2020 marks my 35th year of being a registered dietitian! Most of my career has been as a food service dietitian. I am married to wonderful man, whose work took us to Germany, Qatar and Egypt. We have a beautiful daughter who is now the doctor in the house. We are looking for that perfect place to retire and do more travelling.
Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?
It was second choice but no regrets.
What would you have wanted to do if not Dietetics?
Where did you study (degree and/ or postgrad)
BSc Dietetics – UKZN Postgraduate diploma – UP
Where do you work and what does your job entail?
The last nine years I have been working on the National Youth Chef Training Programme and teaching nutrition and food safety to hospitality and chef students.
Walk us through a day in your life?
My day has to include a walk with my husband. Lesson preparation, lessons marking and admin. Thinking of new ways to get nutrition messages across. Cooking dinner, experimenting with flavours in nutritious dishes.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?
The challenge of working with young adults. Being able to pass on knowledge and give people an opportunity to improve their lives.
What has been your career highlight?
Working in a renal unit was the most rewarding time in my career. My career has been varied and never boring.
What are the most challenging aspects of your career?
Dietetics was a relatively new profession when I started my career, so promoting what dietitians can do was important. Getting away from the dietitians are just kitchen supervisors label was a challenge. Today’s challenge is motivating people to adopt healthier lifestyles and choose more nutritious foods in a world that promotes unhealthy choices. My hope is that my students will remember their nutrition lessons and make a small positive change in their or someone else’s eating habits.
What is something that people don’t know about you?
Mmm – no secrets.
What are your favourite foods?
At the moment homemade bean & vegetable soup and Irish soda bread. I do enjoy a glass of wine, red of course.
What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?
Oh, you work with fat people!
Can you give me a diet, I need to lose weight?
What do you think about, (the latest fad diet), should I try it?
It is great to see how the profession has grown and developed over the years. We need to focus on better nutrition for all in South Africa and have a common message based on sound principles.
Nutrition and immune health has become a popular topic in 2020. Aside from Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, another google search of interest was that of immunity and how one could stop themselves from contracting the virus. Terms such as ‘vitamin C’, ‘immune system boosters’, and ‘dietary supplements’ were searched on google up to 5000% more times in March 2020 than in previous months.1-3While this interest in nutrition and immune health is exciting to us, some information found on the internet may be rather misleading.
So, let’s try and clarify a few things!
Research has shown that a healthy, well-balanced diet can help strengthen the immune system. Does this mean that good nutrition can prevent you from contracting viruses like COVID-19? Not necessarily – viruses like these are incredibly infectious, meaning any one of us, well-nourished or malnourished, can contract it. But what it doesmean is that you can help prepare your immune system by maintaining a good nutritional status, thus potentially improving your outcomes should you contract an infection. And what better way to help strengthen the immune system than through food!
Certain nutrients have come under the limelight because of their abilities to improve immune health. These nutrients include: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Zinc, Selenium, Omega-3 fatty aids and dietary fibre.
Vitamin C has been shown to be protective against infectious diseases, particularly respiratory ones such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. It acts as an antioxidant, which helps protects our cells from oxidative damage, as well as an anti-histamine, which can help improve flu-like symptoms.4,5
The vitamin that has created the most buzz in the scientific realm in recent months has been Vitamin D. It works as an anti-inflammatory and can reduce the severity of viral infections, particularly respiratory infections. Vitamin D is unique in that it can be synthesised by our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. 4,5,6 Fifteen to thirty minutes of sunshine everyday can do you wonders, just remember to protect your skin.
Vitamin A deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of infection. Vitamin A helps with the growth of our immune cells, protecting us from illness and infection.5
Vitamin E, like vitamin C, is an antioxidant and helps improve our bodies antibody response to infection.4,5
Zinc is a mineral that acts as an anti-viral and helps recruit immune cells in the body to help fight infection.4,5 It is important for wound healing and can even improve the symptoms of a common cold.
Selenium, also a mineral, help support the immune system as an antioxidant, which might provide protective effects against some types of cancer.7 Selenium deficiency has been associated with viral infections such as influenza.5
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered ‘healthy fats’ as they improve the healthy cholesterol levels in the blood. Omega-3 has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 4,5
Fibre is often overlooked. We always say, ‘less fat’ or ‘less sugar’, but sometimes we forget to say MORE FIBRE. Fibre gets fermented by the good bacteria in our gut, and the products of this fermentation have anti-inflammatory actions that can help improve our immune health.5,8 So not only does fibre help regulate our bowel movements, it also improves our immune health!
Examples of Food Sources
Antioxidant and antihistamine
Fruits and vegetables namely: Red and Green peppers Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit) Kiwi Tomato
Fish Eggs Fortified milk Mushrooms
Growth of immune cells and protection from illness and infection.
Carrots Spinach or kale Liver (beef and chicken) Eggs
Antioxidant and improves immune response to infection
Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts), Sunflower seeds Plant oils (sunflower, soya, corn, olive) Wheat germ found in cereal products Broccoli Blueberries
Anti-viral and helps recruit immune cells to fight infection
Red meat and Poultry Oysters Dairy products Whole grains Beans Nuts
Nuts Whole grains Cereals Mushrooms Dairy products Poultry, Red meat and Seafood
Fermentation of fibre in the gut provides products that help strengthen the immune system
Whole grains Fruits Vegetables Legumes
Supplements: to buy or not to buy?
Our first choice of obtaining vitamins and minerals should be through food. A healthy and well-balanced diet will help you get the right nutrients that you need to help improve the functioning of your immune system. So no, you don’t have to sip on dissolved vitamin C effervescent tablets like they’re wine on a Friday night.
Vitamins and supplements are there for those who are deficient or are not meeting their nutritional demands. This could be for various reasons, such as disease, allergies, intolerances, or dietary preferences that cause you to avoid certain foods. Pregnant or lactating women, young children or the elderly may also need to use them. In these instances, the use of vitamins or supplements could be useful. If you are worried that you may need a nutritional supplement, you should discuss this with your doctor and dietitian first.9
The reasons for consulting your healthcare professional before choosing and purchasing supplements are five-fold9:
Vitamins may not be necessary as you may be able to meet your needs through food alone. Food has benefits that supplements do not have and should always be the first option.
Vitamins and supplements can be very expensive. Why put a dent in your budget if it is not necessary?
Some supplements on the market are advertised as doing magical things to boost your immune system, without scientific evidence to back their claims. A dietitian will be able to do the necessary research to help you identify which supplements to get – that is, if you even need them.
Taking vitamins in excess of what you need may be doing more harm than good.
Some vitamins or supplements may interfere with certain medications and may be unsafe for you if you suffer from a medical condition.
In a nutshell, to help strengthen your immune system enjoy a variety of whole foods (those that are not processed, high in fat or sugar), drink clean and safe water, practice healthy eating habits and get some well-deserved SLEEP.
The theme for this year’s National Nutrition and Obesity week was Good Nutrition for Good Immunity. For more information about nutrition and immune health, please visit https://www.nutritionweek.co.za
Fighting a virus is your bodies equivalent of going to war. So, make sure it has the right weapons to use, like a well-functioning immune system.
Shakoor, H., Feehan, J., Al Dhaheri, A., Ali, H., Platat, C., Ismail, L., Apostolopoulos, V. and Stojanovska, L., 2020. Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19?. Maturitas, 143, pp.1-9.
Iddir, M., Brito, A., Dingeo, G., Fernandez Del Campo, S., Samouda, H., La Frano, M. and Bohn, T., 2020. Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis. Nutrients, 12(6), p.1562.
Wu, D., Lewis, E., Pae, M. and Meydani, S., 2019. Nutritional Modulation of Immune Function: Analysis of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance. Frontiers in Immunology, 9.
Mahan LK, Raymond JL. Food & the nutrition care process. 14th ed. Seattle, WA: Elsevier; 2017
Valdes, A., Walter, J., Segal, E. and Spector, T., 2018. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, p.k2179.
We’ve had a year like no other, and while the shadow of the pandemic still looms over the world, South Africans can breathe a sigh of some relief, that it is, at least, the summer holiday season. A good dose of festive cheer has rarely felt so crucial. The pandemic will inevitably mute our celebrations in various ways. Some of us are feeling the effects of the economic impacts and will have to scale down or forego the treats and luxuries. Others, especially those with vulnerable loved ones, will opt for smaller, home-based gatherings and would rather skip the holiday crowds this year. However we choose to make the most that we can of the festive season, our hearts will be pulled towards those struggling to put food on the table this December, as well as those who have an empty chair at their family table.
If a global pandemic can have a silver lining it is that it has immersed us far more than usual in home life. We’ve had more concentrated time with our loved ones and closest friends, and that’s heightened our appreciation of the really important things in our life. As families, we’ve cooked more together, and shared more meals. Food is at the centre of our social lives, and the festive season brings with it particular food traditions and long-established favourite holiday food habits. This brings challenges to starting up or maintaining healthy eating, and to how we can still enjoy special food occasions on tighter budgets this year.
Three registered dietitians, all spokespeople for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) share their advice for a happy, healthy 2020 holiday season for all South Africans:
Omy Naidoo, registered dietitian from KZN on beating the budget:
Opt for much more cooking in rather than eating out; the savings are significant, especially when it comes to larger families
Add beans, peas and lentils to dishes for a punch of affordable, quality protein so that you can use less meat
Include more vegetables at every meal to ensure you get a boost of vitamins and minerals without breaking the budget. Start your own summer veggie garden at home
Cook large meals from inexpensive ingredients, and use your leftovers over the following days
Every meal doesn’t have to have meat which can be swopped out for beans, legumes, eggs or canned fish, which are all cheap, nutritious and delicious sources of protein
Zitandile Mfono, registered dietitian from Eastern Cape on healthy balance:
Every day and every meal won’t be the same, and you should strive for balance over time. For instance, a sweet treat at lunch can be balanced by plenty of vegetables at dinner
Plan ahead for your ‘must-have’ favourite celebration meals; make the shopping list for those ingredients and then stick to it. Because you will enjoy getting what you most want out of festive eating, you won’t miss those less healthy extras you slipped into your trolley
Put the tips for healthier alternatives into action so that you can reduce sugar and saturated fats at most meal times
Have fun with family workouts and long family walks to balance out the long hours sitting down to bigger meals
Balance is also about the mind; so enjoy your festive meals and holiday time with your loved ones. Despite the difficulties of this year, we are still going to be thankful for the festive cheer
Rosanne Lombard, registered dietitian from Gauteng on keeping it simple:
Don’t overcomplicate your nutrition. Try not to restrict yourself and deprive yourself of treats as this tends to lead to a binge. If you can eat the healthier foods most of the time, in portion-controlled amounts, then it is okay to enjoy festive season treats
Fill at least half your plate with vegetables and salad for an easy way to control your portions
Drink lots and lots of water, and limit alcohol, which is expensive. This is an easy way to save money and keep healthy
Make simple breakfasts like oat, banana and egg flapjacks, high fibre cereal cereal and yoghurt, poached eggs and toast and delicious smoothies. For lunches, you can do snack platters with crudité veggies, homemade wraps and filled brown or seeded rolls with a big salad. All of these ideas are super easy and affordable, plus healthy too
Buy fewer treats and energy-dense snacks. We tend to stock-pile these items during the festive season, and because we have them, we eat them. Rather don’t have them in the house. If you really want a treat every now and then, then you can rather go and buy one treat such as an ice cream at the beach or a slice of cake with a friend
A last word from Zitandile:
“It’s the giving season and the holidays are a time to make extra or pack your leftovers to share with neighbours, friends or your local shelter. In these tough economic times, sharing food can prevent food waste and bring festive cheer to someone else.”
I started my studies enrolled in the BPharm course, but realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to journey with my patients and help them achieve health through nutrition. I have a passion for prevention of disease as I don’t want anyone to go through long, tiresome treatments for any disease/illness. Thus I decided to study dietetics, a way of treating patients with no side effects!
I studied dietetics at the wonderful North West University on the Potchefstroom campus and then completed my Master’s degree at Nelson Mandela University. And finally it was time for my community service year. I work in Bloemhof, a small town in North West, as a sub-district dietitian. We are responsible for all the clinics in the sub-district. We consult chronic patients, audit Road-to-Health booklets, do health talks, organise Vitamin A and deworming campaigns and much more. Working in a sub-district setting you learn a lot about other programmes as well.
When I first arrived, I was nervous, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do the work and I was in a little town with my family 800 km away and I knew no one – probably the feeling of everyone on their first day. The first challenge I experienced was thus a mental one, I was not prepared to do community work, I expected to be placed in a hospital as I just applied to hospitals, and wasn’t placed at one of my options. I was negative about my placement and I felt lost. But I was welcomed with open arms, everyone in our team is friendly and I have an amazing supervisor that is passionate about community dietetics. I instantly admired her passion and my eyes opened up to all the possibilities of community work. My mindset changed quickly!
This year I have learnt about the set-up of community dietetics, about the way in which our community lives and how to adapt in unsuspected circumstances.
Tips for others walking the same path:
Help where you can: This year we helped other programmes with their campaigns and then COVID-19 happened. Now we screen the community and do contact tracing. This not only teaches you a lot, but it also builds your character.
Always be ready to learn: I once asked my supervisor to sit in while I counselled a newly diagnosed diabetic, and it was the best thing I could have done! When I was done counselling I asked her if I missed something, and she started talking to the patient, using some Tswana words that I did not know yet, and describing some practices in different ways, using easier words. I learnt so much in just five minutes!
Never stop fighting for your profession: Sometimes you won’t understand why staff members don’t listen when you ask them to do the right thing. Accepting that behaviour can’t be changed instantly will save you a lot of frustration. Rather go back and ask again or do training. Showing them that you won’t back down makes the difference!
I want to encourage you to be open to the journey ahead and to accept the challenges. We are all stronger than we think and capable of extraordinary things!
Look at this wonderful recipe for loaded baked potatoes, from registered dietitian, Cheryl Meyer. Give this delicious recipe a try!
That loaded baked potatoes are so easy to make. Both oven and airfryer methods provide beautifully crispy and flavourful on the outside, whilst soft and fluffy on the inside baked potatoes.
What the dietitian says:
Draining and rinsing tinned beans reduces the sodium content by as much as 40%, what a win!
4 small-medium sized potatoes (approx 150g each)
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 x 400g tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion
⅔ cup low fat plain yoghurt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
4 spring onions, finely diced
salt & pepper, to season
Rinse, scrub and dry your potatoes. Using a fork, thoroughly prick the skins, brush or rub with olive oil and season with salt.
Oven bake: place on a baking sheet and bake at 200℃ for 1 hour until fork tender.
Airfryer: spread out within the basket, set to 180℃ and roast for 30 – 40 minutes until for tender.
Just before the potatoes are ready, saute the diced onion, drained and rinsed black beans, crushed garlic and ground cumin in olive oil to soften the onion and warm through the beans.
Slice the potatoes lengthwise down the middle (not all the way through), gently squeeze open and top each one with yoghurt (about ½ a small tub), ¼ cup grated cheese, ¼ of the bean mixture and a diced spring onion.
The 2-3 cloves of fresh minced garlic can be substituted with 1 teaspoon crushed garlic.
To cut down the baking time, microwave the potatoes for 3 to 4 minutes before baking.
Nutrition Information: Per serving
Energy: 1448 kJ
Protein: 16.2 g
Carbohydrate: 46.3 g Of which, total sugars: 3.2 g