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Shaun Riebl, PhD, RDN, LDN, recently joined the UNC Kidney Center as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Riebl earned his PhD from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He serves alongside the nephrology team in the Kidney and Hypertension Specialty Clinic providing nutrition therapy and education to individuals with kidney disease.

Why did you decide to become a dietitian?

I decided to become a dietitian while completing my master’s in exercise physiology because of the connection between exercise performance and nutrition intake. I was racing bikes and experienced firsthand how important nutrition was in training and racing.

What do you like about your job?

I enjoy serving others and working alongside intelligent, passionate people who are not after their own glory, but their patient’s health and longevity.

What are some of the challenges that patients with chronic kidney disease face with their diets?

From my experience some challenges are misinformation and information overload. There are many conflicting resources available on the internet about diet and nutrition in chronic kidney disease. Some of these sources are not backed by solid research and can harmful. Nutrition is individualized and a cookie-cutter approach will not work. It’s heartbreaking because we all want to be healthy and feel good; because there is so much information (and misinformation) out there we can be damaging our health versus supporting it.

If a kidney patient does not follow the diet recommended to him or her, what could happen? What are some of the possible consequences?

This is a tough question to answer because it really depends on the person, their kidney function, and a slew of other factors. When diet recommendations are not followed the effects may not be felt or seen immediately in some instances. For example, if someone consistently has a high phosphorus level it’s likely that their bones are becoming weak and the risk of vascular damage increases. Symptoms of the underlying damage may not be immediately apparent. If someone’s potassium level is high the complications can be dire. It’s hard to say that, and it’s the truth. Those are just two examples of where straying from diet recommendations can be unhealthy. There are many other dietary components like sodium, cholesterol, and protein that someone with chronic kidney disease needs to be aware of and trying to balance all of this can be overwhelming. Speaking with a registered dietitian/nutritionist can help someone avoid the health consequences of too much or too little of these nutrients.

What sorts of positive changes can a kidney patient see when he or she begins following a specific diet?

Someone may experience an increase in energy, weight loss, clearer thinking, and feeling better in general. With all these can come greater enjoyment of life. Following the diet recommendations does not necessarily mean taking certain foods off the table or having unexciting, bland meals and snacks; it means having foods we enjoy in amounts that our bodies can handle while sharing in the food experience with others..

Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight?

I am looking forward to helping people on their journey to feeling well and enjoying life. Thank you very much for the opportunity to tell you more about myself.

Read Shaun Riebl’s profile here.