There is some experimental evidence to suggest that progression of chronic renal failure (CRF) is slower on diets based on soya protein than on diets based on animal protein. We have compared the effect of a soya-based vegetarian low-protein diet (VPD) and an animal-based low-protein diet (APD) in 15 patients with CRF. 15 patients with CRF (51Cr-EDTA-measured glomerular filtration rate 15-50 ml/min/1.73 m2) were studied. In a randomized crossover trial, the patients were given each diet (each containing 0.75 g protein and 32 kcal per kilogram body weight) for a 6-month period. Nine patients completed the trial, 2 others dropped out because they could not tolerate the VPD, 3 because of unrelated medical complications, and 1 for technical reasons. The caloric intake was higher and the protein, phosphate and essential amino acid intake lower on the VPD than on the APD. The compliance with the suggested caloric intake was better with the VPD than with the APD (97 vs. 88% of recommended intake), as was the compliance with the suggested protein intake (94 vs. 112% of recommended intake) and with the suggested phosphate intake (102 vs. 116%). The mean glomerular filtration rate, as judged by 51Cr-EDTA, was similar after 6 months on each diet and remained unchanged throughout the entire year of the study. The rate of fall of glomerular filtration, as measured by the slope of 1/serum creatinine was slowed by 73% during the 1-year study period as compared with the prestudy period. Nutritional status (as measured by body mass index, midarm circumference, and lean body mass and percent body fat), serum transferrin, cholesterol and albumin, and total lymphocyte count were similar on the two diets. The serum albumin level on both diets, however, was significantly higher on the two diets than during the prediet period. Blood urea nitrogen, urine urea nitrogen, protein catabolic rate, and 24-hour urine creatinine and phosphate were lower on the VPD than on the APD. The 24-hour protein excretion was similar on the two diets. The two low-protein diets resulted in a slowing in the progression of CRF. A VPD is well tolerated in CRF and is associated with lower protein and phosphate intakes and a higher caloric intake than an APD and may, therefore, be used as a safe alternative or partial substitute for the usual APD in CRF.