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.

My daily protein limit is _______ grams.

Meat and Meat Substitutes

____ Servings per day

One serving = 7 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, veal1 ounce
Cheese1 ounce or ¼ cup shredded
Peanut butter2 tablespoon
Dried peas or beans (cooked)½ cup


____ Servings per day

One serving = 4 grams protein

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


____ Servings per day

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


____ Servings per day

One serving = 2 grams protein

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


____ Servings per day

One serving = 0.5 grams protein

TypeOne Serving
Canned fruit½ cup
Dried fruit¼ cup
Fresh fruit1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)
Fresh juice½ 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.


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.