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 blood stream, 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 two 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

One serving = 7 grams protein
Type One Serving
Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal 1 ounce
Cheese 1 ounce or ¼ cup shredded
Eggs 1
Peanut butter 2 tablespoon
Dried peas or beans (cooked) ½ cup

Milk

One serving = 4 grams protein
Type One Serving
Milk, cream, and yogurt ½ cup
Ice cream ¾ cup

Starches

One 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 cup
Cooked cereal ½ cup
Crackers 4-6
English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun ½
Pasta ½ cup
Rice 1/3 cup
Potato 1 small or ½ cup mashed
Sweet potato or yam ½ cup
Tortilla 1 small
Unsweetened, dry cereal ¾ cup

Vegetables

One serving = 2 grams protein
Type One Serving
Cooked vegetables ½ cup
Raw vegetables 1 cup
Tomato or vegetable juice ½ cup

Fruits

One serving = 0.5 grams protein
Type One Serving
Canned fruit ½ cup
Dried fruit ¼ cup
Fresh fruit 1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)
Fresh juice ½ 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.

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