“Utilizing the power of food as medicine”

Celebrating the diverse work of registered dietitians this Nutrition Month

By Selma Al-Samarrai

March 1, 2019 – March is Nutrition Month, which highlights the critical impact of nutrition on overall health.

At Unity Health Toronto, we celebrate Nutrition Month by highlighting the work of our registered dietitians who work with patients in all areas of care, including diabetes, mental health, oncology, surgery, pediatrics, renal care and palliative care. Registered dietitians are key members of patients’ health-care teams and work to maximize health through a food plan that suits an individual’s needs and matches their personal priorities and preferences.

Below, nine registered dietitians from different areas of care at Unity Health Toronto describe their varied roles:


Jacquelin Song, registered dietitian, CVICU and Cardio/Vascular Surgery, St. Michael’s Hospital

“I provide nutrition care to patients after heart or vascular surgery, and this includes tube feeding, intravenous nutrition and diet optimization for malnutrition, critical illness, wound healing and post-op recovery.

I love what I do because I work with a collaborative team that understands the importance of nutrition on health outcomes and I am able to see the benefits of our interventions over time as patients recover towards discharge.

As well, our patients and families routinely teach me lessons on resilience. I am thankful for the people I meet and work with every day.”


Fiona Bellefeuille, registered dietitian, Community Renal Clinic, St. Joseph’s Health Centre

“As a registered dietitian within the Renal program at St. Joseph’s, I provide nutrition guidance to patients who have kidney disease.

Kidney disease is a progressive disease that can affect people of all ages and small diet changes over time can have a significant impact on its management.

The main goal of nutrition counselling is to help patients slow the progression of their disease through diet changes and to manage their nutritional health when they are on dialysis. The renal diet is very complex and I enjoy having the opportunity to help our patients navigate their journey to improve their health through diet and lifestyle modifications.”


Tina Seegobin, registered dietitian, Palliative Care and Geriatrics, Providence Healthcare

“In palliative care, I allow my patients to have a choice in their meals at the end of life that focuses on their needs and wishes, in addition to providing interventions for symptom management.

I make an impact on the lives of dying patients and their families by understanding and appreciating what ‘comfort care’ means and by providing education and support that help guide them through each step.

Nutrition at the end of life is challenging, but I feel fulfilled in assisting my patients and families in providing patient-centered care.”


Elaine Clark, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Ambulatory Care Centre, St. Joseph’s

“For the past 11 years, I have worked as an outpatient dietitian and a certified diabetes educator at St. Joseph Health Centre. In this role, I facilitate group education, 1:1 appointments, and work in the diabetes clinics.

I have the pleasure of working with an amazing team to support adults with Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes.

I have a special interest in helping people use technology such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors to improve their blood sugar control and quality of life. Diabetes is an exciting area to work in, with frequent innovations in care that keep me interested and constantly learning.”


Christine Rezk, registered dietitian, Orthopedic and Amputations, Providence

“In my role as a registered dietitian, I promote a high quality of life by providing evidence-based nutritional care to geriatric, orthopaedic and amputee patients.

I empower my patients to take charge of their health and well-being by managing their complex chronic diseases, which enable effective participation in rehabilitation and preservation of physical functionality.

I love the culture at Providence because it promotes a collaborative and interprofessional approach that values and respects the role of the dietitian in rehabilitation.”


Punya Puri, registered dietitian, Sumac Family Health Team, on behalf of all St. Michael’s Family Health Teams’ registered dietitians

“Healthy food and nutrition is an essential part of everyone’s life. Besides providing interdisciplinary and comprehensive care to our patients, the Family Health Team dietitians simplify the understanding of scientific terms of food and nutrition to help patients make healthier food choices.

We empower our clients to make lifestyle changes by actively involving them in their goal setting to help them develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies.

We also have the opportunity to perform community outreach work where we focus on social determinants of health through workshops on prevention and management of chronic diseases. Together, these two initiatives foster a challenging workplace that benefits both patients and the community.”


Sharon Chandra, registered dietitian, 3M & 6G Medicine & Seniors Care Program, St. Joseph’s

“I work as a registered dietitian in the Medicine and Transitional Care programs at St. Joseph’s Health Centre. In my role, I assess patients with medical conditions or illnesses that put them at nutritional risk.

I then develop an appropriate nutrition care plan that involves specialized therapies including supplementation, diet modification or nutrition delivered via feeding tubes into the gastrointestinal tract.

What I enjoy about my role is the ability to utilize the power of food as medicine. I strongly believe in the healing power of food to prevent malnutrition, improve nutritional status, as well as improve or decrease the impact of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.


Emily Opperman, registered dietitian, Trauma & Neurosurgery, St. Michael’s

“As an acute care dietitian, my role is to improve the nutritional status of patients using a combination of food, supplements, enteral nutrition and parenteral nutrition.

I collaborate with my colleagues, patients and their families to make individualized nutrition care plans and adapt them based on the needs of my patients.

There are so many reasons to love my job! I am a strong advocate for patient-centered care and strive to optimize their nutritional status in any way I can. My job is also extremely rewarding; seeing patients improve enough to leave St. Michael’s is a great gift.”


Shilin He, registered dietitian, B3 Stroke & Neuro Rehabilitation, Providence

“My favourite part about working at Providence is the collaborative culture and friendly staff, which makes working on the stroke and neuro units a truly fulfilling experience.

My role varies from motivating patients to make healthier dietary choices through nutrition education, to weaning patients off their tube feeds onto an oral diet, to finding creative ways to make nutrition supplements palatable and fun, and much more!

My health-care approach is providing patient-centered care through advocacy, collaboration and empathy.”