The onset of diabetic nephropathy is characterized by subclinical elevation of urinary albumin excretion, so-called 'microalbuminuria' (M). Dietary assessments were carried out in 15 insulin-dependent diabetic patients with persistent M and an equal number with persistently normal albumin excretion. The groups were matched for sex, age, duration of diabetes, body mass index, insulin dose and glycosylated haemoglobin; there were no significant differences in systemic blood pressure, glomerular filtration rate, blood glucose and serum albumin concentrations between the groups; retinopathy was significantly more frequent in patients with M. Diabetics with persistent M were found to consume a significantly larger amount of fat (expressed as grams and percentage of total energy) and a significantly smaller percentage of total energy as carbohydrate than patients with normal albumin excretion; total dietary energy was larger in those with persistent M, but the difference was not significant. No significant differences were found in protein and fibre intakes between the groups. Our findings suggest that an excess in the dietary consumption of fat relative to carbohydrate might play an important role in the pathogenesis of early nephropathy in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. We emphasize the importance of careful attention to nutrient intake in the prevention and treatment of diabetic complications.