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 bloodstream, 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 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.

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

1 serving = 7 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal1 ounce
Cheese1 ounce or one-fourth of a cup shredded
Eggs1
Peanut butter2 tablespoons
Dried peas or beans (cooked)one-half of a cup

Milk

1 serving = 4 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Milk, cream, and yogurtone-half of a cup
Ice creamthree-quarters of a cup

Starches

1 serving = 3 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Bagel (varies), 4-ounceone-fourth of a bagel (1-ounce)
Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)1 slice
Broth-based soup1 cup
Cooked beans, peas, or cornone-half of a cup
Cooked cerealone-half of a cup
Crackers4-6
English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bunone-half
Pastaone-half of a cup
Riceone-third of a cup
Potato1 small or one-half of a cup mashed
Sweet potato or yamone-half of a cup
Tortilla1 small
Unsweetened, dry cerealthree-quarters of a cup

Vegetables

1 serving = 2 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Cooked vegetablesone-half of a cup
Raw vegetables1 cup
Tomato or vegetable juiceone-half of a cup

Fruits

1 serving = 0.5 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Canned fruitone-half of a cup
Dried fruitone-fourth of a cup
Fresh fruit1 small or 1 cup (like cut up or berries)
Fresh juiceone-half of a 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.