A low-protein diet is not a diet for all or should not be followed for any cosmetic reasons. This diet is suitable only in certain clinical conditions and under proper supervision of a doctor and a nutritionist. You can follow this diet in cases of improper kidney function, liver disorder, or inborn errors of metabolism. In this article, you will find everything you must know about a low-protein diet. Swipe up!
What Is A Low-Protein Diet?
An average healthy individual needs 10-15% of calories from protein, depending on the activity level. But in a low-protein diet, only about 20-50 g of protein is allowed, which is ideally 4-8% of daily calorie requirements (1). Though protein is extremely vital for bodily functions, improving metabolic rates, and maintaining weight, a low-protein diet with a balanced approach can also have a better effect on health conditions if you have any clinical disorders.
Who Should Follow A Low-Protein Diet?
People with certain metabolic disorders like phenylketonuria (PKU), maple syrup urinary disease, homocyteinuria, liver disorders, kidney problems, high levels of uric acid, or sensitivity to proteins need to follow a low-protein diet under proper supervision.
Why Is A Low-Protein Diet Important?
A low-protein diet is important for giving your kidneys rest and preventing toxic build-up in the body. This, in turn, prevents further health complications. But what should the percentage of protein be in your low-protein diet? Keep reading.
Proteins are the building blocks of your body. Your muscles, hair, nail, enzymes, and hormones are all made of protein. And by consuming protein from foods, you help build, repair, and rejuvenate your body structure and functioning.
The best sources of protein are mushrooms, beans and legumes, nuts, grains, tofu, and meat. And most of us tend to consume these more as compared to leafy veggies and fruits. In fact, most Americans consume about 13-15% more protein than what the body requires.
This is where the problem begins.
- Your kidneys have to work 24/7 to flush out the urea load (the waste product of protein metabolism/breakdown in the body). Imagine yourself working 24/7! Soon, your kidneys are stressed unable to metabolize proteins. As a result, urea gets accumulated in the body, leading to toxic results (2).
- A low-protein diet slows down the degradation of protein metabolism, which helps to minimize symptoms of phenylketonuria and homocystinuria.
But does that mean you should eliminate protein from your diet? Or should you lower the percentage of protein in your diet? Find out next.
How Much Protein In A Low-Protein Diet?
Normally, your body requires about 40-60 g of protein every day (or 0.8 g of protein per kg body weight, depending on activity level). So, if you weigh 60 kgs, you will need 48 g of protein per day.
In case you are overshooting that limit, you must reduce your protein consumption. And based on the condition of your kidneys, your doctor will tell you how much protein you should consume.
The bottom line is to avoid consuming high-protein sources and have foods that have low-protein content. What are they? Here’s a list of foods to eat and avoid on a low-protein diet.
Foods To Eat
You must consume foods that are low in protein and have good nutritional value. Here’s the list:
- Veggies – Kale, spinach, carrot, beetroot, scallions, radish greens, radish, turnip, parsnip, and pumpkin.
- Starches – Bread, pasta, cereals, croissants, bagel, muffin, rice cakes, noodles, and popcorn.
These foods contain the lowest amounts of protein.
- Fruits – Apple, banana, papaya, melon, peach, plum, grapes, oranges, lemon, lime, grapefruit, dried fruits, fruit juice, and frozen or canned fruit.
- Fats – Butter, margarine, mayonnaise, vegetable oil, olive oil, and salad dressing.
- Sugars – Candies, cake, marshmallow, lollipop, Danish, and granola bars.
- Beverages – Green tea, non-dairy beverages, soda, and water.
- Condiments – Vinegar, powdered garlic, powdered onion, fresh and dried herbs, and pepper.
Foods You Can Eat In Moderate Amounts
You will be allowed to consume the following high-protein foods, but only in very small amounts.
- Animal Protein – Fish, meat, and eggs.
- Dairy – Milk, pudding, cream cheese, sour cream, and yogurt.
Tip: Consider having non-dairy milk products if you have already consumed the allowed amounts of dairy products for the day.
Foods To Avoid
- Tartar sauce
- Meat tenderizers
- Cooking wine
- Soy sauce
- Steak sauce
- Barbecue sauce
- Chili sauce
- Seasoned salt
- Sea salt
Tip: Avoid consuming high-sodium foods or sugary foods. Talk to your doctor to decide the allowed amount of each food.
Now, let me tell you how you can plan your diet depending on the foods that you are allowed to eat.
Sample Low- Protein Diet Plan
|1 orange||1 egg or egg substitute|
|1/2 cup rice or creamed cereal||1 slice whole wheat bread (toasted)|
|1/2 tablespoon margarine or butter||1/2 cup whole milk|
|Hot, non-caloric beverage||1 tablespoon sugar (optional)|
|1 ounce sliced turkey breast||1/2 cup steamed broccoli|
|1 slice whole wheat bread||1/2 tablespoon margarine or butter|
|1 apple||1/2 cup gelatin dessert|
|1 cup grape juice||Hot, non-caloric beverage|
|6 squares salt-free soda crackers||1/2 tablespoon margarine or butter|
|1 to 2 tablespoons jelly||1/2 cup apple juice|
|1/2 cup tomato juice||1 ounce beef liver|
|1 baked potato||1 teaspoon margarine or butter (optional)|
|1/2 cup steamed spinach||1 slice whole wheat bread|
|1/3 cup sherbet||4 apricot halves|
|Hot, non-caloric beverage|
You do not have to follow this diet every day. Here are a few tricks that will help you eat normally without feeling deprived.
How To Easily Integrate A Low-Protein Diet Into Your Routine
Initially, going on a low-protein diet may seem like a drastic change. But if you know how to tweak your diet plan, it will only get easier. Here’s what you can do.
- Consume thin slices of meat – this cuts down the protein content.
- Consider the veggies in your salad as the main dish; the small amount of meat can be the high-protein source.
- Mostly use non-dairy products.
- Decrease the meat when you make a casserole.
- Consume vegetable lasagna.
- While making wraps and sandwiches, avoid using shrimps and big chunks of meat.
So, you see, it is not that difficult. You just need to check your daily protein intake. You can see in the above diet chart that the total calorie count is lower than that of your regular diet. That’s because when you eliminate a huge portion of protein, the calories take a nosedive. However, you must counteract this problem with the help of calorie boosters. What are they? Find out in the next section.
These are foods that will help you maintain a healthy weight. Here’s what you can eat:
- Fats – Consume olive oil, mayonnaise, and rice bran oil.
- Sugar – Add sugar to your diet in the form of jellies, jelly beans, jam, jelly, syrups, gummies, and hard candy.
- Frozen/Canned Foods – Canned or frozen fruits and veggies are high in calories and can act as calorie boosters when you are on a low-protein diet.
Using these foods will not drastically drop the number of calories you consume, thereby protecting you from weak immunity and fatigue. Now, let’s talk about the most exciting part. Scroll down to find out what it is.
1. Vegetable And Salmon Salad
- ¼ cup baby spinach
- ¼ cup rocket spinach
- ¼ cup collard greens
- 1 oz smoked salmon, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- Salt to taste
How To Prepare
- Toss all the greens and salmon into a bowl.
- Mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, honey, salt, and chili flakes in a small bowl.
- Drizzle it over the salad.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro.
2. Flat Rice Breakfast Bowl
- ½ cup flat rice
- 1 cup non-dairy milk
- ½ cup blueberries
- ½ cup raspberries
- 1 small banana, sliced
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
How To Prepare
- Wash the flat rice. Drain the water and toss the flat rice into a bowl.
- Add milk and top it with the fruits.
- Add a generous amount of maple syrup and cocoa powder. And it’s ready!
3. Low-Protein Egg And Avocado Toast
- ½ boiled egg
- 1 slice of wheat bread
- ½ avocado
- 2 tablespoon mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper
How To Prepare
- Slice the avocado and boiled egg.
- Place them on top of the wheat toast.
- Drizzle a little mayonnaise, season, and it’s ready!
As you can see, you are not simply grazing on grass. Just limit the amount of protein you consume every day. Before I conclude, here are the benefits of a low-protein diet.
Benefits Of A Low-Protein Diet
- Lowers the risk of kidney failure.
- Prevents kidney stones (and their recurrence).
- Protects the liver.
- Slows down aging.
- Reduces the risk of arthritis and gout.
- Helps treat hypertension.
- Cools the body.
But there is a different side to this story as well.
Risks Associated With A Low-Protein Diet
- Following a low-protein diet on a continuous basis affects the vital functions of cells, such as wound healing and immune response.
- A low-protein diet can lead to muscle loss.
- Finally, this diet is low in iron, calcium, thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and niacin (vitamin B3) – and hence, you would need nutritional supplements to sustain normal body functions.
- Increases the risk of infections.
- Can harm the heart if sugar and fat sources are not monitored.
- May lead to tooth decay.
You must talk to your doctor before you start a low-protein diet. Also, take the following precautions.
Precautions To Be Taken On A Low-Protein Diet
- A low-protein diet should be followed under strict medical guidance from a dietitian who is familiar with liver and kidney diseases.
- The diet should be designed in a way to meet the nutritional needs of the dieter and cut down the workload on the kidneys.
- The diet should not eliminate protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, and cheese.
There you have it – everything you need to know about the low-protein diet. Consult your doctor today, give your kidneys some rest, and lead a happy and healthy life. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Take care!
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Can you lose weight on a low-protein diet?
Yes, but that might happen through loss of muscle mass, which is not recommended. Consult your doctor before you start a low-protein diet exclusively for losing weight.
Will a low-protein diet help with inherited metabolic disorders?
Yes, a low-protein diet is recommended for those with phenylketonuria and homocystinuria. Consult a doctor to find out the amount of protein you can have per day.
- 1. Protein Intake and Muscle Function in Older Adults. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- 2. Protein turnover, ureagenesis and gluconeogenesis. International Journal for Vitamins and Nutrition Research, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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