Nonlinear diffusion ∂tρ= (increment)(Φ(ρ)) is considered for a class of nonlinearities Φ. It is shown that for suitable choices of Φ, an associated Lyapunov functional can be interpreted as thermodynamic entropy. This information is used to derive an associated metric, here called thermodynamic metric. The analysis is confined to nonlinear diffusion obtainable as hydrodynamic limit of a zero range process. The thermodynamic setting is linked to a large deviation principle for the underlying zero range process and the corresponding equation of fluctuating hydrodynamics. For the latter connections, the thermodynamic metric plays a central role.