Most Chronic Kidney Disease patients conducting Dialysis know that they should limit eating cheese because of the higher potassium and phosphorus content which can cause heart problems (leading cause of death in the Chronic Kidney Disease Community) and lead to painful bone complications. However, even given this understanding, many patients find it difficult to kick the habit of eating cheese. Now we know why: Researchers from the University of Michigan have revealed that cheese contains a chemical found in addictive hard drugs (narcotic that is considered relatively strong). The good news is that patients can employ strategies to avoid overconsuming cheese while improving their health outcomes and quality of life.
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Examples of hard drugs are opiates (heroin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), morphine, benzodiazepines (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), methamphetamine (meth), and cocaine. While cheese has far different effects on the body, when it is consumed it "can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria (a state of intense excitement and happiness) similar to that of hard drug addiction," according to The Standard.
However, it is important for Chronic Kidney Disease and Dialysis patients to realize that not all cheeses are created equal. DaVita Inc. (second largest Dialysis Organization in the United States) said, "Phosphorus ranges from 20 mg to 380 mg per ounce, based on the kind of cheese, whether it is regular versus low-fat or fat-free, and the manufacturer." Although the manufacturers do not have to list the phosphorus content on the label, in general, processed cheeses and hard cheeses are higher in phosphorus, natural cheeses are lower, and soft cheeses are lowest in phosphorus.
Potassium content is generally moderate in most cheeses, ranging from 5 to 100 mg per ounce. Still, Chronic Kidney Disease patients - especially those on Dialysis - should always check the ingredients and avoid cheese with "Potassium Chloride" if they are on a low potassium diet.
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Many patients may be surprised to learn that cheese is a good source of protein which varies from 1 to 2 grams per ounce in cream cheese and 6 to 9 grams per ounce in most other cheeses. Protein helps to boost brain function and assists with blood pressure control. That is why most Renal (Kidney) Dietitians will agree that 1 ounce (size of one thumb) to 2 ounces (size of two thumbs) of cheese can be included in a low phosphorus diet once or twice a week as long as phosphorus levels are normal and if needed, phosphate binders are adjusted to bind the extra phosphorus consumed. Chronic Kidney Disease patients should also be aware that cheese contains fat and cholesterol, so it’s best to stay within the recommended portion.
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