The best diet guidelines for living with one kidney will vary depending on your health status 9. Generally speaking, a kidney-healthy diet involves cutting down on sodium, measuring your protein intake, limiting high-fat foods and limiting alcohol 6.
If you're a healthy person who made a living donation of your kidney, you can likely resume your normal eating habits after recovery. If you suffer from chronic kidney disease or kidney stones, your doctor may suggest certain dietary guidelines 12.
If your solitary kidney is healthy, you likely won’t have any specific dietary restrictions. You can follow a kidney-healthy diet low in sodium and alcohol to help prevent any future issues.
Living With One Kidney
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the term for having only one kidney, or one working kidney, is solitary kidney 111. There are three common causes of solitary kidney 3.
Birth defects like renal agenesis (born with one kidney) or kidney dysplasia (born with one functional kidney and one nonfunctional kidney) lead to solitary kidney. Renal agenesis happens in around 1 in 2,000 babies, and kidney dysplasia affects about one in 4,000 babies.
Surgical removal of a kidney to treat a disease or injury can also leave someone with just one functioning kidney. According to the Mayo Clinic, nephrectomy (kidney removal) is one potential treatment for kidney cancer 10.
Finally, some people are eligible to donate one of their kidneys to someone in need of a transplant, leaving them with one functioning kidney. In the U.S., more than 5,000 people make a living kidney donation every year.
Read more: Medications to Avoid With Only One Kidney
- According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- Finally, some people are eligible to donate one of their kidneys to someone in need of a transplant, leaving them with one functioning kidney.
One Kidney and Your Diet
Diet After Kidney Removal
The Kidney & Urology Foundation of America says that most people can live a perfectly healthy life with just one kidney 3. However, they recommend monitoring your kidney health and focusing on nutrition to prevent potential problems down the line. They may also recommend certain foods to avoid with one kidney. Diet suggestions include:
- Limiting your daily sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams per day. That's slightly lower than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams per day and much lower than the actual average sodium intake — over 3,400 milligrams daily.  45;
- Avoiding high-protein diets. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down and creates a number of waste products that your kidney needs to filter. As such, a high protein intake can create a lot of work for your solitary kidney. Try eating small portions of protein from both plant and animal sources.
- Cutting down on alcohol. Kidneys have to filter out alcohol and also balance your body’s hydration levels after drinking 6. The National Kidney Foundation recommends not more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women and adults over 65.  26;
- Watching your fat intake to prevent fat buildup in your kidneys and blood vessels. Opt for lean meats over fatty ones, and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats.
Read more: Vitamins to Improve Kidney Function
- The Kidney & Urology Foundation of America.
- Opt for lean meats over fatty ones, and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats. Read more: Vitamins to Improve Kidney Function
Donating a Kidney
Healthy individuals over the age of 18 may be candidates for living kidney donation, where they can donate one kidney to someone they know or to a stranger on the transplant list.
Before donating a kidney, doctors may ask a living donor to stop smoking and to stop drinking alcohol or cut down on their alcohol intake 9. A living donor team of various health care professionals will guide you through the transplant process, ensuring that you're informed and giving your consent at every step 9.
Kidney donation surgery can be performed through a laparoscopic procedure, where your kidney is removed through a small cut, or through open surgery where the organ is removed from a larger incision. The donated kidney is placed in the transplant recipient’s body right away.
- Healthy individuals over the age of 18 may be candidates for living kidney donation, where they can donate one kidney to someone they know or to a stranger on the transplant list.
Diet After Kidney Donation
Recommended Food for Kidney Dialysis Patients
The recovery time for a kidney donor varies, but most people will spend two to four days in the hospital and about a week recovering at home. Most donors will feel well enough to resume their normal lives after two to four weeks, though donors should not drive or lift heavy items for some time.
The National Kidney Foundation says that most kidney donors won't need to follow a specific diet, but you can discuss dietary concerns with your doctor 26. Right after surgery, you'll likely be restricted to water and clear liquids until any nausea dissipates.
After the typical in-hospital surgery recovery time for a kidney donor of one to two days, you should be able to eat normally. You can also discuss any worries about your diet with your doctor before or after a kidney donation surgery.
In some cases, doctors will advise people with one kidney to avoid contact sports in order to avoid injuring the solitary kidney. Sports restrictions with one kidney include football, hockey, martial arts, soccer and wrestling. While serious kidney injuries from these sports are not common, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits.
- The recovery time for a kidney donor varies, but most people will spend two to four days in the hospital and about a week recovering at home.
- Most donors will feel well enough to resume their normal lives after two to four weeks, though donors should not drive or lift heavy items for some time.
Other Restrictions With One Kidney
- Keep an eye on potassium intake to prevent potassium buildup in the blood. Potassium-rich foods to avoid with one kidney include:
- cooked spinach
- dried fruit
Diet After Kidney Removal
Recommended Food for Kidney Dialysis Patients
What Are the Causes of a Swollen Kidney?
Diet After Kidney Surgery
Are Kidney Beans Bad for a Diabetic?
Kidney Stent Side Effects
Bruised Kidney Symptoms
Advantages and Disadvantages of Organ Donation
Hydronephrosis & Nutrition
How Does Red Meat Affect the Kidneys?
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Solitary Kidney"
- National Kidney Foundation: "What to Expect After Donation"
- Kidney & Urology Foundation of America: "Solitary Kidney"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 2: Shifts Needed to Align With Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sodium and the Dietary Guidelines"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Alcohol and Your Kidneys"
- Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network: "National Data"
- United Network for Organ Sharing: "Being a Living Donor"
- UCSF Health: "FAQ: Living Kidney Donor"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nephrectomy (Kidney Removal)"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Kidney Dysplasia"
- MedlinePlus: "Diet - Chronic Kidney Disease"
- Diseases That Lead to Transplant. Transplant Living. 2008.
- Statistics, United States Renal Data System. 2007.