The nutrition minefield

When it comes to food, just about everyone has strong opinions about what constitutes healthy nutrition. Caught in the crossfire of forceful advice, we often don’t know who to trust.

If we are not careful, we can end up trying a bit of this and that without reaching our health goals – whether it’s to lose weight, up our energy levels, or manage type-2 diabetes or other major diseases.

Find a voice of reason

Since nutrition affects our health in many ways, it’s important to find that calm space in the eye of the storm and that’s where a registered dietitian comes in.

As health professionals, regulated by law, dietitians spend a minimum of four years studying at an established university and commit to ongoing professional development to stay abreast of scientific developments. This makes them a reliable source of evidence-based nutrition expertise.

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“A common misconception is that a dietitians work is simply focused on helping people lose or manage their weight, comments Cath Day, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), “While weight loss is an important aspect of dietetics, the reality is that the role of the dietitian is much, much broader.”

As a result, dietitians do not only work in private practice; they are also employed in government, business, social, educational, healthcare and research institutions.

Nutritional needs depend on life stage

Day points out that professional advice from a dietitian is important at different life stages, for instance to determine healthy eating plans for the different nutrition requirements of childhood and for old age, as well as during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“Dietitians also help patients over the long-term to prevent or improve the management of disease,” she says, “It is important to have professional nutritional advice if you are dealing with conditions such as eating disorders, hypertension, gastro-intestinal disorders, pre-diabetes and diabetes, kidney failure, cardiac disease, as well as cancer and HIV/AIDS.”

What women want (and need)

For women, optimal nutrition can play an important role in preventing or improving osteoporosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

The advice of dietitians is also often sought in a wide range of states of health from those wanting to optimise their recovery from illness or injury, to athletes and others in peak health who want to improve their performance in sports and physical activities. After all, our greatest wealth is our health.

Individuals matter

The great advantage that a dietitian offers is that they deal with each person and their nutritional needs on a completely individual basis.

“Diets and dietary supplements are marketed as if they will work for everyone,” Day says.  “But in truth, we are all very different when it comes to our eating habits, food preferences, physical activity and metabolic rates, and our lifestyle choices at any given time in our lives.”

A dietitian works closely with you to determine an optimal nutrition plan that takes all these variances into account so that it is easier for you to make the necessary changes and sustain them over the long term. In addition, they are an advisor and a coach providing vital support and encouragement while you are on this journey.

Did you know?

Dietitians Week, 6 to 10 June, highlights the impact of the dietetic profession. To find a dietitian in your area, visit www.adsa.org.za/Public/FindARegisteredDietitian.aspx

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.