Purpose of review
Plant-based diets have been used with growing popularity for the treatment of a wide range of lifestyle-related diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. With the reinvigoration of the dietary management of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the use of low protein diets for secondary prevention of CKD to delay or prevent dialysis therapy, there is an increasing interest in the potential role of plant-based diets for these patients.
Recently, a body of evidence related to the role of plant-based diets in preventing CKD has reemerged. Several observational studies have shown that red and processed meat have been associated with increased risk of CKD as well as faster progression in those with preexisting CKD. In several substitution analyses, replacement of one serving of red and/or processed meat has been linked with sizable reductions in CKD risk. Although limited, experimental trials for the treatment of metabolic acidosis in CKD with fruits and vegetables show outcomes comparable to oral bicarbonate. The use of plant-based diets in CKD may have other benefits in the areas of hypertension, weight, hyperphosphatemia, reductions in hyperfiltration, and, possibly, mortality. The risk of potassium overload from plant-based diets appears overstated, mostly opinion-based, and not supported by the evidence. Plant-based diets are generally well tolerated and provide adequate protein intake, including essential amino acids as long as the diet is correctly implemented.
Plant-based diets should be recommended for both primary and secondary prevention of CKD. Concerns of hyperkalemia and protein inadequacy related to plant-based diets may be outdated and unsupported by the current body of literature. Healthcare providers in general medicine and nephrology can consider plant-based diets as an important tool for prevention and management of CKD.