Low protein diabetic (renal) diet

Originally Published: May 9, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 26, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I have been a Type II diabetic for several years. I am now told I am beginning to show kidney insufficiency — is there a diet, or can you tell me where to find diet information of foods that a diabetic can use that are lower in protein and/or a renal diet?

Dear Reader,

Great question! Diet is one of the most important ingredients for treating kidney, or renal, insufficiency. When a person has renal insufficiency, it means that some of the nephron function in the kidneys has been lost, and the fluid, protein, and electrolytes are not filtered as efficiently through the kidneys. In order to delay renal insufficiency and prevent it from worsening, it is important to limit the amount of electrolytes (i.e., sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium), fluids, and protein that one ingests.

Diabetes is the main cause of kidney insufficiency, which can eventually result in kidney failure. The reason for this is that increased blood sugar damages the capillaries and nerves that support kidney function. In addition to your low protein diabetic diet, you should also be sure that you are testing your blood sugar daily, exercising, and following your health care provider’s instructions.

Depending on the degree of your renal insufficiency, various protein restrictions would be necessary. At this point, you could plan a diet that balances your intake of phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. If you have fluid retention, decreased urinary output, and/or hypertension, it could be necessary for you to have a sodium and fluid restriction as well. In this case, you should speak with to your health care provider about how to restrict these nutrients.

When you eat large amounts of protein, extra stress is placed upon the kidneys. This is because they excrete waste products derived from protein. Since someone in your situation needs to eat a reduced amount of protein, the protein you eat should come from sources that are easily assimilated into body tissue. This type of protein is termed High Biological Value (HBV for short). The highest HBV protein is from an egg — other sources with slightly lower HBV protein include fish, beef, and poultry. In renal insufficiency, about 70 to 80% of your protein should come from these sources.

Various health care providers, such as a registered dietitian, can formulate an eating plan designed to meet your specific needs. If you are a Columbia student, this service is free for you at the Health Service. You can make an appointment with Medical Services through Open Communicator, or by calling x4-2284. You can also check out the American Dietetic Association to locate a Registered Dietitian in your area.

For more information on diabetes, you can try the following resources:

Alice