Low protein diets for adults with diabetic kidney disease

What is the issue?

For people with diabetic kidney disease (DKD) not requiring dialysis, it may be recommended to limit the amount of protein in the diet to slow the progression of chronic kidney disease. However, uncertainty remains about how much protein should be consumed.

What did we do?

We reviewed the evidence about the effect of low protein diets on the progression of kidney disease in adult patients with DKD, not on dialysis. The evidence is current to 17 November 2022. All studies were combined, provided that they compared a low protein diet (0.6 to 0.8 g/kg/day) with a usual or unrestricted protein diet (≥ 1.0 g/kg/day) for 12 months or more.

What did we find?

We identified eight studies enrolling 486 people who had DKD at different stages of chronic kidney disease. Studies included type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The results showed that a low protein diet has uncertain effects on slowing the decline of glomerular filtration rate. Compared with a usual or unrestricted protein diet, a low protein diet may have little or no effect on the number of people who died or progress to kidney failure needing dialysis. The vast majority of studies reported nutritional status, with only one study indicating potential malnutrition in the low protein diet group. There may be little or no difference in health-related quality of life; however, only one study reported this outcome. Compliance with the low protein diet was unsatisfactory in four of the eight studies

For the most part, the included studies were poorly conducted, and data were often not reported; therefore, the overall certainty of the evidence for our outcomes of interest was either low or very low.


Because there were insufficient data and difficulties in adherence to such a low protein diet, we are uncertain whether a low protein diet slows the progression of kidney disease for people with DKD not on dialysis. More high-quality studies with large samples and sufficient follow-up are needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

Dietary protein restriction has uncertain effects on changes in kidney function over time. However, it may make little difference to the risk of death and kidney failure. Questions remain about protein intake levels and compliance with protein-restricted diets. There are limited data on HRQoL and adverse effects such as nutritional measures and hyperglycaemic events. Large-scale pragmatic RCTs with sufficient follow-up are required for different stages of CKD.

Read the full abstract...

Diabetic kidney disease (DKD) continues to be the leading cause of kidney failure across the world. For decades dietary protein restriction has been proposed for patients with DKD with the aim to retard the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD) towards kidney failure. However, the relative benefits and harms of dietary protein restriction for slowing the progression of DKD have not been addressed.


To determine the efficacy and safety of low protein diets (LPD) (0.6 to 0.8 g/kg/day) in preventing the progression of CKD towards kidney failure and in reducing the incidence of kidney failure and death (any cause) in adult patients with DKD. Moreover, the effect of LPD on adverse events (e.g. malnutrition, hyperglycaemic events, or health-related quality of life (HRQoL)) and compliance were also evaluated.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies up to 17 November 2022 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register are identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register (ICTRP) Search Portal and ClinicalTrials.gov.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs in which adults with DKD not on dialysis were randomised to receive either a LPD (0.6 to 0.8 g/kg/day) or a usual or unrestricted protein diet (UPD) (≥ 1.0 g/kg/day) for at least 12 months.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently selected studies and extracted data. Summary estimates of effect were obtained using a random-effects model. Results were summarised as risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for dichotomous outcomes and mean difference (MD) or standardised MD (SMD) with 95% CI for continuous outcomes. Confidence in the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

Main results: 

We identified eight studies involving 486 participants with DKD. The prescribed protein intake in the intervention groups ranged from 0.6 to 0.8 g/kg/day. The prescribed protein intake in the control groups was ≥ 1.0 g/kg/day, or a calculated protein intake ≥ 1.0 g/kg/day if data on prescribed protein intake were not provided. The mean duration of the interventions was two years (ranging from one to five years). Risks of bias in most of the included studies were high or unclear, most notably for allocation concealment, performance and detection bias. All studies were considered to be at high risk for performance bias due to the nature of the interventions.

Most studies were not designed to examine death or kidney failure. In low certainty evidence, a LPD may have little or no effect on death (5 studies, 358 participants: RR 0.38, 95% CI 0.10 to 1.44; I² = 0%), and the number of participants who reached kidney failure (4 studies, 287 participants: RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.38 to 3.59; I² = 0%). Compared to a usual or unrestricted protein intake, it remains uncertain whether a LPD slows the decline of glomerular filtration rate over time (7 studies, 367 participants: MD -0.73 mL/min/1.73 m²/year, 95% CI -2.3 to 0.83; I² = 53%; very low certainty evidence).

It is also uncertain whether the restriction of dietary protein intake impacts on the annual decline in creatinine clearance (3 studies, 203 participants: MD -2.39 mL/min/year, 95% CI -5.87 to 1.08; I² = 53%). There was only one study reporting 24-hour urinary protein excretion. In very low certainty evidence, a LPD had uncertain effects on the annual change in proteinuria (1 study, 80 participants: MD 0.90 g/24 hours, 95% CI 0.49 to 1.31). There was no evidence of malnutrition in seven studies, while one study noted this condition in the LPD group. Participant compliance with a LPD was unsatisfactory in nearly half of the studies. One study reported LPD had no effect on HRQoL. No studies reported hyperglycaemic events.