As there is no uniform definition of what constitutes low-protein, a Low Protein Diet is simply when people reduce their intake of protein. The average individual is advised to consume 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of body weight each day, which is around 45g for women and 55g for men. Anything less than this is considered ‘low-protein’.
Protein is a vital macronutrient that is essential for the body to grow and repair. Great sources include: meat, dairy, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and tofu. These foods are then broken down into amino acids and absorbed in the small intestine. The amino acids that the body doesn’t need are then excreted in our urine.
The amount of protein we need changes during a lifetime and can also depend on other factors such as physical activity. A child’s requirements are different from an adult’s, and it is recommended that older adults increase their protein intake to retain muscle mass. However, despite the different needs of particular demographics, the average person is currently consuming a lot more protein than they actually need.
High protein diets have recently gained popularity as it is said to increase satiety and aid weight loss. A low-protein diet, however, doesn’t present any significant health benefits for the average individual. In fact, those who are advised to eat less than recommended are likely to be told to do so for medical reasons.
Because excess protein is typically broken down in the liver and excreted by the kidneys, a low protein diet can ease the workload of these vital organs. Individuals with kidney or liver disease, or metabolic disorders that impair the breakdown of specific amino acids such as Phenylketonuria (PKU) and Homocystinuria (HCU), will often be prescribed a low protein diet to help minimise their symptoms. However, the amount and composition of protein will vary depending on the health condition, and so the amount of protein allowed for the treatment of kidney disease will be significantly different from those with PKU.
Going on a low-protein diet requires careful planning to prevent health issues and ensure your nutritional needs are met. Protein provides essential nutrients and a good number of calories in your diet, therefore lack of protein can have detrimental effects on your health. For metabolic disorders, supplementation is also necessary.
Ideas for reducing protein in your diet:
- Think of veggies and grains as the main components of your meal.
- Use stronger-tasting cheeses so you use less but have just as much flavour.
- Use lower protein containing foods that are also filling, such as pasta in soups rather than meat.
- Increase heart-healthy fats in your diet such as olive oil, mayonnaise-type salad dressings, and avocados to ensure you are getting enough calories.