A low-protein diet limits the amount of protein that you can eat each day.
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.
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
|Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal||1 ounce|
|Cheese||1 ounce or ¼ of a cup shredded|
|Peanut butter||2 tablespoons|
|Dried peas or beans (cooked)||½ of a cup|
1 serving = 4 grams protein
|Milk, cream, and yogurt||½ of a cup|
|Ice cream||¾ of a cup|
1 serving = 3 grams protein
|Bagel (varies), 4-ounce||¼ of a bagel (1-ounce)|
|Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)||1 slice|
|Broth-based soup||1 cup|
|Cooked beans, peas, or corn||½ of a cup|
|Cooked cereal||½ of a cup|
|English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun||½|
|Pasta||½ of a cup|
|Rice||1/3 of a cup|
|Potato||1 small or ½ of a cup mashed|
|Sweet potato or yam||½ of a cup|
|Unsweetened, dry cereal||¾ of a cup|
1 serving = 2 grams protein
|Cooked vegetables||½ of a cup|
|Raw vegetables||1 cup|
|Tomato or vegetable juice||½ of a cup|
1 serving = 0.5 grams protein
|Canned fruit||½ of a cup|
|Dried fruit||¼ of a cup|
|Fresh fruit||1 small or 1 cup (like cut up or berries)|
|Fresh juice||½ of a cup|
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 May 9, 2017.
Nutrition care manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org. Accessed May 9, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 11/17/2014