Health Care

Nutrition Guidelines After Your Kidney Donation

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At AdventHealth, we know that eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and including regular exercise into your routine are important steps in maintaining whole-person health — especially after a kidney donation.

A kidney transplant doesn’t necessarily require a special diet, and you can live well with one kidney. But by following some simple nutrition guidelines, you can live your healthiest life after kidney donation.

How to Eat Following Your Surgery

After your kidney donation, it’s important to get adequate nutrition and protein to promote healing. It’s not unusual right after surgery to notice a decreased appetite. Small, frequent meals and snacks along with nutrition supplements, like Ensure, may be helpful for you to meet your calorie and protein needs until your appetite normalizes.

Eat Protein in Moderation

Moderate protein intake is recommended after kidney donation. A high protein diet is not recommended; too much can make the kidney work too hard and possibly cause damage. It’s best to avoid fad diets that are primarily protein. Beef, chicken, turkey, eggs and plant-based proteins like soy, unsalted nuts, seeds and dry beans are all good sources of protein.

Here are some guidelines to follow to keep your protein intake in your target range:

  • A palm-sized portion of meat is about 3 ounces of protein
  • An ounce of meat or cheese is equal to about 7 grams of protein
  • ¼ cup unsalted nuts is about 7 grams of protein
  • Limit high-fat cuts of beef (T-bone, porterhouse, ribeye) and deep-fried meats
  • Limit meats that are high in salt or preservatives (ham, bacon, sausage, bologna, salami, hot dogs)
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and stay active
  • Most people need about 6 to 7 ounces of protein per day
  • Try plant-based proteins to help limit excess fat and cholesterol

A healthy weight can be maintained by following a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Being overweight increases your chances of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, which are the top two causes of kidney failure. Extra weight generally is hard on the kidney, which can lead to damage over time.

The following are tips to help control your weight:

  • Aim for 3 to 4 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Eat meals slowly and chew well; it can take 10 minutes for your brain to catch up with your stomach to realize you are full
  • Limit fats, sweets and desserts to decrease additional calories
  • Monitor portion sizes of foods eaten at meals; a good rule of thumb is to limit starchy foods to a fist-sized portion, keep protein foods the size of a deck of cards and allow half your plate to be filled with veggies
  • Try to eat at the dinner table instead of in front of the TV to prevent “mindless” eating

Monitor Blood Pressure and Limit Sodium

After donating your kidney, you may be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. The goal number for blood pressure is 130mm Hg for systolic (upper number) and 80mm Hg for diastolic (lower number).

A diet with too much salt might increase your blood pressure and dehydrate your kidneys. Try to limit sodium to 2000mg a day. (1 tsp salt= 2300mg sodium).

When reading a food label, choose foods with 140mg sodium per single serving or 400mg per meal. Try these tips:

  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned food items with no added salt
  • Choose unsalted or reduced-sodium versions of bouillon, soups, soy sauces, cheeses and lunch meats
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Limit added salt in cooking and at the dinner table
  • Limit pickles, olives, sauerkraut, or other pickled foods
  • Limit salty snacks such as salted nuts and potato chips
  • Use salt-free spices and seasonings, vinegar or citrus to add flavor

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated helps your kidney function properly and will decrease your risk of developing kidney stones. Kidney stones may be painful or undetectable. Recurrent kidney stones can damage the structure of the kidney and contribute to kidney failure. Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry cough, fatigue, light-headedness and dark-colored urine.

To stay hydrated, practice the following:

  • Drink mostly water or clear liquids, aiming for eight 8-ounce cups a day
  • Limit caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which can cause dehydration
  • Limit soft drinks, especially colas, which have been linked to kidney stone formation

Vitamins and Herbal Supplements

Consuming a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein should provide you with all the nutrients you need. Always check with your primary care provider before using any vitamin or mineral supplements that provide more than 100% of the DRI (daily recommended intake).

Cooking with herbs is fine and so is drinking herbal teas. But be cautious about taking herbal pills, capsules, infusions or tinctures. Dietary supplements are not as strictly regulated as medications.

The following supplements should be avoided:

  • Chinese herbs (poor quality control and linked with kidney and liver failure)
  • Ephedra, DHEA, juniper and licorice
  • Kava (toxic to the liver)

NSAID Pain Relievers

NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen (Advil), Aspirin and Naproxen (Aleve). These are typically taken to treat pain. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.

If you’re taking NSAIDs regularly to treat pain, reach out to your doctor about other treatment options because there have been reported cases of kidney failure related to long-term NSAID use. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol) is the preferred pain reliever to use. Contact your transplant pharmacist if you have specific questions regarding medications or supplements.

Avoid Illicit Drugs

Recreational drugs have many health risks, including kidney damage. Those associated with kidney dysfunction are heroin, cocaine and amphetamines (ecstasy). Volatile solvents that are inhaled like glue, paint thinners, gasoline, aerosols or nitrates also lead to kidney damage.

Top-Ranked Transplant Center

You’re never alone on this journey. No matter the stage and no matter the need, you always have a dedicated and connected transplant team around you, providing knowledge, support and compassion along the way. With one of the first living donor programs in the nation, you’re assured the latest in advanced treatments and procedures.

To learn more about how you can benefit from our transplant program or how to give new life by becoming a donor, visit us here.

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