Living with a chronic medical condition often means needing to adhere to a special diet. This can be difficult enough, especially in the beginning, but there are times when people find themselves having to follow more than one specialized diet at once. A common example of this occurrence is chronic kidney disease patients who also need to follow a soft foods diet. A renal soft foods diet certainly limits the foods that you can eat, but there are still tasty and nutritious options available.
What is a renal diet?
A renal diet focuses on foods that are safe for chronic kidney disease. As kidneys fail, they are less able to process out excess waste and materials. The buildup of certain materials in the blood can lead to very serious problems. Three of the most common restrictions on a renal diet are sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Sodium: Excess sodium in the blood can cause moderate to severe swelling (also called edema), shortness of breath, and heart failure among other dangerous health issues. Sodium is typically the very first food restriction for anyone on a renal diet.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is a mineral that is found in a lot of healthy foods, but can build up in your system and cause hardening of tissues, brittle bones, and many other painful conditions. While phosphorus is found in many healthy foods, it tends to be a lot more prevalent in canned, bottled, and processed foods because it is used as an additive.
- Potassium: Potassium is another typically healthy mineral that helps build and control muscles and nerves, maintains pH and electrolyte levels, and also helps keep your heart at a healthy rhythm. Too much potassium can lead to weakness, nausea, numbness, and irregular heartbeat.
Each of these typical renal diet food restrictions will likely have varying levels of restrictiveness depending on the patient and the stage of kidney failure. Often in the beginning stages of renal disease phosphorus and potassium are not major restrictions, but they become more important in the later stages of the disease. In these later stages, factors like fluid and protein restrictions can even come into play, which means that the patient will need to limit protein and watch their fluid intake as well.
What is a soft diet?
A soft diet is a diet that requires soft foods only. There can be many reasons for needing a soft foods diet, varying from dental impairments to digestive problems and more. Typically people on a soft foods diet will rely on foods that can be mushed up or blended, soups, and smoothies. The hardest part of a soft foods diet can sometimes be getting enough calories, especially if the soft foods diet includes any other restrictions, such as a renal diet.
A renal soft diet combines the elements of all of these restrictions. Finding foods that are both soft and kidney-friendly can certainly seem daunting, but once you get started it is easier to understand what types of food you should eat. Here are a few basics:
- Soups: Soup is an easy go-to for most people on a soft foods diet, but may or may not be appropriate for everyone on a renal safe soft foods diet. This is because people in the later stages of kidney disease may have to abide by fluid restrictions on top of their usual dietary restrictions. However, if the patient does not have any fluid restrictions, soups are an excellent soft foods diet solution as long as the renal diet restrictions are followed. A simple plan for making many soups is to simply puree some steamed or roasted vegetables with some milk or water, heat, and add spices for taste.
- Blending: Many foods can be blended down so they are better able to be eaten with a spoon or even a straw. You may need to add some liquid to whatever food you are blending to get a consistency that can be blended, so again fluid restrictions may come into play. Some foods may need to be cooked a little extra to be able to be blended. Also, unless it is a flavor combination that is already known to be palatable for the patient, avoid blending too many foods together at once. Some flavors may taste overpowering when they are blended together.
- Smoothies: The ultimate blended meal, almost everyone loves a smoothie. A typical kidney safe smoothie might include some low potassium fruit (like berries or peaches), whey protein powder if there are no protein restrictions, some ice cubes, and some water. Depending on your restrictions, you might also add some yogurt or use milk instead of water.
- Mash: Most of the typical foods that come mashed are high potassium vegetables like potatoes, but there are a lot of other options that can be eaten on a kidney safe diet. Cauliflower, for example, can pass for mashed potatoes when it is steamed and mashed. Depending on how much potassium you can have, you also have the option to “leach” some of the potassium out of potatoes by double boiling them to make mashed potatoes. Most vegetables can be cooked enough to be mashed down.
- “Over” Cook: Many foods can be cooked down until they are soft enough for someone on a soft foods diet to handle. Fruits, vegetables, and even some meats will soften enough if you cook them a little extra and add some extra moisture. Again, do make sure you are paying attention to fluid restrictions when necessary.
Many dietary restrictions can be tough to deal with at first, but as you learn you will pick up on what works for you or your patient. There may be some trial and error at first, but finding foods that can be eaten on a soft food renal diet is not as difficult as it seems at first glance. A little extra preparation can go a long way. Talk to your healthcare providers to get more information about a soft foods renal diet, or to get more ideas about what you can eat with your specific list of restrictions.
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