Helping you live a better life on dialysis

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Renal Dietitian

Dietitian

One of the first dialysis team members you might see is the renal dietitian. The dietitian plays a key role in the treatment of your kidney disease.

He or she will explain what you need to eat and to avoid in your food choices to maintain a healthy kidney diet and work with you to develop a nutrition plan that meets your special needs.

Renal dietitians (renal refers to kidney) are registered with the American Dietetic Association (ADA). They have a college degree and have special training and work experience in the field of renal nutrition. The renal dietitian’s main goal is to help people make wise food choices and learn how to include their favorite foods in their meal plan.

To make a kidney disease meal plan, the dietitian will ask you about your eating habits and food choices. Then other information is taken into account, like blood test results, medical history, current health concerns, and other factors. All of this is then woven into a healthy meal plan for you and your family to follow. Although the plan may be easy to understand, it’s not always easy to follow. The renal dietitian will try to include as many of your favorite foods in your healthy kidney diet as possible.

It is important that you know why your renal dietitian might suggest certain food and drink limits. Healthy kidneys work 24-hours a day to remove waste products from the blood that build up mainly from the foods we eat.  Because kidney dialysis treatments are done only several times a week, you will need to limit the amount and types of foods you eat and fluids you drink each day. Diet and fluid limits are different depending on the type of dialysis treatment option you have chosen.

To Feel Better Choose Healthy Foods

Your renal dietitian can suggest healthy food choices based on the type of treatment you do. By making better food choices, you will have more comfortable dialysis treatments, better long-term health, and be able to have an active and healthier lifestyle. You will feel better and be more able to do the activities you like.

Your health care team can usually tell if you are following your meal plan by looking at your blood test results. Once the renal dietitian has looked at your nutritional needs and designed a meal plan, he or she will track your blood tests monthly to see how you’re doing. The nutritionist will also teach you and your family ways to maintain or improve your food and fluid intake.

Blood tests are done to measure levels of certain chemicals in your blood. Many of these chemicals are parts of the foods you eat. For example, many fruits and vegetables like avocados, bananas, dried fruit, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, and watermelon are high in potassium.

The Problem with Potassium

Since damaged kidneys cannot remove potassium, you need to keep a close watch on how much potassium you eat. If blood levels of potassium get too high, sudden heart failure (death) can occur.

Your renal dietitian can offer education and practical tips to improve your health and make meal times pleasant for you and your family.  Ask about the topics below that you would like to know more about.

  • Learn how certain foods and fluid levels affect your body
  • Understand your blood test results
  • Know how to make good food choices at restaurants
  • Make the meals you eat similar to those your family eats
  • Ask about the Fresenius Medical Care cookbook for dialysis patients
  • Add your own

Because we must eat a few times each day and so many social events involve food, sticking with your meal plan can be a challenge. Your dietitian knows this and can help you fine-tune your food choices.

Ask for recipes and Meal Planning.  See if your renal dietitian can help you adjust your favorite recipes so you can have them - at least once in a while. Dietitians can also help with eating out and fitting diet into social activities.

If you waiver from your meal plan, don’t be afraid to tell! Your dialysis dietitian doesn’t want to be the food police or make you feel guilty. Instead, the aim is to help you get back on track. Ask questions whenever you need to.

Content from Kidney School, a program of the Medical Education Institute, Inc.

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