What Is a Low-Protein Diet?

This diet limits how much protein you can eat each day.

Why Should I Follow This Diet?

You may need to eat this way if you have liver or kidney problems. The liver helps you digest proteins. The kidneys take away the waste products of protein digestion. If your these organs are not working well, they will have to work extra hard to handle the protein that you eat. If you eat more protein than they can handle, waste products will build up in your blood. This will cause fatigue and a lack of hunger.

If you have chronic kidney failure, eating this way can slow your need for dialysis for up to a year. With kidney failure, you may also need to make other changes. These may be limiting salt, potassium, phosphorous, and fluid. Work with a dietitian to come up with a plan that's right for you.

The Basics

Dietary protein comes from two sources: animals and plants. Animal products are higher in protein and provide us with complete proteins. Complete proteins have all of the 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 your diet.

Eating Plan

This chart lists food by group and the amount of protein per serving. Your doctor or dietitian will let you know how many grams of protein you can have each day. You must work with a dietitian to make sure that you stay in your protein range and meet 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 ¼ of a cup shredded
Eggs 1
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons
Dried peas or beans (cooked) ½ of a cup

Milk

1 serving = 4 grams protein

Type One Serving
Milk, cream, and yogurt ½ of a cup
Ice cream ¾ of a cup

Starches

1 serving = 3 grams protein

Type One Serving
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
Crackers 4-6
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
Tortilla 1 small
Unsweetened, dry cereal ¾ of a cup

Veggies

1 serving = 2 grams protein

Type One Serving
Cooked veggies ½ of a cup
Raw veggies 1 cup
Tomato or veggie juice ½ of a cup

Fruits

1 serving = 0.5 grams protein

Type One Serving
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

Fats and Sugars

Pure fats and sugars don't have protein. But, foods made mostly of fat or sugar, such as cake, cookies, ice cream, snack chips, and fried foods are high in calories and low in nutrition. There are some fats that are healthy in small amounts, such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts. Ask your dietitian about the foods in this group.

Tips

Here are some tips:

  • When planning a meal or filling your plate with food, focus on veggies and grains, then add a small serving of meat, if you want.
  • When you make meals at home, be sure to weigh (with a kitchen scale) and measure your foods to make sure you are getting the right portion size.
  • Ask your dietitian about low-protein products, such as low-protein baking mixes, breads, cookies, and crackers.