Kidney disease is a common complication of diabetes. Diet can help manage both conditions. Limiting certain items — such as salt and added sugar — and adding fresh vegetables and whole grains may benefit the health of people with these conditions.

A potential long-term complication of diabetes is diabetic nephropathy, which is a type of chronic kidney disease that occurs when high blood glucose levels damage kidney function. About 1 in 3 adults with diabetes in the United States also have chronic kidney disease.

A person’s diet can influence both kidney disease and diabetes. Although it may not be possible to reverse kidney damage, people can prevent or delay kidney disease with lifestyle behaviors, such as changes to the diet. Similarly, a nutritious, well-balanced diet may help slow or prevent type 2 diabetes or control other types of diabetes.

In this article, we discuss the role of nutrition in managing kidney disease and diabetes.

A person preparing food in a kitchen.Share on Pinterest
Jimena Roquero/Stocksy

A person with kidney disease and diabetes should aim to eat foods that help regulate their blood sugar levels and limit the amount of waste and fluid that their kidneys process.

The role of the kidneys is to remove excess water and waste from the body by turning it into urine. The kidneys help balance the body’s levels of potassium, acids, and salts. Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are not functioning fully and are unable to carry out these tasks as effectively as usual.

Through dietary changes, a person can limit the amount of minerals, salts, and fluid their kidneys must process. They can also choose foods that give them energy and are unlikely to lead to further health complications.

Diabetes is a health condition in which a person is unable to produce enough insulin or respond correctly to it. This hormone is responsible for allowing the body to use glucose from food as energy. When this process does not occur, a person’s blood sugar levels can become too high, which is known as hyperglycemia. Conversely, a person may also experience low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia.

When a person’s blood sugar is not within a healthy range, they may begin to feel unwell. If a person is regularly unable to keep their blood glucose within these ranges, they can develop health complications. Along with other management strategies, such as medications and regular exercise, following a diabetes meal plan can help a person manage their blood sugar levels.

It may be advisable for people with kidney disease, diabetes, or both to try limiting certain foods. A dietitian will be able to advise a person on which foods may be unsuitable for them.

For kidney health

People with kidney disease may benefit from limiting their salt intake. Excess sodium, which is naturally present in many foods and is a major part of table salt, can cause swollen ankles, puffiness, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and fluid around the heart and lungs.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease suggests that people with kidney disease should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. As such, people may wish to restrict their intake of salty seasonings, certain sauces, salted snacks, cured foods, and processed foods.

A person with kidney disease should also consider eating only moderate portions of protein. Although this macronutrient is essential for building muscle and growing and repairing cells, the kidneys may struggle to remove all the waste from a high protein diet. Excess protein waste can build up in the blood and cause weakness, nausea, loss of appetite, and taste changes.

Doctors may also advise people with kidney disease to limit their consumption of potassium and phosphorus, as their kidneys may not be able to filter out excess amounts of these minerals.

High phosphorus levels can result in the body removing calcium from bones, making them weaker. This can also lead to dangerous calcium deposits that can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, or even death.

High potassium levels might cause a person to experience weakness, numbness, and tingling. In some cases, they may also cause an irregular heartbeat or a heart attack.

Learn more about foods that people may wish to limit for kidney health.

For diabetes

An eating plan for diabetes is one that aims to help a person manage their blood sugar levels and body weight and prevent any further health complications. Many factors, including cultural background, personal preferences, comorbidities, and socioeconomic settings, can affect a person’s eating pattern, so it is advisable to consult a dietitian.

A person with diabetes should be mindful of consuming foods high in sugar, such as chocolate bars and sugary drinks, as these can cause spikes in blood sugar. It is best for a person to reserve these foods for when they need to correct a hypoglycemic episode.

It is important to note that the labels of some snacks with added sugar may list honey, sucrose, glucose, or fructose as an ingredient, rather than sugar.

Similarly, a person may wish to watch their intake of carbohydrates and have a goal for the total amount they consume daily. Where possible, an individual can replace some options with complex carbs, which are less likely to cause blood glucose spikes. For example, a person may choose whole grain bread rather than white bread and eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juice.

As people living with diabetes have an increased risk of high blood pressure, they can also benefit from limiting their intake of salt, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Learn more about food and diabetes.

There is no one-size-fits-all eating plan for a person with diabetes and kidney disease. Much of what a person chooses to eat will depend on the stage of their conditions, their weight, and their personal preferences.

However, many processed foods contain added ingredients that may worsen diabetes and kidney disease. A person with these conditions may wish to prepare and cook meals themselves so that they are fully aware of the ingredients.

Although a person may feel as though having diabetes and kidney disease significantly limits their food choices, it is possible to include a wide range of food options in a balanced eating plan. In many cases, people can still enjoy similar meals and snacks, but with more nutritious alternatives or smaller portion sizes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following foods and beverages are suitable for individuals with both diabetes and kidney disease:

  • Fruits: berries, grapes, cherries, apples, and plums
  • Veggies: cauliflower, onions, eggplant, and turnips
  • Proteins: eggs, unsalted seafood, and lean meats, such as poultry and fish
  • Carbs: whole grain breads, unsalted crackers, and pasta
  • Drinks: water, clear diet sodas, and unsweetened tea

As high blood pressure and heart disease are known risk factors for both kidney disease and diabetes, a doctor or dietitian may suggest elements of a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The DASH diet aims to reduce blood pressure, and it may also lower cholesterol and aid weight management.

People can take steps to maintain their kidney health and control their blood sugars. These steps include:

Many people live with both diabetes and kidney disease. Following an eating plan that helps regulate blood sugar and minimizes stress on the kidneys can help a person manage these conditions and lower their risk of complications.

Although it is important for these individuals to limit their intake of certain foods, this approach can sometimes feel challenging. However, many foods are available that can form part of a varied and nutritious eating plan that suits individual preferences. For additional help, people can consider consulting a dietitian.