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Low-Protein Diet

  • 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
    Type One Serving
    Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal 1 ounce
    Cheese 1 ounce or one-fourth of a cup shredded
    Eggs 1
    Peanut butter 2 tablespoons
    Dried peas or beans (cooked) one-half of a cup
    1 serving = 4 grams protein
    Type One Serving
    Milk, cream, and yogurt one-half of a cup
    Ice cream three-quarters of a cup
    1 serving = 3 grams protein
    Type One Serving
    Bagel (varies), 4-ounce one-fourth of a bagel (1-ounce)
    Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye) 1 slice
    Broth-based soup 1 cup
    Cooked beans, peas, or corn one-half of a cup
    Cooked cereal one-half of a cup
    Crackers 4-6
    English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun one-half
    Pasta one-half of a cup
    Rice one-third of a cup
    Potato 1 small or one-half of a cup mashed
    Sweet potato or yam one-half of a cup
    Tortilla 1 small
    Unsweetened, dry cereal three-quarters of a cup
    1 serving = 2 grams protein
    Type One Serving
    Cooked vegetables one-half of a cup
    Raw vegetables 1 cup
    Tomato or vegetable juice one-half of a cup
    1 serving = 0.5 grams protein
    Type One Serving
    Canned fruit one-half of a cup
    Dried fruit one-fourth of a cup
    Fresh fruit 1 small or 1 cup (like cut up or berries)
    Fresh juice one-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.

    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: Accessed November 17, 2014.

    Nutrition care manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: Accessed November 17, 2014.

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

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