The NKF has long advocated for food labels that will enable kidney patients as well as the general public to make informed choices about foods they consume. Last week, Lisa Gutekunst, a renal dietitian who serves on NKF’s Council on Renal Nutrition, traveled to Washington to voice our concerns.
Lisa has spent most of her career counseling dialysis patients living in the inner-city on making proper food choices to prevent toxins from building up in their bodies. It has been difficult for her patients to act on her advice because healthy eating often requires access to fresh or non-processed food, and in the inner-city, those options are not always readily available or affordable. Lisa did her best to help her patients identify foods that were low cost, and kidney-friendly, but her job was even more challenging because food labels do not provide all of the information needed to determine whether specific products are safe for kidney patients.
For years, Lisa, other renal dietitians and the National Kidney Foundation have been requesting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require food companies to add phosphorus content to food labels. Unfortunately, the FDA has done little to respond, stating that food labels are designed to help the general public make healthy decisions and cannot be modified to address the needs of one particular group of people.
However on June 26th, armed with the latest scientific evidence that phosphorus is not only an issue for dialysis patients, but a concern for the 26 million Americans living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the general public as well, Lisa attended a public hearing at the FDA to advocate for disclosure of phosphorus on food labels. Lisa addressed FDA policymakers and a room full of scientists and health experts, in addition to 500 participants who viewed the hearing via live webcast.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we can no longer say that the population in need of dietary phosphate awareness is limited to people receiving dialysis. There are 26 million Americans who have some level of kidney function impairment (they have kidney disease), and there are millions more at risk,” stated Lisa.
Lisa went on to address the growing evidence that phosphorus is a public health concern given the risks associated with cardiovascular disease and the challenges that kidney patients and renal dietitians face because of the absence of phosphorus information on food labels. “Within the CKD population, controlling phosphorus intake requires intensive ongoing diet education by the renal dietitian. With the increase in phosphate-containing additives in the food supply, the diets of these Americans have become more restrictive. Without knowing the amount of phosphorus in products containing additives, the dietitian is forced to caution patients from consuming such foods. For those patients having limited food procurement and preparation options, these recommendations may not be practical,” continued Lisa.
The National Kidney Foundation is proud that Lisa brought our organization’s concerns and those of the millions living with kidney disease to the attention of the FDA. Lisa’s presentation drew attention to the potential dangers of phosphorus additives and is hopeful that policymakers will act to add phosphorus content to food labels, a step that will empower all Americans, including kidney patients, to make informed decisions about their food consumption.