Woman with hands on cheeks with images of light bulbs and question marks above her head

Plant based vs Vegan diet and Kidney Disease

Sharing is caring!

Plant based vs Vegan diet for kidney disease. What’s the difference and why does it matter for people with kidney disease?

Many people with chronic kidney disease benefit from reducing or eliminating animal products in their diet. Why does this help them? If the goal for people that have kidney disease is to slow the progression, improve kidney function, and avoid dialysis then diet is the #1 thing to focus on. 

Protein and Plant-based diets

One of the first things I focus on when working with a new client is determine their protein needs. This depends on many factors like stage of kidney disease, body weight, other health conditions, and lifestyle. Diet needs are very much individualized and that’s why it’s important to see a Registered Dietitian that specializes in kidney disease help you with your kidney health goals. 

We all need protein, but how much varies greatly. The goal is to reduce the acid load on the kidneys to give them functional rest. How do we help with functional rest? By replacing most, if not all, of the protein consumed with plant protein. This reduces the acid load on the kidneys and this allows them to function more efficiently.

Animal protein vs. Plant protein

Animal sources have a higher concentration of protein and causes a greater acid load to the kidneys than plant protein. One of the many functions of the kidneys is to balance acid/base. By consuming animal products, this causes an increase in acidity in the blood by which the kidneys need to work harder to help neutralize the acid load. (1)

Plant proteins on the other hand are more alkaline. When we consume foods from plants, the kidneys don’t need to work as hard to balance acid/base pH in the blood. 

Image of meats and beans to show difference of animal protein vs plant protein. Myth- You need to eat meat because it's the only source of a complete protein. Truth- Many plants are a complete protein. You can meet all your protein needs on a plant-based diet.

Benefits of Plant-based vs Vegan diet

Plant-based diets that offer more plant protein help slow down the progression of kidney disease. Some of my clients have asked after explaining this to them “Does that mean I should be vegan?” Well yes and no. 

There’s a right way to eat plant-based and a not so healthy way. Your kidneys love plant-based foods coming from whole foods. There are a lot of vegan foods that don’t come from whole foods and this is not the best choice for your kidneys. 

Whole-food plant based diets will have minimally processed grains, beans/legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Eating whole-food plant based means you’re consuming foods rich in fiber, essential vitamins, minerals, mono and polyunsaturated fats. 

Vegan foods can be found in a package and may contain a hefty dose of saturated fats, sodium, and other food additives that the kidneys do not process well. 

Plant-based vs Vegan meat substitutes

Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be hard. If you love burgers, chicken, fish and need to consume a plant-based diet for your kidneys, it is okay to try the plant-based meat substitutes while you transition. Keep in mind though, these plant-based meat substitutes can be very high in saturated fat, sodium, and food additives.

Yes, they are made with plants, so it won’t be as harsh on your kidneys, but they’re high in protein. Almost the same amount of protein in some products. So if you need to limit your protein intake, it’s best to eat these occasionally and get your protein sources from whole foods like beans/legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.

Metabolic Acidosis and Plant based diets

Consuming more fruits and vegetables helps with metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is the buildup of acid in the body due to kidney failure or kidney disease. The lab test for metabolic acidosis is defined when serum bicarbonate (CO2) is less than 22mEq/L. (2)

Diet is the main contributor to acid that must be excreted by the kidney. Where does the acid come from? Animal protein.

How do we measure the acid load of protein?

PRAL (Potential Renal Acid Load) is the capacity of acid or base production in any food. Fruits and vegetables have the lowest capacity of acid production while beef and chicken have higher capacity.

When a person has metabolic acidosis, we can treat it with food! You can improve your sodium bicarbonate levels by consuming 3 cups of vegetables a day.

Plant based vs Vegan diet for people with kidney disease

Diets that are rich in plant sources- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds are beneficial to people with kidney disease.

Processed foods, even foods labeled as vegan or plant-based, can have high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and additives. Foods high in these nutrients can be harmful to the kidneys, if consumed too much. They can also reek havik on other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Try to make the majority of your food choices come from fresh. You’ll be doing your kidney wonders!

If you need more guidance on how to implement plant-based eating into your lifestyle and help improve your kidney health, book a call with me and learn more about my Personalized Kidney Nutrition Program!

Book a Call

Scroll to Top