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Which Milk is Good for Kidney Patients?

There’s nothing like a cold glass of milk with a warm chocolate chip cookie right before bed. But, if you’ve found yourself here, you’re probably wondering if milk is even safe for the kidneys? Well, that’s why we’re here. So, let’s get into it.

Is Milk Bad for the Kidneys?

Cow’s milk has a high protein content with 8g per cup. It’s an excellent source of calcium at 300mg and it also has about 5g of saturated fat per cup(1). The protein and fat in cow’s milk are great if you’re a child and your bones are still forming. That’s why milk is such a big component in school lunches.

During World War II, military officials noted that there were many men who were unfit for service after growing up in The Great Depression of the 1930s. When the War Food Administration was enveloped into the USDA(2) and the National School Lunch Act of 1946(3) was enacted, cow’s milk was served in lunchrooms across America. This was out of concern for the future health and well-being of young Americans and because was - and still is - subsidized by the USDA.

That little history lesson was mostly to explain that milk became a large part of the American diet due to convenience and the need for a high fat, high protein food to help prevent malnutrition in children. But, in my experience, cow's milk is rarely needed in the adult population.

For most of us, cow’s milk is just another source of saturated fats, which are linked to heart disease, and animal based protein, which can stress the kidneys. Though, it remains an excellent source of calcium. 

Phosphorus and Potassium in Milk

Some of the other issues with drinking cow’s milk when you have kidney disease are the potassium and phosphorus content found in it. 

Many Americans don’t get enough potassium. But, in chronic kidney disease (CKD), especially the later stages, the kidneys may not filter out potassium well. This can cause a build up in the bloodstream and can cause cardiac arrhythmias, muscle weakness, and paralysis(4). I have seen all of these symptoms in patients before and they’re bad news.

Cow’s milk also contains a great deal of phosphorus that is quickly absorbed. Excessive phosphorus intake is also bad news for people with CKD because it can cause problems in the bones and blood vessels long term(5)

For these reasons, your doctor may discourage drinking cow’s milk in any stage of kidney disease.

Milk Substitutes for People Living with CKD

But, you need something to pour over your cheerios in the morning - keep an eye out for my post on kidney-friendly breakfast cereals! So, I’m going to give you a list of my favorite plant-based milk substitutes for kidney disease!

A chart listing calories, protein, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium contents in plant-based, kidney-friendly milk substitutes.
Nutrition facts for listed milk substitutes pulled from sources listed below.

This list is subjective and ranking is based on nutrient content and my personal experience as a renal dietitian. Some people with kidney disease may need a low calcium milk substitute while others may need one with more or less potassium. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is right for you.

I prefer almond milk for myself because I think that its taste is most similar to cow’s milk, it seems to last a couple of weeks in my fridge, and it’s a great source of Vitamin E - an antioxidant shown to be protective against coronary heart disease and some cancers(6)

Which Milk is Best for People Living with CKD?

So, which milk is good for kidney patients? It depends on your labs, your lifestyle, and what suits your tastes. What works for you may be different than what works for another person living with CKD.

So, as always, reach out to your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions about the milk that you should be drinking because CKD shouldn't keep you from a glass of cold milk and a cookie from time to time.

Sources for nutrition data listed above:

*As these are new products to the US market, a generic nutrition profile does not yet exist within the USDA's Food Database. For this reason, I obtained the nutrient analysis from the company directly.


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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