So, you’ve been told to go on a low protein diet to help your kidneys. What does this mean? How much protein can you eat? This article will cover the basics along with some low protein recipes to get you started!
Table of Contents
Who Should Use Low Protein Recipes?
Who needs a low protein diet in the first place? A low protein diet is often recommended for people who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) who are not on dialysis. (1)
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
The amount of protein on a low protein diet is different for everyone. Daily protein goals are based on your body size, stage of CKD and other health conditions. It is ideal to work with a renal dietitian to get a specific protein goal for you!
The National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) guidelines give us a specific range of protein for kidney disease. (1)
For people with CKD stage 3-5, a goal of 0.55 – 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (g/kg/day) is recommended. For a person who weighs 175 pounds (79.5 kilograms), this is a daily protein goal of 44 – 48 grams.
Or, a lower protein goal of 0.28 – 0.43 g/kg/day with the addition of ketoanalogues is also recommended. (1) This lower protein amount and ketoanalogue supplementation should ONLY be attempted under the supervision of a Registered Dietitian.
For people with diabetes and kidney disease, a higher protein goal of 0.6 – 0.8 g/kg/day is recommended. (1)
What Kind of Protein is Best for Kidney Disease?
Focusing on eating more plant proteins over animal proteins is best for kidney disease. Plant protein foods tend to have less protein per serving, helping you keep your total protein intake low.
Examples of plant protein foods:
- Whole Grains
Tips for a Low Protein Diet
A low protein diet can feel overwhelming at first. But, I promise once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature!
Here are some tips for following a low protein diet.
Limit Animal Protein
Animal protein foods like beef, chicken, pork, fish and seafood have a lot more protein in them compared to plant protein foods. A 3oz portion of meat, poultry or fish has about 25 grams of protein.
Compare this to a 1/2 cup serving of beans with only 8 grams of protein!
Stretch the High Protein Ingredient
Our goal is LOW protein – not no protein. We all need some protein in our diet. So, you should have some higher protein ingredients in your meal.
For a low protein recipe, the key is to use those higher protein ingredients sparingly. My favorite ways to stretch higher protein ingredients is to “cut them” with low protein vegetables! Stretch high protein ingredients in soups, salads, stir-fries and curry.
Fill up of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are very low protein foods! They are also packed with fiber, and other healthy vitamins and minerals.
Protein, fiber and fat help keep you feeling full. On a low protein diet, it is important to eat plenty of fiber to keep your stomach happy! Eating enough fiber can also help prevent constipation. Staying regular can help prevent or control high potassium levels! (4)
Don’t Fear Fat!
We get calories from 3 sources: protein, fat and carbohydrate. On a low protein diet, we have to make up the lost calories from protein. Enter: fat and carbs!
Healthy fats are a wonderful way to add some extra calories to your diet. This will help make sure you stay nourished. Fat can also help keep you full!
Healthy carbohydrate is also super important for a low protein diet. Again, we have to get calories and energy from somewhere!
Remember that whole grains such as whole grain bread, pasta, quinoa or couscous do add some protein to your diet! However, we do recommend people with kidney disease choose whole grains over white, refined grains most of the time.
Low Protein Foods
The key to low protein recipes is low protein foods! These foods tend to be very low in protein.
Fruit is the best thing for low protein recipes. Fruit is packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals and has very little protein in it. Most fruit has 0-1 gram of protein per 1/2 cup (cooked/canned) or 1 cup (raw) portion.
Here is a list of low protein fruits. This is NOT a complete list, but gives you some good examples!
Worried about potassium in fruit? Make sure to check out this post about potassium in kidney disease.
Vegetables are another wonderful ingredient for low protein recipes. They are key to any kidney friendly diet. Not only are vegetables full of fiber and healthy nutrients, people who eat plenty of them have a slower progression of kidney disease!
Vegetables tend to have a little more protein in them than fruit. Most veggies have 2-3 grams of protein per 1/2 cup (cooked) or 1 cup (raw) portion. But, they are still very low protein foods.
Here is a list of low protein vegetables:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans
Vegetables that fall into the “plant protein” category like beans, nuts, seeds and lentils are much higher in protein than most vegetables. However, they have MUCH less protein compared to animal protein foods like beef, chicken or fish! Most plant protein foods have about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked portion.
Again, worried about potassium in vegetables? Make sure to check out this post about potassium in kidney disease.
All fat is low protein. Every oil is a low protein food.
Here are some healthy low protein fat choices for kidney disease:
- Avocado oil
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Walnut oil
What Is a Low Protein Recipe?
There is not an official definition for a low protein recipe.
The key to a low protein diet is to build a healthy day of meals that OVERALL is low protein. A low protein diet can include some higher protein foods if they are balanced with lower protein recipes the rest of the day.
Ask your dietitian how much protein is right for you!
Make Your Favorite Recipe a Low Protein Recipe
Here are some tips to make your favorite family recipes a low protein recipe!
- Swap out the meat. Many recipes can be made lower protein by using beans or lentils in place of beef, chicken, pork or fish!
- Reconsider dairy. Milk, yogurt and cheese can add a lot of protein. Use plant-based dairy substitutes like rice, almond, coconut or oat for a lower protein option.
- Eat a smaller portion. If your favorite recipe simply MUST include a higher protein food (like a baked chicken breast recipe), enjoy that food in a smaller portion, filling up on lower protein foods to keep your day low protein!
Top 10 Low Protein Recipes for Kidney Disease
Really, ANY kind of soup is a great low protein recipe choice. Soup is a wonderful way to stretch higher protein ingredients like meat or chicken.
Quinoa and other whole grains have a surprising amount of protein in them. A 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein. There is no need to add another protein source!
I don’t know how many times I’ve made this Southwest Quinoa Salad. It is a low protein recipe with only 7 grams of protein per cup.
I’m a huge tuna salad fan. Although tuna is packed with healthy omega-3’s, it is high in protein. A 1/2 cup of tuna salad has about 16 grams of protein. Compare that to only 5 grams in chickpea “tuna” salad!
Noodles made with flour have a fair amount of protein in them. One cup of spaghetti noodles has 7-9 grams of protein.
Although whole grain noodles absolutely can (and should!) be part of a diet for kidney disease, veggie “noodles” like zucchini noodles are a lower protein option. They are also a super fun way to add some veggies to your diet!
Curry really is my favorite. SO much flavor (from spices other than salt!). My Mixed Vegetable Curry is a wonderful low protein recipe. A serving of 1 1/2 cups of curry with a 1/2 cup of brown rice only has 10 grams of protein.
Veggie curries like this are a much lower protein recipe compared to curry made with chicken, goat or lamb.
Stuffed mushrooms are a great option for a low protein recipe. You can stuff them with SO many different things.
I am obsessed with these Bruschetta Stuffed Mushrooms! YUM!
Another great low protein soup recipe! Lentils are a fantastic plant-based protein for kidney disease. A 1/2 cup of lentils has 9 grams of protein. Compare this to about 25 grams in a 3oz portion of chicken, beef or fish!
This one is from my friend and fellow renal dietitian, Michele Crosmer!
These veggie pancakes only have 9 grams of protein per 2 pancakes – and a whopping 5 grams of fiber from all the tasty veggies and chickpea flour!
Stuffed peppers are one of my favorite ways to get in some extra veggies! My couscous stuffed peppers are a low protein recipe with only 8 grams of protein per 1/2 pepper!
Another one from Michele! Tofu scrambles are a great low protein recipe option compared to eggs.
Here is Michele’s favorite Tofu Breakfast Scramble packed with veggies and a TON of flavor!