Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
A low-protein diet limits the amount of protein that you can eat each day.
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 bloodstream, causing fatigue and a decreased appetite.
If you have chronic
kidney failure, adhering to a low-protein diet can delay your need for
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.
Dietary protein comes from 2 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.
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.
1 serving = 7 grams protein
1 serving = 4 grams protein
1 serving = 3 grams protein
1 serving = 2 grams protein
1 serving = 0.5 grams protein
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.
Here are some suggestions to help you with eating a low-protein diet:
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
National Kidney Foundation
Dietitians of Canada
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
Enjoy your own recipes using less protein. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at:
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/enjoy. Accessed November 17, 2014.
Nutrition care manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at:
https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org. Accessed November 17, 2014.
American Dietetic Association Guide to Eating Right When You Have Diabetes.
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2003.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
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