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Cheese and CKD

Written By: Brandy Winfree, RDN, CSR, LDN

I’ve been asked about eating cheese on the renal diet hundreds of times. So, I’m going to lay it all out here. Because - unfortunately - it’s not a simple yes/no question.

Is cheese a natural food? 

Yes, it is! Well, most of the time anyway... 

Natural cheese is made by fermenting milk, curdling it, and then separating the liquid whey from the solid curd. The curd is the part that we know (and love) as cheese. The whey that remains is often turned into protein supplements.

That’s a very general explanation of a very complex process. And you can find more information on that here(1) in case this article inspires you to take up cheese-making as a hobby. 

A cheese board with grapes.
Each type of cheese has a different nutrient profile making some easier on the kidneys than others!

But what needs to be taken away from this is that humanity has been making cheese from the milk of various animals for centuries using very few ingredients. For that reason, I consider it a natural food.

From cow’s and goat’s milk cheese to plant-based cheese substitutes - There are hundreds of kinds of cheese on the market and each of them has a different nutritional make up. 

What’s the problem with cheese and CKD?

The big concern around cheese and CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) has been simple. Most cheese is high in sodium, saturated fat, and phosphorus. So, it’s kind of a triple whammy. 

That is why a lot of people will tell you to just forget about cheese and eat other foods instead. 

But, I believe that all foods can fit in a kidney diet if we understand how to fit them into a kidney diet.

Can you have cheese on a renal diet?

It really depends on the cheese and how it’s being used.

An oz of cheddar cheese on a baked potato is going to run about(2)

  • 120 calories

  • 7g animal protein

  • 5g saturated fat

  • 185mg sodium

  • 200mg calcium

As a renal dietitian, I don’t like the amount of sodium in that serving of cheese and I try to opt for plant based protein - like nuts and beans - over animal-based protein whenever possible.

But, 200mg of calcium isn’t so bad.

And if I’m having a big baked potato for dinner without any meat - maybe I’ll add a little butter, some cheddar cheese, black pepper, and green onion - I’m not going to worry too much about the 7g of animal protein. 

So, if cheese is something that you feel you’re missing in your renal diet - it’s certainly worth looking into.

What about plant-based cheese?

Plant-based cheeses may have a comparable amount of saturated fat, more sodium, and less protein and calcium than their milk-based counterparts. 

Which is kindof the nutritional equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’re really not in a much better situation health-wise. And if plant-based cheese isn’t going to scratch that itch for you, then why even eat it?

So, for someone who is cutting out animal products, I would say that plant-based cheese is probably fine if you look for a low-sodium option.

If you’re still eating animal products, then I wouldn’t say that you’re doing your health any favors by switching to plant-based.

Is mozzarella/blue cheese/cheddar cheese ok on a kidney diet?

I get a lot of questions on specific cheeses and which ones are kidney friendly. But, the answer to that depends on what stage of kidney disease you’re in and what your labs look like

Blue cheese is very high in sodium - so, I don’t usually recommend it regardless of what stage of kidney disease you’re in. 

But, mozzarella cheese or cheddar cheese may not be too bad depending on what your fluids and labs look like. It’s important to ask your dietitian for recommendations that will work for you.

Is there a best cheese for kidney disease?

Of course there is. That was the whole point in writing this. It’s cream cheese! 

  • 100 calories

  • 2g of protein

  • 6g saturated fat

  • 90mg of sodium

Cream cheese has a significant amount of saturated fat. This particular type of fat contributes to build up in the arteries and blood vessels. So, I certainly wouldn’t recommend eating it every day.

However, it is also low in sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and protein. These are all of the things that are nitpicked on a traditional kidney diet making cream cheese a great choice if you want to mix up your breakfasts a bit!

Worst cheeses for kidney disease?

I generally believe that all foods can fit into a kidney diet. I’ve worked with hundreds (if not, thousands) of people with kidney disease and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said “You can’t have that anymore”. 

But, I loathe “processed cheese product”. It’s very tough on the kidneys with little nutritional benefit.

American cheese, cheese dip, and that big block of processed cheese that we melt into elbow noodles all have loads of saturated fat, sodium, and phosphorus and little protein or calcium.

Use sparingly.

So, can you eat cheese on the kidney diet?

Almost certainly! 

For general health, as well as kidney health, natural cheeses (like mozzarella, cheddar, and swiss) are better options than processed cheeses (American, cheez-whiz, etc). And finding a cheese that you can eat in moderation is just as important.

So, as always, my recommendation is to talk to your dietitian. See if they can help you to work some of your favorite foods into your diet.

Because you deserve to eat well on a kidney diet. 


Brandy Winfree, RDN smiling at the camera.

I'm Brandy Winfree, RDN.

When I was working in dialysis, I saw so many patients who had no idea that diet plays a HUGE role in kidney health.

I decided then that I needed to pass my knowledge onto people with kidney disease BEFORE they went into kidney failure. Not after.

That's why I became a board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition and why I started this blog. 

You deserve to take care of the kidneys that you have now and I want to share my knowledge with you to make that happen.

Are they any topics that you'd like to hear my thoughts on?

Shoot me a message here.

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