What’s The Deal With Protein and Kidneys?

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Mary Payne, MS, RD, LD
Renal Dietitian

What Is Protein?

Protein is a very important macro-nutrient that our body uses to build and repair muscles and other body tissues. Protein is also important because it can help keep your hunger satisfied longer than carbohydrates do. Proteins are made out of small organic compounds called amino acids.

In order for our body to function correctly, we must make sure we consume protein on a daily basis to get our 20 essential amino acids. If we don’t get our essential amino acids, our body will stop functioning correctly and we can have issues with our brain and muscle systems. Protein is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, including: zinc, selenium, iron, and our B vitamins.

What Types Are There?

Protein can be broken into two categories: animal source and non-animal source. Animal source proteins are considered complete proteins due to the fact that they contain all 20 essential amino acids the body needs to function properly.  Animal source proteins include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, lamb, venison, goat, eggs and dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Non-animal source proteins are not complete proteins – this means a serving of non-animal source protein is missing some of the key essential amino acids our body needs. Because of this, vegans or vegetarians will need to eat a combination of non-animal source proteins throughout the day to get all of their necessary essential amino acids. Non-animal source proteins include nuts and nut butters, beans, lentils, soy, tofu, tempeh, and whole grains or seeds like quinoa, oats, and whole wheat.

How Much Is In A Serving?

Protein serving sizes are important to consider. I always remember the 1, 2, 3 “rule”.

  • 1 ounce of protein is about the size of a pair of dice
  • 2 ounces of protein is about the size of two dominoes
  • 3 ounces of protein is about the size of a deck of cards

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

Protein and Kidneys

There has been a lot of controversy over protein requirements and kidney patients. Protein requirements are very different for each kidney stage and patient. Chronic kidney disease patients who are NOT on dialysis may be told to watch how much protein they include in their diet. This is because failing kidneys are not able to clear large quantities of protein waste products (urea) if we eat too much protein – this can cause us to feel sick.

Dialysis patients, both hemo- and peritoneal-, however, have much higher protein needs because of the dialysis process and must eat a lot of protein each day to keep them healthy and not sick.

Protein Needs for Renal Transplant

Protein needs for renal (kidney) transplant are different from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patients and dialysis patients. You will need to talk with your transplant team to find out what your nutrient needs may be after your transplant surgery.

Initially, after a kidney transplant, our protein needs increase. This is because our body will be trying to heal itself after surgery and protein is needed to help build and repair muscle and organ tissue. It is best to eat high protein foods like non-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese), egg whites, skinless chicken and turkey, fish, and lean beef or pork.

However, 6 to 8 weeks after your transplant, you will go back to a general health diet – balanced with protein, carbohydrates and fats – and not need any special requirements or restrictions on protein.

Always Consult With A Professional

 It is very important to remember to always consult with your medical provider or Registered Dietitian to make sure you are consuming an adequate amount of protein to stay healthy and strong. Once you find out your daily protein requirements from your medical provider or Registered Dietitian, KidneyChef can help work your daily protein requirements into tailored recipes and meal plans for your specific kidney stage.


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