Natural Protein Intake in Children with Phenylketonuria: Prescription vs. Actual Intakes

Alex Pinto, Anne Daly, Júlio César Rocha, Catherine Ashmore, Sharon Evans, Fatma Ilgaz, Mary Hickson, Anita MacDonald

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In phenylketonuria (PKU), an important component of the UK dietary management system is a 50 mg phenylalanine (Phe)/1 g protein exchange system used to allocate the Phe/natural protein intakes according to individual patient tolerance. Any foods containing protein ≤ 0.5 g/100 g or fruits/vegetables containing Phe ≤ 75 mg/100 g are allowed without measurement or limit. In children with PKU, we aimed to assess the difference between the prescribed natural protein intake and their actual consumed intake, and to calculate the natural protein/Phe intake from foods given without measurement or restriction. Over a 6-month duration, three one-day diet diaries were collected every month by caregivers of children with PKU at the beginning of a follow-up study. Dietary intakes of Phe, as well as natural and total protein intakes, were calculated using Nutritics® (v5.09). Weekly blood Phe spots were collected by caregivers. The target blood Phe level was ≤360 μmol/L for ages up to 12 years and ≤600 μmol/L for ages ≥12 years. Sixteen early treated children (69% females) with PKU were recruited. The median age was 11 years (range: 9–13), and most had classical PKU (n = 14/16). A median of 18 (range 12–18) one-day diaries and 22 blood spots were analysed for each subject over 6 months. The median prescribed natural protein was 6 g/day (range: 3–27), but when calculated, the actual median intake from all foods consumed was 10 g/day (range: 4–37). The median prescribed Phe was 300 mg/day (range: 150–1350), but the actual median intake was 500 mg/day (range: 200–1850). The median difference between the prescribed and actual natural protein daily intakes was +4 g/day (range: −2.5 to +11.5), with a median percentage increase of 40% for natural protein/Phe intake (p < 0.001). The median blood Phe level was 250 μmol/L (range 20–750), with 91% of blood Phe levels within the target range. Only one patient (11 years) had less than 75% of their blood Phe levels within the target range. The UK Phe exchange system provides flexibility in the dietary management of PKU. With this method, the actual natural protein intake was 167% higher than the prescribed amount. Although this led to a variable daily protein intake, the majority of children (n = 15/16) experienced no deterioration in their metabolic control.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4903
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • fruits
  • metabolic control
  • phenylalanine
  • phenylketonuria
  • vegetables


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