From weight loss to disease cures, questionable nutrition advice can spread like wildfire

However, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ eating plan.

This is why ‘Eat Fact Not Fiction’ is the theme of Dietitian’s Week 2017, highlighting the importance of consulting a dietician for proven and individualised dietary advice.

Dieticians are experts

In the course of earning their degrees, dieticians are taught the specific skills required to interpret scientific evidence.

In order to maintain their professional registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), all practising SA dieticians also have to undertake ongoing studies that ensure they keep up with the latest knowledge provided by new and emerging evidence, in accordance with the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme.

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This means dieticians have the latest evidence-based food, health and disease expertise at their fingertips – and you won’t find a registered dietician in the country basing any recommendations on the long outdated food pyramid. 

Food-based dietary guidelines have changed

The country’s broad strokes dietary guidelines, on which public health messages are based, and which were developed according to the process recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), have also evolved over the years, featuring a notable shift from the emphasis on nutrients to the focus on actual foods, which by nature contain a variety of nutrients.

ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, provides further clarity on the guidelines with its statement on the Optimal Nutrition for South Africans. The latest visual Food Guide from the Department of Health provides a very different picture from older models such as the Food Pyramid and represents the latest FAO recommendations.

Diets are personal

What we eat is rooted in our culture, tradition, shaped by affordability and accessibility, and inextricably intertwined with highly variable lifestyle factors such as weight, physical activity, emotional connection to food, and genetics.

The reality remains that a diet is highly personal.

“This is where the dietician comes to the fore,” says ADSA President and registered Dietitian, Maryke Gallagher. “If you take a disease such as diabetes, which is a prevalent lifestyle disease in the country, and is a condition that can be managed through diet, each patient needs a tailor-made plan and focused support to make their individualised diet work towards their well-being and health. When the situation demands change around something as fundamental to life as food, then broad strokes are not necessarily sustainable solutions.”

Some may associate dieticians with merely giving advice to someone who wants to lose weight, but dieticians work across a range of industries. They are also experts in providing nutritional advice with regard to serious diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease, cancers, HIV/AIDS, TB, throat, stomach and intestinal disorders, as well as food allergies and intolerances, eating disorders, sports nutrition and life-stage nutrition (including the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as the best start in life).

Apart from dieticians in private practice, they work in hospitals and communities, academia and industries. In addition to consulting with patients, dieticians are also involved in research, nutrition training and development of provincial and national policies.

Obesity and malnutrition

In South Africa, where the health issues that arise from the obesity epidemic stand side by side with those resulting from undernutrition, our dieticians’ work spans from one extreme to another.

The South African Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (SASPEN), a supporter of Dietitian’s Week, highlights the essential role the dietician plays in providing nutritional support to promote optimal nutrition to people in hospitals, where malnutrition is a common cause of the exacerbation of disease, delayed healing and prolonged hospital stays. 

What to expect of a dietician

In consultation, a dietician will consider many factors unique to you. This includes your age, gender, genetics, body size and body image, environment, culture, spiritual beliefs, family life, physical activity level, mental well-being, work life, budget, food preferences, cooking skills as well as existing health conditions and prescribed meds.

To find a dietician in your area, please visit www.adsa.org.za

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.