“I believe in moderation, not deprivation”

Meet registered dietitian Abby Courtenay, who is serving on the current ADSA executive committee and looks after the PR portfolio. We chatted to her about why she loves being a dietitian, what the challenges are and what people should consider when deciding which dietitian to consult:

Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?

From a young age I had an interest on the effects of nutrition on the human body. I vividly remember reading the ‘How my body works’ books and being fascinated by the complexity of the digestive system. By the time I was in standard 9 (or grade 11), I knew I definitely wanted to become a dietitian. Strangely though, in Matric I changed my mind and pursued a degree in architecture. After 1 year I realized that architecture was not my passion and so I started my BSc degree and subsequently was accepted for dietetics at the University of Pretoria in 2007. People often ask if I regret my round about journey to dietetics, but I made some amazing friends along the way and learned a great deal about myself in that time. I don’t think I would be the dietitian I am today, had it not been for my experiences.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?

I have been in private practice for almost 3 years, and I still feel a great sense of pride and joy when I receive feedback from my patients telling me how amazing they feel. I think that many people feel pretty terrible on a daily basis, but with correct diet and adequate lifestyle changes they can truly reach their full potential. I strive to incorporate a strong message of moderation and I do not believe in deprivation.

What has been your career highlight?

I will be attending FNCE conference in Chicago (coming up in October 2017), so for me I feel like all my hard work and dedication to my career and dietetics  has culminated to this point and I am beyond excited to represent South African dietitians at an international conference.

What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

Trying to correct nutrition misconceptions. People unfortunately get their nutrition information from un-credible sources (usually on the internet) and it can be challenging to correct these perceptions. I believe that for dietitians, knowledge is power and the more you arm yourself with current, up-to-date nutrition information to more you can educate the population.

How do you cope after a day of nutrition disaster and bad eating choices?

To be honest I don’t ever feel as if my day has been nutritionally disastrous. When you give yourself permission to eat all foods you remove the guilt from eating and thus stop the diet cycle (binge, guilt, deprivation and repeat).

What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?

  • Do you ever eat *insert indulgent food here*? Of course we do, we are only human and can eat anything in moderation!
  • Don’t judge what I am eating/ buying! This will often happen at a braai or when I see someone at the shopping mall, and I can promise you that I never judge and don’t give my professional opinion unless it is asked for!
  • Can you print me/ email me a diet? All the plans I do are individualized, it is not a “mik-and-druk” process. In order to be successful (with regards to dietary change), you will need to see a dietitian for a one-on-one consultation. She needs to get to know your medical history, lifestyle, likes and dislikes, level of nutrition education and current diet history before she can even think of creating a plan for you!

What should clients look out for when deciding which dietitian to work with?

If you have a specific medical problem, ask the dietitian if this is her special interest. If it is not, ask if she can refer you to a dietitian who is more knowledgeable in your problem area and the dietitian should also be conveniently situated, so that it is convenient for you to see her regularly .

What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?

I like to experiment in the kitchen and try to update my recipe folder on a regular basis, so don’t ever have a ‘favourite dish’ but rather a favourite dish of the week. At the moment I am trying out a homemade tuna and butterbean fishcake.

My favourite treat food is without a doubt baked cheesecake!

To find a dietitian in your area, visit the ADSA website.

More about Abby
Abby Courtenay RD (SA) is an associate dietitian at the Nutritional Solutions Grayston and Melrose. She graduated with a Bachelor of Dietetics at University of Pretoria and also holds a Masters’ degree in Nutrition from the University of Stellenbosch.
She is registered with the HPCSA and is the current ADSA Executive Public Relations portfolio holder and previously served as the Public Sector portfolio and Communications portfolio the ADSA Gauteng South branch.
Abby has a special interest in: maternal, infant and child nutrition; renal and oncology nutrition. In addition to that, she also has extensive experience working with adults within the realm of weight loss and treatment/ prevention of lifestyle-related conditions.
Abby is a regular guest writer for Living and Loving, ChildMag and Clicks magazine, and also contributes as a nutrition expert to medical newsletters both to the public and healthcare professionals through Ann Lake Publishing. Abby is a regular contributor to various radio stations including Radio Cape Hope and Radio 702 and has appeared on television in relation to various nutritional matters.

6 Eating Habits for Healthy Kidneys

When it comes to health advice, our hearts are often in the spotlight. However, as equally vital organs, our kidneys really shouldn’t be relegated to the shadows. Worldwide, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is on the rise – 1 in 10 people globally are affected, and that’s every bit as serious as cardiac disease.

Our kidneys work very hard for our bodies, and the downside of their dogged efficiency is that by the time we are bothered enough by the symptoms of CKD, the damage has been done. In the late stages of CKD, only ongoing dialysis or surgical transplant may help prolong life – treatments that are not available to many South Africans. This is why health professionals drawing attention to Kidney Awareness Week from 2 to 6 September, advocate for regular screening of kidney function, especially if you fall into the high risk categories.

Interestingly, similar to heart health, obesity, diabetes and hypertension put us at risk for CKD as well. The view of ADSA (the Association for Dietetics in South Africa) is that with the high prevalence of obesity, diabetes and hypertension in the country, it stands to reason that we need to become a nation aware of, and caring about our kidneys.

People who are overweight or obese are up to seven times more likely to develop end-stage renal disease compared to those of normal weight. A family history of CKD or renal failure is also a red flag indicating that you need to actively focus on the health of your kidneys. However, the prime culprit in the majority of CKD cases in South Africa (64%) is undetected or uncontrolled hypertension, which is abnormally high blood pressure. So a basic step in ensuring kidney health is regular blood pressure testing and adherence to treatment and lifestyle changes in order to keep your blood pressure in check.

Every day, our valiant kidneys help us dispose of the excess salt and water that we consume. In the process, they also happen to eliminate toxins that would otherwise build up and take down the living system that is our body. Our kidneys also play an important role in controlling our blood acidity and blood pressure levels. For those who are obese, the kidneys have to work harder, filtering more blood than normal to cope with the demands of the greater body weight. This increased workload can damage the kidneys and raise the risk of developing CKD in the long-term. “When kidneys do fail, the body is literally overwhelmed by excess water, salt and toxins, which defeat every other organ and body system,” says ADSA spokesperson, Registered Dietitian, Abby Courtenay, “The job of the kidneys may not be glamorous or poetic, like the heart, but it is every bit as important.”

The good news in all of this is that there is a lot we can do day to day to promote the health of our kidneys. Courtenay adds: “If you have been screened and diagnosed in the earlier stages of CKD, or need to implement measures because you suffer from obesity, diabetes or hypertension, you can make a significant positive difference just with your daily diet.”

“Nutritional strategies to deal with CKD, as well as its risk factors are well-researched and documented,” says Registered Dietitian, Cecile Verseput, “What’s important to note is that in the most up to date professional interpretation of the research available, the focus has turned from considering single nutrients to looking more holistically at an overall healthful dietary pattern, particularly rich in plant-based foods.” Cecile points out that recent SA consumer statistics show that fresh fruit and veg, as well as healthy sources of vegetable protein, are low shopping priorities in the country.

Here are her Six Top Tips for Boosting Kidney Health:

  1. Go green – and red, yellow, orange, purple and blue! Boosting the fresh fruit and veg in your diet is one of the best ways to protect your kidneys. There are so many ways to make vegetables and salads a delicious part of your family’s eating.
  2. Get real – Drop the high-salt, trans-fat takeaways and convenience foods like hot cakes. Cultivate a real interest and enjoyment in cooking from scratch with fresh, healthy ingredients. It’s so much more delicious, and good for your kidneys.
  3. Be choosy about fats – They are not equal. Go for extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil rather than hard fats to protect the blood vessels in your kidneys.
  4. Go nuts – Boost your intake of nuts and legumes. They are delicious, and provide healthy fats and fibre.
  5. Forget the convenient fads – Let go of the sugar-sweetened drinks and treats, fast foods, processed and red meat.
  6. Embrace plant protein power – Open up to the wide range of legumes, grains and nuts that are readily available and make them part of your daily eating. Swap red meat with legumes or alternatively with fish or poultry.