grams total carbohydrate, at least 4 grams of fiber, or as much as possible
Carbohydrates (carbs) are another important nutrient to include in your renal snacks. Why? They provide you with energy!
When picking carbs for your snack, you’ll want to pay attention to the type of carbs, as well as the portion size.
- Type of carb: choosing complex carbohydrates that include fiber take longer to digest so they don’t cause extreme spikes in your blood sugar. You want to aim for at least 4 grams of fiber in each snack.
- Portion size: choosing between 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates for your snack will help you keep your blood sugars steady (even if you don’t have diabetes!).
Goal: avoid added phosphorus
Phosphorus is found in our food naturally (organic) and as a food additive (inorganic). Most people with kidney disease don’t need to worry about phosphorus found in our foods naturally.
Phosphorus is found naturally in any food that has protein. Only 20-60% of this natural phosphorus is absorbed into our bodies. Phosphorus in plant foods is absorbed at the lower end of around 20% and phosphorus in animal foods is absorbed at the higher end of 60% (3).
So again, choosing plant-based proteins benefits you more than animal proteins.
Whenever possible, everyone with kidney disease should definitely avoid added phosphorus in our food. These added phosphates are absorbed at a much higher rate of around 90-100% into our bodies. (3) Avoiding phosphates protects your bones and decreases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. (3)
The best way to avoid phosphate additives in your snacks is to use fresh fruits and vegetables or read the ingredient lists on any foods that come in a package. You want to look for a brand that does not have any words that contain “p-h-o-s” in them.
Goal: avoid added potassium
The newest research is showing that the potassium levels in food do not necessarily cause potassium levels in your blood to increase (4). In fact, higher potassium intakes may be better for regulating hypertension (4).
What may surprise you is that the latest research demonstrates the type of potassium matters far more than the total amount of potassium in the food.
Foods that have higher fiber and are minimally processed like raw tomatoes are better choices than foods with potassium additives and heavily processed foods like low-sodium ketchup (5).
I recommend avoiding potassium additives by reading the ingredient lists on any foods that come in a package when choosing foods for your snacks. If you see potassium listed under the ingredient list, that food contains a potassium additive.
Goal: as many colors as possible!
Last but not least: what does your plate look like?
Make your snacks as colorful as possible (and no, I don’t mean Skittles). Let’s eat the rainbow!
Choose naturally colorful foods like blueberries, cherries, pineapple, carrots, zucchini, snap peas, and strawberries for your snacks. The components that make foods have their color have a multitude of benefits. (6)
If you enjoy colorful snacks regularly, you’ll naturally eat more fiber, and more variety in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and you’ll naturally eat less calories, sodium, and sugar!
Reading the nutrition label for choosing snacks for a renal diet:
Here’s an example of what to look at when reading your nutrition labels for a snack.
Remember to look at the serving size to determine how much each of the nutrition components accounts for when determining how much you will eat.
You’re aiming to find a food that provides 15-30 grams total carbohydrate, less than 300 milligrams (mg) sodium, less than 7 grams protein, and contains no phosphate additives or potassium additives in the ingredient list. Extra bonus points if it contains fiber!
So how do you go about building the perfect renal diet snack?
Talking about nutrients and numbers can feel a bit tricky and abstract – where is the food? Let’s walk you through a few examples of snack combos that are a great fit for you and your kidney health. You can let me know which snack sounds best!
Step 1: Choose your carbohydrate.
An apple has 15-30 grams of carbohydrate depending on its size. I like to buy Gala apples in a bag because they tend to be smaller. A smaller apple will be on the lower end, with around 15 grams carbohydrate.
Step 2: Pick your protein.
An apple would fit into a healthy renal snack but we can add some protein to it to make it more balanced. We also have room for a little more carbohydrate if we need it and we haven’t used up any of our sodium.
Peanut butter goes perfectly with an apple and it gives us some protein, fat, and sodium. We could dip our apple in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to make the perfect renal diet snack.
Step 3: Make it colorful.
In this example, we already have some nice color from the Gala apple. If you wanted to add more, you could add in a few blueberries, sprinkle some cinnamon on top of the peanut butter or have raw carrots and broccoli with it.
Does that example help? Let’s practice again.
Are you in the mood for a crunchy renal snack?
Step 1: Carbs.
We could start with rice cakes. We read the label and the brand we chose does not have any phosphate additives or potassium additives and is lower in sodium. We’ve also found it provides 14 grams of total carbohydrate.
Step 2: Protein and Color.
What can we add to it for some plant-based protein, fiber, and color? Hummus may be a good option. You could use peanut butter again. Avocado? All of these options give us some protein and fiber but let’s go with avocado since it’s the most colorful!
Sprinkle some Salt-Free Everything Bagel Seasoning on top for more flavor!
Ready-to-eat renal snacks:
Don’t feel like cooking? I’ve got some great examples that are ready to go, right now.
All of the items listed above do not have phosphate or potassium additives (at the time this blog was published). Mix and match them however you see fit. You will still need to look at serving sizes and may need to adjust them to fit your specific nutrition prescription.
Give yourself grace when choosing your renal snack!
Please notice these are guidelines and they do not need to be followed 100% of the time. You may be more comfortable trying just one new snack a week. Then, you could slowly replace snacks that you know don’t benefit your health in kidney disease as you find healthier ones you enjoy.
Start with choosing 2 or 3 of the most important nutrition components to you. Focus on those first.
Give yourself the grace to learn and become comfortable with your choices.
The more you practice, the more snack options you’ll have in your back pocket, and the closer you will be to choosing the best renal snack for you.
I know learning how to eat for your kidney health can feel overwhelming but I can tell you’re already moving in the right direction because you are here! Just keep stepping toward your goals! It will become easier as you go. I promise.
In summary, consider these nutritional components when choosing your renal diet snack:
- Aim for less than 300 milligrams of sodium.
- Aim for less than 7 grams of protein
- Aim for 15-30 grams of total carbohydrate
- Aim for at least 4 grams of fiber
- Avoid these items in the ingredient list:
- Phosphate additives
- Potassium additives
- Make it naturally colorful.