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The hemodialysis diet is an eating plan tailored to patients who are on hemodialysis. It’s designed to reduce the amount of fluid and waste that builds up between hemodialysis treatments so that you can feel your best.

Now that you are beginning hemodialysis, there may be many changes in your daily life. Your doctor has probably told you that you may need to make some changes in your diet. The renal dietitian at your dialysis center will help you plan a diet for your special needs.

Why do I need to be on a special diet?
Because your kidneys are not able to get rid of enough waste products and fluids from your blood and your body now has special needs, you will need to limit fluids and change your intake of certain foods in your diet. How well you feel will depend on:

  • Eating the right kind and amounts of food from your diet
  • Having the hemodialysis treatments your doctor orders for you
  • Taking the medications your doctor orders for you.

Your diet is very important to your care. It is important that you have the right amount of protein, calories, fluids, vitamins and minerals each day. Your dietitian will help you plan your meals to make sure you get the proper balance. Some general guidelines to follow can be found in our free brochure, “Nutrition and Hemodialysis.

What can I eat?
In addition to enjoying a variety of nutritious foods, the hemodialysis diet will introduce a higher amount of high-quality protein into your eating plan. Your dietitian will determine the amount. High-protein foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish and egg whites provide all the essential amino acids your body needs.

What can’t I eat?
Foods containing high amounts of sodium, phosphorus and potassium are restricted. Your dietitian will provide you with food lists that indicate which foods are allowed and which ones you should avoid or limit. You will also limit your fluid intake.

Why do I have to eat this way?
Your dietitian and doctor will strongly recommend you follow the hemodialysis diet, so your dialysis treatments will be effective, you can feel your best, and help reduce the risk of health complications associated with kidney disease and dialysis.

What about fluid intake?
Too much fluid gain between hemodialysis sessions can cause discomfort, including swelling, shortness of breath or high blood pressure. Fluid intake is not limited to what you can drink; it’s also hidden in some foods you eat, including gelatin, ice, sherbet, watermelon, sauces and gravies. Your dietitian will give you guidelines to help you monitor your fluid intake.

What if I have high cholesterol?
Changing your diet may help lower the cholesterol level in your blood. Your dietitian will talk with you about the kinds of fat and animal foods you eat. Also, your doctor may decide you need a special medication to reduce the cholesterol in your blood.

What if I have diabetes?
In some cases, you may need to make only a few changes in your diet to fit your needs as a kidney patient. For example, some of the free foods you have been using may need to be limited on your kidney diet. Your dietitian will help develop a meal plan especially for you.

How does the hemodialysis diet help?
Your hemodialysis diet will include a balance of nutrients to help keep your body healthy and strong, while allowing the amount of potassium, phosphorus and sodium your body can safely handle.

Potassium is easily removed by dialysis, but when it builds up in the blood between treatments, it can cause muscle weakness and make your heart stop beating. Certain fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other foods that are high in potassium will need to be restricted from your diet.

Phosphorus is difficult for hemodialysis to filter from the blood so it’s important to limit foods that contain the mineral. Phosphorus can build to high levels in the bloodstream and cause weak bones, heart problems, joint pain or skin ulcers. Your doctor may also prescribe a medicine called a phosphorus binder to help keep phosphorus levels normal.

Sodium causes your body to hold onto more fluid and raises your blood pressure. Eating less sodium and drinking less fluid can help you feel comfortable before and after your dialysis sessions.

How long do I have to follow the hemodialysis diet?
You will follow the hemodialysis diet as long as you need hemodialysis. Your dietitian may make some changes to it in order to adjust to your current condition and activity levels.

Is there anything else I should know?
The following important tips can be helpful with your diet:

  • Fresh or plain frozen vegetables contain no added salt. Drain all the cooking fluid before serving.
  • Canned fruits usually contain less potassium than fresh fruits. Drain all the fluid before serving.
  • Non-dairy creamers are low in phosphorus and can be used in place of milk.
  • Labels on food packages will give you information about some of the ingredients that may not be allowed in your diet. Learn to read these labels.
  • To help you avoid salt, many herbs and spices can be used to make your diet more interesting. Check with your dietitian for a list of these.

If I follow the hemodialysis diet will my kidneys get better?
Your kidneys are already damaged and cannot be cured or reversed. However, the hemodialysis diet can help you feel you are best between dialysis treatments and afterwards.