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Eating a Controlled-Protein Diet

You need to eat some protein every day. It’s important for the growth, maintenance, and repair of every part of your body. But if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), too much protein can be harmful. Your healthcare provider may recommend reducing how much protein you eat.

What is a controlled-protein diet?

This type of diet limits the amount of protein you eat. You may also need to rethink the kinds of protein foods you choose.

Important

The approach described in this sheet is for people with CKD who are not on dialysis. If you start dialysis, your dietary needs will change.

How can this diet help you?

Your kidneys are vital organs that remove wastes and extra water from your blood. When you eat protein, it’s broken down into a waste product. The more protein you eat, the harder your kidneys must work to clean your blood. Eating less protein reduces the stress on your kidneys. If you already have CKD, this may help protect your kidneys from further damage.

Does this diet have any risks?

Remember that you still need some daily protein, even if you have CKD. You also need the other nutrients that protein foods help provide. Limiting your diet too much could lead to poor nutrition. Work with a renal dietitian to create a diet plan tailored to your needs. This is an expert in nutrition for people with kidney (renal) disease.

Which foods should you eat?

The exact amount of protein you should get depends on things such as your body size and health concerns. Ask your provider or dietitian what’s right for you. As an example, a 155-pound man who has stage 3, 4, or 5 CKD and is not on dialysis might aim to get 6 to 8 ounces (42 to 56 grams) of lean protein per day. A 130-pound woman at the same stage of CKD might aim for 5 to 6 ounces (35 to 42 grams) of lean protein.

You can get protein from both animal and plant sources. Animal proteins have all the building blocks of protein (essential amino acids) that your body needs. But many, such as fatty meats, whole-milk dairy products, and egg yolks, are high in saturated fat. This kind of fat can raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. When you eat animal proteins, choose those with less saturated fat. They include poultry, fish, lean cuts of meat, and low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products.

Plant sources of protein fall short on one or more of the essential amino acids. But eating a variety of plant proteins helps overcome this issue. Plant proteins are low in saturated fat and often high in fiber. They are found in beans, lentils, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, and whole grains.

In addition to these foods, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink water and other beverages that fit into your diet plan, such as tea and coffee. Be aware that some people with CKD need to limit how much fluid they drink. Ask your provider or dietitian whether this applies to you.

What else should you limit?

Along with watching your protein intake, you may need to limit other things in your diet.

Potassium helps your heart, muscles, and nerves work the way they should. Healthy kidneys clear extra potassium from the blood. But if you have CKD, they can’t do that as well. A high level of potassium in your blood could lead to irregular heartbeats or a heart attack. To prevent that, your provider may tell you to limit high-potassium foods such as bananas, raisins, avocado, potatoes, and cooked spinach. Protein foods with lots of potassium include many canned beans, pork, turkey, cod, lobster, and yogurt.

Phosphorus plays a role in keeping your bones healthy. But when you have CKD, phosphorus may build up in your blood. A high blood level of phosphorus could lead to weak bones that break easily. So your provider may also have you limit high-phosphorus items such as cocoa, beer, cream soups, processed cheeses, milk, and pre-packaged or breaded meats and fish.. Protein foods with lots of phosphorus include refried beans, beef liver, beef, sardines, salmon, and American cheese.

Tips for following this diet

Make a little protein go a long way. In a sandwich, use thinly sliced meat folded over to look like more. Then build it up with healthy add-ons, such as lettuce, cucumber, and water chestnuts. When cooking a casserole, use less meat and more vegetables, rice or pasta. When grilling kebabs, use smaller pieces of meat and more vegetables.

Suggestions for planning meals

  • Instead of bacon and two eggs, have one egg, a slice of toast, and fruit.

  • Instead of a cheeseburger, have a salad with thin strips of grilled chicken or lean meat.

  • Instead of a big serving of fish with a little rice on the side, have fried rice that contains small pieces of seafood, poultry, or lean meat.

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