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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?    TOP

This diet may be advised 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 your amounts 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    TOP

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    TOP

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 ¼ of a cup shredded
Peanut butter2 tablespoons
Dried peas or beans (cooked)½ of a cup


1 serving = 4 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Milk, cream, and yogurt½ of a cup
Ice cream¾ of a cup

Starches    TOP

1 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 of a cup
Cooked cereal½ of a cup
English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun½
Pasta½ of a cup
Rice1/3 of a cup
Potato1 small or ½ of a cup mashed
Sweet potato or yam½ of a cup
Tortilla1 small
Unsweetened, dry cereal¾ of a cup

Vegetables    TOP

1 serving = 2 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Cooked vegetables½ of a cup
Raw vegetables1 cup
Tomato or vegetable juice½ of a cup

Fruits    TOP

1 serving = 0.5 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Canned fruit½ of a cup
Dried fruit¼ of a cup
Fresh fruit1 small or 1 cup (like cut up or berries)
Fresh juice½ of a cup

Fats and Sugars    TOP

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    TOP

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 May 9, 2017.
Nutrition care manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: Accessed May 9, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 11/17/2014

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