This information will help you choose foods to keep you well on dialysis. You may also be given some extra information if needed. Your dietitian may change the advice in the future if your health, blood tests or appetite changes.
- Protein foods
- Small appetite
You will be able to talk to your dietitian regularly about your eating. You can contact your dietitian at any time. See the bottom of the page for contact details.
What can I eat?
Beans, lentils, fish, eggs, meat and other protein foods
These are high protein foods. They are essential:
- For strong muscles
- To fight off infections
- For healthy skin and blood
Before starting dialysis, you may have been advised to eat smaller portions of protein foods. Now your body is losing some protein during dialysis. You need to eat extra protein foods to replace what you are losing.
High protein foods and their recommended portions
Meat, chicken and turkey - palm size portion
Fish - hand size portion
Eggs - 2 eggs
Beans, lentils - half a tin or 6 tablespoons
Quorn, tofu, tempeh, soya, protein - palm size portion
Try to eat protein foods at two meals every day. Speak to your dietitian if you are struggling to manage these.
Dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts)
Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fortified soya milk are great sources of protein and calcium. They also contain a lot of phosphate.
Phosphate levels in the blood may be high when the kidneys are not working properly; this can increase your risk of heart disease, cause weak bones and itching. Your dietitian will advise if you need to limit these foods to lower phosphate levels in the blood. See phosphate section below for more information.
Potatoes, yams, cassava, plantain, bread, rice, pasta, cereals and other starchy carbohydrates
These foods give us energy.
Try to include one serving at every meal.
Wholegrain varieties are high in fibre. Fibre helps to keep your bowels healthy and prevent constipation. Constipation can prevent your dialysis from working well.
Try to choose these wholegrain foods:
- Wholemeal or granary bread
- Wholegrain cereals such as shredded wheat or Weetabix
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
You may have been advised to always boil potatoes, yam, cassava and plantain; this reduces the potassium. Your dietitian will advise you if you still need to do this.
Fruit and vegetables
Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day.
You may have been advised not to eat some fruit and vegetables because your potassium levels in the blood have been high. Your dietitian will advise you if you still need to do this.
Fatty and sugary foods
Foods high in fat and/or sugar include pastry, fried foods, cakes, biscuits and chocolate.
If your appetite is good and you want to manage your weight and eat to keep your heart healthy, you could:
- Eat smaller portions of high fat/high sugar foods.
- Choose low fat options where possible such as lean meats.
- Choose lower fat dairy foods such as milks, yoghurts and cheeses.
- Use smaller amounts of unsaturated fats and oils such as vegetable oil and olive oil spread.
Fluid mainly comes from liquids you drink.
When most people start dialysis, they are still passing urine. Fluid is removed from the body by dialysis and by passing urine.
Many people find that after a while on dialysis they pass less urine; they begin to rely on dialysis to remove most of the fluid.
If you are drinking more fluid than can be removed, you will become fluid overloaded (oedema). The extra fluid puts a strain on your heart and lungs. It is often difficult to remove extra fluid by dialysis.
Signs you are overloaded are:
- Rapid weight gain
- Swollen ankles
- Feeling breathless
- Higher blood pressure
You will weigh yourself before and after dialysis sessions. The change in weight from the end of one session to the beginning of the next is mainly fluid. Your doctor, dialysis nurse or dietitian can advise you on your ideal maximum weight gain between dialysis sessions.
If you are gaining too much fluid your doctor, dialysis nurse or dietitian may advise you to limit the fluid you drink.
Tips if you need to have less fluid:
- Try to have fewer drinks and spread your fluid throughout the day.
- Use a small cup or glass for drinks.
- If eating sloppy or liquid foods such as such as soup, custard, yoghurt, ice-cream, reduce how much you drink.
- Spicy and salty foods can make you thirsty so try to reduce these foods.
- Try using plastic ice-cubes in drinks to save extra fluid.
- Rinsing your mouth, gargling with mouthwash and brushing your teeth can help freshen your mouth.
- You can quench your thirst with slices of lemon, orange, frozen grapes, pineapple cubes, boiled sweets, sugar free mints and chewing gum.
- If you have a dry mouth, artificial saliva sprays may help such as Glandosane (available on prescription).
- Keep a record of all liquids you are having including all drinks, soups, gravies, jelly, yoghurts, and ice-cream.
Your dietitian can give you more ideas to help.
Eating less salt can help you to feel better. Reducing salt helps your dialysis remove fluid, can improve your blood pressure and make you feel less thirsty.
Most of the salt we eat comes from processed and ready prepared foods.
Tips to reduce salt:
- Have more home cooked foods. Cook from scratch where you can.
- Try to reduce processed foods. Sausages, bacon, ham, ready meals, jars of mustard, sauces, pickles, and table sauces are salty.
- When shopping, check food labels. Aim to eat mainly foods which have less than 0.3g salt per 100g or with a green traffic light symbol for salt. If you are choosing ready meals, aim for less than 1.8g per portion.
- Consider having higher salt foods (more than 0.3g salt per serving, or amber or red traffic light) less often and in smaller amounts.
- Free apps such as FoodSwitch or NHS Food Scanner can help.
- Flavour your food with herbs, spices, lemon, garlic, vinegar, dry mustard powder.
- Try to avoid using salt in cooking. Taste food first as you may not need it.
- Try not to add any salt at the table.
- Avoid salt that has ‘low in sodium’ written on the label as these contain potassium. This includes LoSalt, Solo, Saxa So-low.
Your dietitian can give you more help to reduce the salt you eat.
Potassium is a mineral found in many foods. It helps our nerves, muscles and heart to work properly. Our kidneys usually control the level of potassium in the blood. Extra potassium is passed out in the urine.
Dialysis removes potassium but levels can build up between sessions, especially if you start to pass less urine. Your levels of potassium in your blood will be checked regularly.
The target range for potassium in your blood is 3.5 – 5.9mmol/l. A high level of potassium can be dangerous, as it can affect your muscles and heart.
Your dietitian will advise if you need to eat less potassium to keep your blood levels safe.
These are foods and drinks higher in potassium:
- Some fruits such as apricots, avocado, bananas and dried fruit.
- Some vegetables such as mushrooms, parsnips, spinach and tomatoes.
- Potatoes which have not been boiled such as chips and jacket potatoes.
- Snacks such as potato crisps, nuts, chocolate and liquorice.
- Drinks such as coffee, malted milk drinks and fruit juices.
- Alcoholic drinks such as cider and strong ales.
- Soups containing tomatoes and vegetables.
- Salt substitutes such as Losalt, Saxa So low and Solo.
Only limit high potassium foods if you have been advised to.
If you have diabetes, you may have been recommended to eat more fruit, vegetables and nuts. Your dietitian can advise you on appropriate quantities and help you choose lower potassium options.
Phosphate levels in the blood can be high when the kidneys are not working properly; this can increase your risk of heart disease, weaken your bones and cause itching.
Dialysis is poor at removing phosphate from the blood. Your levels of phosphate in your blood will be checked regularly.
The target range for phosphate in your blood is 0.8 – 1.5mmol/l. If your levels are high, eating less phosphate can protect your bones and heart, and help you feel less itchy.
High phosphate food and drinks include:
- Cola drinks and other dark coloured fizzy drinks which contain phosphoric acid.
- Processed foods containing phosphate additives such as ready meals, processed meats and cake mixes. Check the ingredients label for additives with ‘phosphate’ in the name such as diphosphates, triphosphates, sodium phosphate.
- Nuts and chocolate.
- Products with raising agents such as muffins and scones.
- Malted milk drinks, drinking chocolate and cocoa.
- Evaporated and condensed milk.
- Fish with edible bones such as sardines, pilchards and whitebait.
- Shellfish such as fresh crab and scampi.
- Offal products such as liver, liver sausage and pate.
Other high phosphate foods such as dairy products, milk, fish and meat are good sources of protein and other nutrients. Some recommended portion sizes are below.
Your dietitian can guide you on how many portions to have per day or per week. For most people 2 servings per day of dairy foods and up to 6 eggs per week will limit the amount of phosphate you’re eating.
High phosphate foods recommended portions
- Milk - 200ml
- Yoghurt - 1 small pot
- Cheese - 1 small matchbox size portion
- Eggs - 6 per week
If you are already following a low phosphate diet your dietitian will advise if you need to continue. Only limit high phosphate foods if you have been advised to.
To help control phosphate levels, some people may be prescribed tablets called phosphate binders. Your dietitian will advise on the best way to take these to make sure they work well.
If yes, the following information may help.
- Eat little and often throughout the day. Try three meals and 2 - 3 snacks every day.
- Eat small nourishing snacks between meals such as cereal and milk, cheese and biscuits, cakes, biscuits, desserts, pastries.
- Have a snack, sandwich or a milky drink if you cannot manage your normal meal.
- Try easy to prepare high protein meals such as cheese, scrambled egg, poached egg on toast or omelette.
- Use full fat and full sugar versions of foods and drinks such as full fat milk, full fat yoghurt instead of diet or low fat ones.
- Try to eat more on days or at times you feel better.
- Spread butter, margarine, honey, jam and marmalade thickly on bread, croissants, and crumpets.
- Add honey or sugar to cereals and puddings.
Eating well is important to help you feel better and cope with dialysis.
Some of these foods are high in salt, sugar, phosphate and potassium which may not be in line with the diet you have previously been advised to follow. If you have diabetes or you are limiting potassium or phosphate, speak to your dietitian for more information.
Water soluble vitamins are lost during the dialysis process.
Your GP can prescribe a multivitamin tablet (Renavit) suitable for people with kidney disease; this helps to replace the vitamins lost during dialysis.
Renavit contains a beef product so if you are unable to take this, we can recommend an alternative.
You will need to take Renavit after your dialysis session (three times a week for most people).
You are recommended to discuss any other vitamin, mineral, herbal or fish oil supplements with your dietitian or doctor before taking; some can be harmful for kidney patients.
Can I eat during dialysis?
Some people find it more difficult to eat well on dialysis days. This can be due to lack of time and being away from home.
Many people take a packed lunch or snack with them to dialysis. This can be particularly helpful if you have diabetes, or if your appetite is poor.
Eating during your dialysis session can help you get nourishing food even on busier dialysis days.
- Try to include high protein foods such as a sandwich with a meat or fish filling.
- If you normally choose low potassium or low phosphate foods, you should continue to choose these for meals and snacks during dialysis.
- If you experience nausea or low blood pressure whilst on dialysis, consider eating smaller amounts more often during your session.
How can I eat more sustainably?
Many people want to eat food that is more environmentally friendly. Below are some ideas you could consider.
- Try some plant food sources of protein such as beans, lentils, soya mince, Quorn, tofu.
- When buying fish look for the Marine Stewardship Council or Aquaculture Stewardship Council symbols.
- Try calcium fortified plant milk such as soya or oat instead of cow’s milk.
- Opt for wholemeal breads and wholegrain versions of pasta and cereals.
- Choose local and seasonal produce.
- Avoid chopped, ready prepared and packaged fresh fruit, veg and salads if you can.
- Reduce food waste, especially of fresh fruit and veg, by choosing tinned and frozen alongside seasonal fresh produce.
Patients Know Best
An easy-to-use online service that allows you to monitor your own blood test results. You can find out more and register to use it at https://patientsknowbest.com/register/
Kidney Care UK diet and lifestyle information including recipe books to download
Kidney Patient Guide diet information including menus and recipe books to download
Website of the Edinburgh Renal Unit and contains useful dietary information
Kidney Care UK practical advice to help you reduce your weekly food shopping bill while maintaining a nutritious and kidney friendly diet
Contact your dietitian if you need further help.
How to contact us
Department of Nutrition and Dietetics
Telephone: 0117 414 5428 Monday to Friday, 8am - 4pm (outside of these times please leave a message)
If you or the individual you are caring for need support reading this information please ask a member of staff for advice.
If you’re an overseas visitor, you may need to pay for your treatment or you could face fraud or bribery charges, so please contact the overseas office: Tel: 0117 414 3764 Email: email@example.com
© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published March 2023. Review due March 2026. NBT003498