Ten Tips For a Kidney Friendly Holiday: Navigating the Holidays with Renal Disease

Marika Wamback, BSc. R.D.
Renal Dietitian |


Ten Tips For a Kidney Friendly Holiday: Navigating the Holidays with Renal Disease

Lights, decorations, songs, parties, food, family, and friends are all part of the holiday traditions.  Instead of fun and joy, kidney disease can bring a sense of dread and deprivation.  It seems like there’s food everywhere, and it can feel overwhelming to try and manage it.  The hardest part can be at family gatherings, where well-meaning loved ones may encourage that extra ‘bite or two’.

Here are ten tips to keep the joy in the holiday season:


1. Choose your treat items wisely.  The 80/20 rule can be very helpful.  Pick the treats you know you REALLY love, be selective on the amount, and enjoy them.  Don’t waste your selections on the ‘ok’ items.  Gently remind family and friends that it’s what you want to do, to be healthy with kidney disease.

2. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.  Try to follow this, especially at the office/work environment where the goodie trays are everywhere.  It’s one less thing to have to think about.


Balanced Plate Approach

3. At parties and dinners, use the plate rule to help manage your meal. The ‘guide’ photo below demonstrates how to create a balanced plate, whatever your holiday choices are.  Half the plate veggies (if needed, watch the potassium-rich ones), one-quarter of the plate starch, and one-quarter of the plate protein.   Make it easy by putting the vegetables and fruits on your plate first.  Then there’s only half the plate available for some starch and some protein. View a list of excellent food choices to maintain your renal diet.

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Equally Tasty Substitutions

4. If you’re concerned about holiday items that are made with high potassium foods, consider a substitute, or making them with low potassium items.  Some ideas are: try having blueberry pie instead of minced meat pie; try making latkes with zucchini and onion instead of potato; try a baked apple with dates or figs, instead of a pastry. See the table below for common holiday food choices, with their potassium levels.  It is recommended not to exceed 2000 mg of potassium daily, although you may have to be even more strict depending on your situation.


Monitoring Sodium intake

5. Animal proteins such as poultry, beef, lamb, and pork and fish are an excellent source of high biological value protein. Their portion size is 75 grams (2.5 ounces cooked).  If you prefer ham, following the correct portion size will allow you to enjoy it while watching your sodium intake.  Limit other high sodium items such as gravy, to balance your sodium intake. Vegetarian proteins are higher in phosphorus and are not as bioavailable, but they are higher in polyphenols, antioxidants, and fibre.  Their portion size is 1/2 – 3/4 cup.  No matter which type of protein you choose, it’s the portion size that matters.

Renal Diabetics

6. Portion size. As per the plate method above, portion size is very important, especially if you’re diabetic with renal disease.  There are no ‘diabetic foods’ per se in nature.  Following the correct portion size helps maintain blood sugars, as well as electrolytes.  The portion sizes for renal diabetics are similar.  Remember, following the portion size also helps prevent the unwanted holiday weight gain, regardless of your traditional holiday food choices. Check out this guide to Managing Kidney Disease and Diabetes for more tips.


Fluid Allowances

7. Choose your fluids wisely. This is important especially if you have a fluid restriction.  If you really want the egg nog, wine, or cider, or your traditional drink of choice, consider your fluid allowance and which drink you want the most.  You may be able to have a little every day.  That being said, be cautious with salty and sweet fluids, as they can make you drink more, causing fluid retention.  This can increase your blood pressure, cause shortness of breath, and put extra stress on your heart and lungs.

8. Alcoholic beverages can be part of your fluid allowance, so long as you watch their portion. The chart below shows 1 standard portion of each type of drink.  It does not take long for the volume to add up!  Too much alcohol can leave you dehydrated, causing you to drink more fluid.  If you’re diabetic, be sure to have alcohol with food, to prevent dangerously low blood sugars that can occur up to 24 hours later.  Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is NOT a carbohydrate.



9. Continue taking your medications as prescribed. It can be a drag, but make sure you take your medications along with you to your festivities.  If you know you’re going to do a lot of holiday celebrating this year, and you’re concerned about your blood work outcomes, be sure to talk to your nephrologist before the festivities.


10. Stay physically active.  Be sure to fit in the 30 minutes daily. Try these exercises.


Remember: portion size, consistency, and the 80/20 rule will help you enjoy the holiday season.  It’s about balance, not deprivation, no matter which holidays you celebrate.


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