High dietary protein intake, in the past recommended for nephrotic syndrome, does not improve hypoproteinemia and may accelerate progressive renal damage. In contrast, low-protein diets reduce proteinuria and preserve renal function in experimental renal models of nephrotic syndrome. In this study, 20 steroid-resistant, nephrotic patients were treated with a pure vegetarian, low-protein diet, supplemented with essential amino acids and ketoanalogues (supplemented vegan diet, SVD) for 4.6 +/- 3.1 months. Before the study, these patients followed an unrestricted protein, low-sodium diet (LSD). Proteinuria, daily urea nitrogen excretion and creatinine clearance decreased significantly on SVD. A similar lowering effect of SVD was observed on serum total cholesterol. Seven of the 20 patients changed from LSD to SVD and vice-versa on 3 occasions, and in all cases, we found an increase of proteinuria during the LSD period. Serum albumin, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and anthropometric measurements did not change on SVD. Our data suggest that SVD exerts a favorable effect on proteinuria and hypercholesterolemia in nephrotic patients, without inducing clinical or laboratory signs of malnutrition.