March is National Nutrition Month

Personal nutrition plan. African american woman dietologist consulting patient, using laptop, clinic interior

Ingredients for a Healthier Tomorrow 

In celebration of Nutrition Month and Dietitians Day (March 16), the Kidney Community Kitchen would like to acknowledge and thank our dedicated team of volunteers who respond to the Ask a Dietitian questions, submit blogs, submit and analyze recipes, and so much more.

  • Fiona Bellefeuille
  • Jenna Cafferty
  • Emily Campbell
  • Janet Chu
  • Megan Dowling
  • Marie-Lou Filiatrault
  • Julie Hutter
  • Lauren Kapphahn
  • June Martin
  • Dani Renouf
  • Karen Sevorg
  • Gurpreet Virk

In the Nutrition Month awareness campaign, Dietitians of Canada explore issues like food insecurity, food literacy and food sovereignty, to name a few. These are important topics for all Canadians, and some are particularly relevant for kidney patients and their care partners. 

In this interview, Dani Renouf and her student Hanna Kim, two volunteer contributors to the Kidney Community Kitchen, share their thoughts about these and other topics of importance for people living with kidney disease and their care partners. 

Profile picture of Dani Renouf, RD MSc

Dani Renouf has supported the Kidney Community Kitchen for the past six years, writing blogs, creating videos, and supervising and encouraging student dietitians’ volunteering through the UBC Nutrition Program. Dani Renouf, RD, MSc, CDE is a registered dietitian with over two decades of experience in a variety of practice areas. Her most recent work is with the Providence Health Care Kidney Care Program and BC Renal, where she serves as Dietitian Chair. Dani received all her education at the University of British Columbia. We are grateful for Dani’s experience and expertise in the Kidney Community Kitchen.  

  • Food insecurity is one of Dietitians of Canada’s 2022 Nutrition Month campaign themes. In our 2018 report, The Burden of Out-of-Pocket Costs for Canadians with Kidney Failure, we found that 41% of people on dialysis live below the Canadian Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO), compared to 8-14% of the general Canadian population. Since diet is an important part of managing kidney disease, can you suggest how people can find inexpensive yet healthy foods to support their health condition?  

I work with many patients who face systemic financial barriers to accessing nutritious food. It is crucial to build a long-lasting relationship with this group of patients to help them through their daily challenges and find resourceful and creative options to access suitable foods. Suggestions will be based on individual needs and vary based on what is possible. The system limits us; however, we can navigate as best as possible by working together closely.

For more ideas, read this blog, previously submitted by Dani, for more suggestions on budget-friendly meal planning.  

  • Food Literacy is another theme of Nutrition Month 2022. Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations were recently changed to make improvements to food labels. Can you tell us why these changes were necessary and how they affect kidney patients and their care providers?  

Potassium quantities and percent of the daily value (%DV) are now included on nutrition labels. However, patients with kidney issues need to go above and beyond absolute amounts of potassium, or milligrams, and work with a dietitian to understand the differences in absorption between natural and synthetic (additive) forms of potassium. Nutrition labels are still primarily suited for the general population, so patients with kidney disease need to work with a dietitian to explore this tool more thoroughly.  

  • Nutrition Care & Prevention is another pillar of Nutrition Month this year. We know that the progression of kidney disease can be slowed, especially when diagnosed in the early stages. What are the most important nutritional changes a person can make to help delay the progression of kidney disease?  

All patients with kidney disease need to watch and monitor their sodium intake. The earlier patients can speak to a dietitian, the better their outcomes will be for preventing and delaying complications associated with kidney and other chronic health conditions.

Read more about what you can do to delay the progression of kidney disease on our Renal Diet FAQ page. 

  • A growing body of new scientific evidence influences and changes dietary recommendations for kidney patients. Please explain these changes and how they changed your approach to supporting kidney patients’ nutritional needs.  

We are now focusing on dietary patterns rather than absolute restrictions on potassium and phosphate, especially from natural sources. We had limits on how many milligrams of potassium and phosphate a person could take daily in the past. We now realize this was not based on science, and patients can enjoy a variety of foods from natural sources, even though their milligrams of potassium and phosphate are high. These specifically include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins. It is essential to work with a dietitian to understand your specific needs.  

  • In addition to being a Renal Resource Dietitian, you also supervise nutritional students. Why do you spend so much time mentoring students?  

Students are the future of the profession. If they can get exposure to the work we do earlier, it helps them build confidence and skills. By the time they are in a practicum program, they can navigate patient education and advocate for patient-centered care.  

Profile picture of Hanna Kim

Hanna Kim is one of Dani’s students and a Kidney Community Kitchen contributor. Hanna obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in 2020. She is now pursuing her education in Dietetics in her fourth year at UBC. Hannah has been volunteering with Dani Renouf for over three years. She writes blog articles, creates recipe videos, and analyzes the Kidney Community Kitchen recipes.

  • What motivated you to study nutrition?  

When I started University, I was interested in exercise science and nutrition, but I was unsure where to start. I thought studying Kinesiology would be the place to start, and it was! As a former professional dancer, I quickly realized how important food was in optimizing my performance. These experiences led to a greater curiosity in nutrition, which further piqued my interest in exploring a career in dietetics during my undergrad. When I learned about the different nutritional career paths, I stumbled upon dietetics, and I knew this would be a good fit for me right away. I am excited to translate nutrition science into practical information through evidence-based nutrition. By gaining relevant experience from registered dietitians specializing in various fields, I am motivated to help individuals, families, and communities shift towards sustainable, life-long health behaviors.  

  • Did you have any preconceived notions about nutrition before starting the program, and how have they changed as you gained experience? How has this helped your learning, and how do you work through a patient-centered lens?  

Before starting my program, I had many preconceived beliefs about nutrition. Volunteering in a clinical setting and interacting with various patients made me realize that nutrition is highly individualized and varies in different disease states. At the hospital, I witnessed and heard first-hand about patients’ experiences with their chronic disease, and this experience taught me the importance of the patient-clinician relationship. During this process, I learned that evidence-based research is a vital component within the dietetics profession as the nutritional sciences is constantly growing and evolving. I became more emotionally aware and empathetic. As a future dietitian, I hope to connect with patients dealing with different nutrition-related diseases.  

  • Food sovereignty includes the right to food that is both healthy and culturally appropriate, produced sustainably equitably, and that values the rights of people and the sacredness of food. We know that Indigenous peoples, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and people of African/Caribbean and Hispanic descent are at higher risk of kidney disease. What is the best way for kidney patients and their caregivers to manage and include the foods they know and love with their new and often complex nutritional needs?   

As a Korean Canadian Dietetics student, I believe dietitians must engage in discussions with patients and their caregivers about their cultural heritage, food traditions, and beliefs to respectfully incorporate food recommendations relevant to the patient. Both dietitians and patients must work together and learn to achieve the best nutrition care plan possible. To manage and include the foods that patients love, dietitians must be aware of their own biases, beliefs, and culture when interacting with patients, educate themselves on their food culture nutrition needs, and respectfully celebrating their food traditions. This awareness will help develop culturally appropriate nutritional education materials to better assist the patient and caregiver.