The effect of rice protein (RP) on diabetic nephropathy in non-obese, spontaneous type 2 diabetic Goto–Kakizaki (GK) rats was investigated. GK rats at 7 weeks of age were fed 20 % RP or casein (C) in standard or high-sucrose diets for 10 weeks. Plasma total cholesterol, TAG, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), adiponectin, creatinine and urinary albumin excretion (UAE) were measured and renal histology was evaluated. Compared with C, RP lowered plasma TAG and improved plasma adiponectin levels in GK rats fed the standard diet (P< 0·05), and also lowered total cholesterol and ALP in high-sucrose-fed GK rats (P< 0·05). RP markedly suppressed the sharp increase in UAE when GK rats were fed high-sucrose diets (P< 0·05), and prevented glomerular mesangial matrix expansion in the deep renal cortex near the corticomedullary junction (P< 0·05). These results strongly indicate that dietary RP can ameliorate the progression of diabetic nephropathy at an early stage compared with C.