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What Is a Low-Protein Diet?

A low-protein diet limits the amount of protein that you can eat each day.

Why Should I Follow a Low-Protein Diet?

This diet may be recommended if you have liver or kidney disease. The liver helps in protein digestion, and the kidneys are responsible for removing the waste products of protein digestion. If your liver or kidneys are not fully functioning, they will have to work extra hard to handle the protein that you eat. If you eat more protein than your liver or kidneys can handle, waste products will build up in your blood stream, causing fatigue and a decreased appetite.

If you have chronic kidney failure , adhering to a low-protein diet can delay your need for dialysis for up to a year. With kidney failure, you may also need to make other dietary changes, such as limiting the amount of salt, potassium, phosphorous, and fluid. Work with a registered dietitian to come up with an eating plan that meets your nutritional and medical needs.

Low-Protein Diet Basics

Dietary protein comes from two sources: animals and plants. Animal products are higher in protein and provide us with complete proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need to live and that we have to get from the food we eat. Plant products are lower in protein and provide us with incomplete proteins. Both types of protein should be a part of a healthful, low-protein diet.

Eating Guide for a Low-Protein Diet

The following chart categorizes food by group and lists the amount of protein per serving. Your doctor or dietitian will let you know how many grams of protein you can consume each day. On this diet, it is important that you work with a dietitian to make sure that you are within the recommended protein range and meeting all of your nutrient needs.

Meat and Meat Substitutes

One serving = 7 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal1 ounce
Cheese1 ounce or ¼ cup shredded
Eggs1
Peanut butter2 tablespoon
Dried peas or beans (cooked)½ cup
Milk

One serving = 4 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Milk, cream, and yogurt½ cup
Ice cream¾ cup
Starches

One serving = 3 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Bagel (varies), 4-ounce¼ of a bagel (1-ounce)
Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)1 slice
Broth-based soup1 cup
Cooked beans, peas, or corn½ cup
Cooked cereal½ cup
Crackers4-6
English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun½
Pasta½ cup
Rice1/3 cup
Potato1 small or ½ cup mashed
Sweet potato or yam½ cup
Tortilla1 small
Unsweetened, dry cereal¾ cup
Vegetables

One serving = 2 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Cooked vegetables½ cup
Raw vegetables1 cup
Tomato or vegetable juice½ cup
Fruits

One serving = 0.5 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Canned fruit½ cup
Dried fruit¼ cup
Fresh fruit1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)
Fresh juice½ cup
Fats and Sugars

Pure fats and sugars contain no protein. But, foods made mostly of fat or sugar, such as cake, cookies, ice cream, snack chips, and fried foods tend to be high in calories and low in nutrition. There are some fats that are healthy in moderation, including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts. Ask your dietitian about how foods from this group can fit into your diet.

Suggestions

Here are some suggestions to help you with eating a low-protein diet:

  • When planning a meal or filling your plate with food, focus on the vegetables and grains, and then supplement with a small serving of meat, if desired.
  • When preparing meals at home, be sure to weigh (with a kitchen scale) and measure your foods to make sure you are getting the correct portion size.
  • Ask your dietitian about special low-protein products, including low-protein baking mixes, breads, cookies, and crackers.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org/

National Kidney Foundation
http://www.kidney.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/

The Kidney Foundation of Canada
http://www.kidney.ca/

References:

Controlled protein and sodium diet for kidney disease. Ohio State University Medical Center website. Available at: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/pdfs/PatientEd/Materials/PDFDocs/nut-diet/nut-kid/controlled-protein.pdf . Accessed April 25, 2007.

Diet for kidney disease. University of Utah Health Sciences Center website. Available at: http://uuhsc.utah.edu/pated/handouts/handout.cfm?id=858 . Accessed April 25, 2007.

Low-protein diet postpones dialysis. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press/1999/FEBRUARY/990215.HTM . Accessed April 25, 2007.

Low-protein recipes. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/enjoy.cfm . Accessed April 24, 2007.

Nutrition care manual. American Dietetic Association website. Available at: http://nutritioncaremanual.org/auth.cfm?p=%2Findex.cfm%3F . Accessed January 3, 2009.

Powers M. American Dietetic Association Guide to Eating Right When You Have Diabetes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2003.



Last reviewed September 2013 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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