Low Protein Kidney Diet

Karen Frazier
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Variety of Fruit

If you have kidney disease, your physician may suggest that you consider a renal diet to protect your kidneys. Kidney diets tend to be lower in protein than the average diet in order to ease the load protein places on the kidneys. Although protein is important to the normal growth, wound healing, and infection fighting of your body, excessive amounts can cause some problems for people with kidney disease.

Protein and the Kidneys

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) may need to make some dietary changes including:

  • Limiting dietary protein
  • Controlling electrolyte intake
  • Limiting fluid intake
  • Eating sufficient calories

With these recommendations, physicians may recommend a low-protein diet for patients with CKD.

Low Protein Defined

According to the Nephron Information Center, the specific amount of protein allowed on kidney diets has several determining factors including:

  • Weight
  • Sex
  • Stage of kidney disease

As a rule of thumb, a low-protein diet would contain fewer grams of protein than recommended for healthy adults. The CDC lists this amount as 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men. However, the NIH suggests an approach based on body weight, with about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Weight Daily Protein Requirement
100 pounds (45 kg) 45 grams
120 pounds (55 kg) 55 grams
150 pounds (68 kg) 68 grams
180 pounds (82 kg) 82 grams
200 pounds (91 kg)

91 grams

Protein in Foods

Plant and animal foods all contain amino acids that make up the building blocks of complete proteins.

Animal Proteins

Animal foods such as meat and eggs are higher in protein than plant-based foods. However, the Nephron Information Center (NIC) notes that animal protein foods are known as high-biological value (HBV) proteins because they contain the most readily available form of protein that causes the least amount of waste for the kidneys to remove. According to the NIC, because HBV proteins supply all of the essential amino acids with the least amount of waste, animal proteins may be the best type to include in a low-protein diet for the kidneys.

With a limitation on the amount of protein you can eat, it is necessary to control portion sizes when you eat foods that contain animal proteins. This means you will need to eat limited portions of various animal foods. Some examples of protein counts in animal foods include:

Food Serving Size Protein
Egg 1 large 6 grams
Pork tenderloin 3 ounces 25 grams
Chicken, dark meat 3 ounces 21 grams
Chicken breast 3 ounces 27 grams
Ground beef, 75 percent lean 3 ounces 22 grams
Steak, rib-eye, trimmed of fat 3 ounces 24 grams
Halibut 3 ounces 23 grams

Plant Foods

Plant foods have varying degrees of protein. Some plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, and legumes, have higher levels of protein than others. Therefore, it is best to limit these foods in your diet. Samples of higher protein plant foods include:

Food Serving Size Protein Count
Tofu 3 ounces 12 grams
Edamame 3 ounces 9 grams
Almonds 2 ounces 12 grams
Black beans 1 cup 15 grams
Sunflower seeds 2 ounces 10 grams
Pumpkin seeds 2 ounces 14 grams
Quinoa (cooked) 1 cup 8 grams
Kidney beans 1 cup 15 grams
Peanuts 2 ounces

10 grams

Low-Protein Foods

Fortunately, there are a number of low-protein foods you can eat to ensure you get enough calories to stay healthy. Low-protein foods include:

  • Fruits such as apples, tomatoes, berries, melons, cherries, grapes, and many others
  • Grains such as rice, corn, and wheat
  • Tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Root vegetables such as carrots, onions, parsnips, and turnips
  • Leafy greens such as kale, arugula, purslane, lettuce, beet greens, and spinach
  • Other vegetables such as artichokes, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, asparagus, and herbs
  • Fats such as vegetable oil, nut oils, and butter
  • Prepared foods containing the above ingredients such as pasta or vegetable soup

Foods to Minimize

While no foods are good or bad, minimizing certain foods can help you to maintain your diet. These include the high-protein foods discussed above, as well as foods that are high in potassium, sodium, and phosphorus.

Phosphorus

According to the National Kidney Foundation, people with CKD should also minimize high-phosphorus foods. The kidneys clear excess phosphorus from the blood and phosphorus levels increase during kidney failure. Therefore, when eating a diet for your kidneys, your doctor may also suggest minimizing foods that contain higher levels of phosphorus including:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Cola
  • Beer
  • Organ meats
  • Mollusks
  • Whole grains

Following a Low-Protein Diet

It is important you work with your doctor and a dietician to determine the appropriate amount of protein required for your individual situation. The following sample meals are just suggestions to help you understand how you might follow this type of a diet. Please talk to your doctor and/or dietician about your own individual situation.

The meal plan is based on a 150-pound adult, who needs to eat around 68 grams of protein or less per day, but also needs to eat sufficient calories (between 1,500 and 2,000).

Food Protein Calories
Day One
Breakfast

1 cup cornflakes

8 ounces rice milk

1 cup sweetened canned blueberries

2 grams

.4 grams

1 gram

110

120

225

Morning Snack

Hard boiled egg

Cinnamon raisin bagel (half)

1 tablespoon butter

6 grams

6 grams

0 grams

77

156

100

Lunch

3 ounces turkey breast

2 slices white bread

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Lettuce and tomato

Pear

12 grams

3.8 grams

0 grams

0 grams

1 grams

24

134

103

20

100

Afternoon snack 20 baby carrots 1.5 grams 45
Dinner

3 ounces salmon

Small baked potato (no skin)

1 tablespoon butter

8 spears of asparagus

22 grams

3 grams

0 grams

2 grams

155

128

100

26

Totals 60.7 grams 1,773
Day 2
Breakfast

2 frozen buttermilk waffles

1 cup frozen sweetened strawberries

2 slices bacon

8 ounces orange juice

4 grams

1 gram

5 grams

0 grams

202

199

69

134

AM Snack 2 cups popcorn (air popped) 2 grams 62
Lunch

2 cups romaine lettuce

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 cup cucumber

3 ounces chicken breast

3 tablespoons vinaigrette

1 gram

1 gram

1 gram

12 grams

0 grams

8

27

16

200

216

PM Snack 1 medium apple 0 grams 95
Dinner

3 ounces ground beef (75 percent lean)

2 ounces spaghetti

1 cup marinara sauce

1 slice garlic bread

1 cup steamed zucchini

22 grams

7 grams

3 grams

4 grams

3 grams

235

211

59

180

31

Totals 66 grams 1,944
Day 3
Breakfast

1/2 pita pocket

1 egg, scrambled in 1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 grapefruit

2.5 grams

7 grams

1 gram

87

202

52

AM Snack

1 slice toast (white)

1 teaspoon butter

2 tablespoons strawberry jam

1/2 cantaloupe

3 grams

0 grams

0 grams

1 gram

120

25

80

60

Lunch

2 corn taco shells

3 ounces ground beef (75 percent lean)

1/4 cup salsa

1/2 avocado, sliced

1 cup shredded lettuce

2 grams

22 grams

1 gram

2 grams

1 gram

296

235

20

160

10

PM Snack

1 cup canned vegetable soup

5 saltine crackers

3 grams

1 gram

108

63

Dinner

3 ounces pork tenderloin

1 small sweet potato

1 cup sauteed button mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil (for mushrooms)

2 cups steamed spinach

18 grams

1 grams

2 grams

0

1 gram

132

54

23

100

10

Totals 68.5 1928

Tips

If your doctor prescribes a low-protein diet for your kidneys, consider the following tips:

  • One of the biggest issues with kidney diets is eating sufficient calories. Cook with healthy fats and oils to increase calorie counts.
  • In sandwiches, use thinly sliced meats and add lots of vegetables to make them lower in protein but more satisfying.
  • Keep protein low in soups, stews, and casseroles, but make them hearty by using lots of vegetables and grains such as rice or pasta.
  • Keep calories up with hard candies or frozen fruits in heavy syrup.
  • Substitute unenriched rice milk for dairy milk.
  • If you have diabetes, you will need to work with your dietician or doctor on a modified version of a low-protein diet.

Do These Plans Really Help?

Medical literature suggests low protein kidney diets may slow down the progression of kidney disease. However, your kidney doctor may not feel that a low protein kidney diet is best for you. Follow your doctor's recommendations in order to maintain your health.

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Low Protein Kidney Diet