Eating a renal diet

Amanda Newnham

I'm currently training to be a childrens' kidney doctor and I decided last year to undertake the challenge of eating a "renal diet" for a week.

I often found myself discussing with families and children the importance of sticking to a renal diet (low potassium and low phosphate) after reviewing blood results and asking for our dieticians to work their magic.

As I found myself having the same conversation again and again I wondered: ‘how hard could it be?’ Very, is the short answer. After arming myself with the dietician’s sheets, I began to wonder what I was actually going to eat? Dairy was a no-go (high phosphate). Fruit and vegetables (high potassium) were on the very bad or quite bad list, but I was only allowed one portion of each a day, and if I wanted potatoes the only form allowed was double boiled!

The walk round the supermarket became daunting as I tried to plan meals and I spent ages looking at food information labels trying to decide if the phosphate or potassium in them was "high" or allowed. Often I just gave up. I was determined to continue my normal activities and found myself on a night out wondering what I could drink: not wine, beer, coke or fruit juice, so I settled for a gin and tonic and spent a very long time pondering over the menu!

It was a long week and by day four I was craving fruit and vegetables as I found myself eating more and more stodgy foods such as bread and cake. It struck me how difficult it was to prepare a normal evening meal and I wondered how the families cope, often when trying to cater for others not on a restriction. It gave me an insight into just how challenging the diet is and now I'm surprised by how well some people mange. It also meant that I now have a greater appreciation for what you can and can't eat and has improved my ability to counsel families about a renal diet.

This year we're hoping to have a renal diet cooking challenge and ask everyone to come with an idea for an easy family recipe that can be made and the hopefully be able to swap them amongst the families for some inspiration. I'm also hoping to persuade all the staff at work on Change Day to try a renal diet for a day to give everyone a taste of what it really means.
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