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Kidney Health 101: What is Diabetic Kidney Disease?
You may know diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. In fact, one in three adults with diabetes has kidney disease. Kidney disease caused by diabetes is called “diabetic kidney disease” in which the kidneys become damaged by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood—making the kidneys work harder to do their filtering job. Understanding how diabetes and kidney disease are related and actions you can take to help protect your kidneys may help you prevent or delay kidney disease and loss of kidney function.
What happens with diabetic kidney disease?
Each of your kidneys is made up of millions of nephrons which filter your blood to keep useful substances in the bloodstream and remove extra fluid and waste through urine. When kidney disease is caused by diabetes, the excess glucose in your blood creates an extra workload for the nephrons, eventually exhausting their ability to function.
How to tell if you have diabetic kidney disease
Most people with diabetic kidney disease have no symptoms. Therefore, if you have diabetes, you should have your kidneys checked through urine and blood tests. Guidelines suggest yearly testing if you have type 2 diabetes or have had type 1 diabetes for more than five years.
Your care team will check your urine for albumin, which is the most common protein found in the blood. It provides the body with the protein needed to both maintain growth and repair tissues. Albumin is produced by the liver, and it may pass through a damaged kidney and appear in urine.
How to prevent or delay diabetic kidney disease
You can help protect your kidneys from damage by keeping your blood glucose in check. A healthful lifestyle can help you do this. Follow your diabetes eating plan, limit or avoid alcohol and salt, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, get plenty of sleep and if you smoke, quit. Also, be aware of risk factors that may increase your chance of developing diabetic kidney disease, such as hypertension, heart disease, a family history of kidney disease, and having African American, American Indian and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.
Tips for following a diabetic kidney diet
If you have diabetes, you may already follow a diet that helps manage your diabetes. This includes fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein; and being careful to limit salt, sugar and foods high in refined carbs. There are some similarities between a diabetic diet and a kidney diet, as well as some differences. Like a diabetic diet, a kidney diet calls for less sodium and salt. This is important for kidneys, as they are unable to control sodium-water balance when you have kidney disease. However, some people with kidney disease may also need to limit the potassium, phosphorus and protein in their diet.
For guidance on what foods are best for both your diabetes and your specific stage of kidney disease, speak with your dietitian. They can help you understand your unique dietary needs as well as give you ideas for healthy meal options.
Recipes and resources
Once you and your dietitian have worked together to create a meal plan, you can find help managing your diabetic kidney diet with DaVita.com’s diet and nutrition tools. You can search more than 1,100 kidney-friendly recipes and can even filter your search results by diet type—including “dialysis and diabetes” and “chronic kidney disease (CKD) non-dialysis and diabetes.” You can also sort by nutrient content (e.g. low to high potassium, low to high protein, etc.) so that you see more recipes that align with your dietary needs.
- Diabetic Kidney Disease. Accessed 10/27/2020. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-kidney-disease
- Diabetes and Kidney Disease: What to Eat? Accessed 10/27/2020. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/what-to-eat.html
Additional Kidney Diet Resources
Visit DaVita.com and explore these diet and nutrition resources:
- DaVita Food Analyzer
- Today’s Kidney Diet Cookbooks
- DaVita Dining Out Guides
- DaVita Kidney-Friendly Recipes
- Diet and Nutrition Articles
- Diet and Nutrition Videos
- Kidney Smart® Virtual Classes
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.