Transplant and Plant-Based Diet

August 17, 2023

Transplant and Plant-Based Diet

Hi! It’s Jeanmarie. I received my transplanted kidney from my father in January 2006. I’ve had many ups and downs over the last 17 ½ years with this kidney. I had gained weight from a combination of medications and/or lack of exercise from not feeling my best. Via a transplant, we can go from having dietary and fluid restrictions to “freedom”. We finally feel free post-transplant. At least I did.

I was so excited to have freedom with food again. Then my blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight increased around year four. I decided I needed to take control of the situation.

I had done extensive research and talked to my transplant and care team about going on a plant-based diet. They all agreed it would be very beneficial. About 3 months in, I lost weight, and my blood pressure and cholesterol started coming back down. My kidney also seems happier. So did the rest of my body. I had the energy again to start exercising.

It can sound daunting to change the way you eat. But the benefits are so amazing that it is worth the effort.

Melissa J. Webb, MA wrote in her article on, “Nephrology professionals may not routinely recommend plant-based diets to patients with kidney disease due to concerns over patient acceptance and their ability to follow the diet plan, according to survey results. The results, presented virtually at the National Kidney Foundation Spring Clinical Meetings, also highlighted a lack of patient knowledge regarding the benefits of such diets.”

When it comes to starting a plant-based diet, there is so much information on the internet and on social media. Some of it can be so contradictory, making you even more confused on where to start. There is a book that I love called, Plant-Based on a Budget, by Toni Okamoto. (Not sponsored.) It helped me figure out where to begin. There are tips on how to meal plan and prep. It even gives you grocery shopping lists. I love how it taught me how to make balanced meals throughout the week, making sure to not overdo it on protein but get a nice variety of nutrition.

Throughout the years, I have added to the recipes or started to incorporate other recipes I find online so I don’t get bored. I usually pick a day of the week to meal plan and prep for the week. The benefits of meal planning are two-fold. You are less likely to go out to a restaurant or eat fast food and you are not spending tireless hours in the kitchen throughout the week.

I start my morning with black coffee and a smoothie. I like to use Orgain protein. I found that it is the best inexpensive one out there. My morning smoothie recipe is:

You can add or take away anything to the smoothie. In order to not waste any produce, I will prepare and freeze everything. I always have these ingredients frozen and ready to go. This keeps me full until at least lunch. It gives me energy and I don’t find myself wanting to snack.

Some of the challenges I have had with a plant-based diet is eating too much of the processed vegan meats that there are on the market. At the start of the pandemic, I started to notice some stomach issues. I evaluated what I was eating and realized I was eating a lot of frozen vegan meats. At the time, I was trying to minimize the need to leave my house. Once I started eating more cleanly, the stomach issues went away. I feel that with all the transplant medications, we are prone to stomach problems.

I also found over the years that eating strictly too many raw vegetables, my stomach also becomes unhappy. According to an article on the Livestrong website, “Raw vegetables can be difficult to digest due to their high fiber content. However, not fully digesting them doesn’t equal “no benefit.” If raw veggies are a problem for you, cook them first or make sure you’re chewing well enough to take stress off your stomach and intestines.” (Note: making sure the raw veggies are thoroughly washed is especially critical for transplant patients and others on immune suppressive medication.)

The new obsession that I have added to my daily diet is ginger shots. They take away my inflammation. Any joint or muscle aches that I have are also gone. Ginger helps with digestion, reduces cholesterol and lowers blood sugar levels. They make me feel like I am a new woman. I use the recipe on the right but there are so many out there with different variations. You can also add turmeric. Keep in mind only 1 per day. Any more than that can actually cause heartburn.

I have been eating plant-based for 13 years now. My labs usually look very good despite having obvious transplant issues. I still continue to have ups and downs. The medications that we take for transplant can be rough on the body and may cause all sorts of other problems. I’ve been able to keep my body as happy as possible by eating plant-based. 

“The beauty of food as medicine is that the choice to heal and promote health can begin as soon as the next meal.”- unknown.