Dietitians urge South Africans to ‘Eat Fact Not Fiction’

Nutrition advice promising all sorts, from weight loss to healthier living and even cures for diseases, spread like wildfire across social media. In the era of ‘alternative facts’ and post-truth, ‘the latest, greatest nutrition advice’ from dubious sources can unfortunately tempt many away from accepted dietary guidelines and recommendations based on years of evidence.

‘Evidence and Expertise’ is the theme of Dietitian’s Week 2017, highlighting the important role of dietitians who are able to interpret nutrition science and dietary guidelines in order to customise nutrition advice for each individual. This is vital because from weight loss to a disease like diabetes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ best eating plan. Dietitians happen to be health professionals trained and qualified to do this.

Dietitians and Evidence

In the course of earning their degrees in the science of dietetics, dietitians are specifically taught the 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 dietitians 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. This means they have the latest evidence-based food, health and disease expertise at their fingertips – and you won’t find a registered dietitian in the country basing any recommendations on the long outdated food pyramid.

Dietitians and the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines

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.

Dietitians and Patients

But the reality remains that diet is highly personal. What we eat is rooted in our culture and tradition, shaped by affordability and accessibility, and inextricably intertwined with highly variable lifestyle factors such as weight, physical activity, emotional connection to food and our consumption of non-food substances, as well as various physiological differences and genetics.

“This is where the dietitian 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.”

Dietitians and Sustainability

The role that the dietitian can play in helping the communities in which they work to secure healthy food systems that are good for both people and the planet is an emerging responsibility in the profession. Dietitans are increasingly involved in facets of our modern food systems including agriculture and alternative food production methods, natural resources and ecosystems, social justice and community health issues, as well as developing food policy and food systems research that takes sustainability into account.

Dietitians and Diseases

Some may associate dietitians with merely giving advice and support to someone who wants to lose weight, but dietitians 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 dietitians in private practice, they work in hospitals and communities, academia and industries. In addition to consulting with patients, dietitians are also involved in research, nutrition training and development of provincial and national policies.

Dietitians 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 dietitians’ work literally 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 dietitian 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.

The Dietitian and You

It’s clear, that as a country, our need for dietitians is multi-fold, which explains why there’s a lot more than just dietary guidelines on the mind of a registered dietitian. In consultation, your dietitian is going to be taking in many factors unique to you to work towards helping you make optimal food choices. This includes your age and gender; your genetics, body size and body image; your environment, culture, spiritual beliefs and family life; physical activity level, mental well-being and general abilities; your work life and patterns; your budget; food preferences, eating tastes and cooking skills; as well as your existing health conditions and prescribed meds.

In the hopes of steering us clear of the latest trumped up ‘diets’ and promoting a return to genuine expertise and evidence, dietitians countrywide are suggesting that we ‘Eat Facts Not Fiction’.

In collaboration with the British Dietetics Association, Dietitian’s Week is held in SA from 12th to 16th June, with the 2017 theme ‘Evidence and Expertise’.

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

 


“Sensible, long-term healthy eating is not the sexiest of subjects” – meet dietitian, Hlanzeka Mpanza

ADSA Spokesperson_Hlanzeka Mpanza_1Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?

By accident actually. My father brought a career guidance book home that featured a dietitian when I was in standard 9.  I was fascinated about the idea that everyday food could help with getting the most out of life whether in sports, work, disease and general mental well-being. I still am.

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

I work in the food industry. I believe this is the most exciting area to work in in dietetics today as there is so much happening in the field of food policy worldwide. My job as an industry dietitian is to make nutrition relevant and accessible to our consumers through relevant  products, messages and projects. And most importantly to provide our consumers with nutrition information that they need to make informed choices.  I like knowing that when we hit that sweet spot between the right health message and product/ project, we can positively change lives of millions of people every-day.

What has been your career highlight?

For a black girl from very humble beginnings, my job has allowed me to travel to places I never thought I’d see in my life. After qualifying, I registered as a dietitian in the UK, where I later went to work as I travelled my way around the continent over a number of years.  I not only got to work and live with diverse people from all over the world, I did it whilst still feeling like I was making a difference in peoples’ lives. Those years were special for me.

What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

Sensible long-term healthy eating is not the sexiest of subjects.  How do we as a profession get better at enabling the general public to eat better, without bells and whistles?  I’d like us to crack the key to population-wide healthy eating messages that are based on nutrition science yet are simple, engaging and accessible (not just financially but culturally as well).  We have to get to a point where investing in credible nutrition is the only sensible choice. At the moment, there is so much information clutter that the general public is mostly confused about what sensible healthy eating is. And when people are not food literate, they are not able to make lifestyle changes that they need to make for them live longer, more productive lives.

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

Except I don’t call them nutrition disasters. I call them celebration days like when your BFF gets a promotion and you share one big cake between the two of you or sad days when you get ceremoniously dumped by your ‘not-really-serious-boyfriend’ and you eat all the food in the house.  The problem is when sad and celebration day kind of eating becomes the norm, which is when you need to start recreating a healthier normal.  How I cope is I pick myself up the following day and go live my best life, it’s all about trying to do better every-day. I believe food is a legitimate way of coping with emotional events and marking milestones, that’s ok.  I don’t think shame and guilt are useful when it comes to sustainable healthy eating.

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

Are you really going to eat that?

How do I gain muscle or lose weight?

Don’t look at what I’m eating! (this makes us feel like the food police, which we’d like to think we are not)

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

Find someone who gets you and your vision. Someone who understands what you want to achieve. Other than when dealing with certain medical conditions, success in nutrition is mostly relative. Define what success means for you, your health, your culture, your work, your mental well-being, your budget, stage of life, support system, etc. Choose someone that can help you navigate what success means for you and how to get there without giving up the most basic parts of yourself that make you YOU. You are more likely to be successful when you do that.

What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?

It changes, right now I am loving ujeqe obrown ( steamed brown bread) that I make at home a serve with everything. As a treat, I have a weakness for  spicy chicken wings from the orange fast food chain.


How can a Dietitian guide you through the Nutrition Minefield?

From Great Aunt Phyllis, to your Facebook friend that lost 30 kilos last year, to the latest in the multitude of global ‘so-called experts’ who just published a fad diet book, everyone seems to know exactly what we should all be eating. And, unfortunately, very few of them agree with each other.

When it comes to food, just about everyone has strong opinions, views, and diverse assertions about what constitutes healthy nutrition. Caught in the crossfire of a flurry of intense beliefs and often forceful advice, we don’t know who to trust and where to turn to when we know we need to manage our nutrition better. It’s a minefield; and if we are not careful, we can find ourselves trying a bit of this and a bit of that, chopping and changing, and never reaching our healthy living goals – whether that is to lose weight, optimise our physical activity or manage a serious condition such as diabetes.

Because nutrition affects our health in many ways, there’s just about no place more important to find that calm, clear space in the eye of the storm. And, that is where you can find a steady, consistent ally in the nutrition expert, a Registered Dietitian. These are health professionals, regulated by law, who have spent a minimum of four years studying a relevant science degree at an established university. They commit themselves to on-going professional development that keeps them abreast of scientific evolution. They are therefore, a reliable source of the latest nutrition expertise that is wholly evidence-based; and it is this that can help you cut through the noise of the fad diets, sweeping universalities and old wives’ tales when it comes to working out what eating routine would be healthy and sustainable for you at your particular life-stage.

“A common misconception is that a dietitian’s work is simply focused on helping people lose or manage their weight, comments Cath Day, Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (Association of Dietetics in South Africa). “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 across governments; businesses; social, educational, healthcare and research institutions.

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.” 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 after in a wide range of states of health from those wanting to optimize 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.

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, 6th to 10th June, highlights the work and worth of dietitians and the impact of the dietetic profession. To find a dietitian in your area who can assist you with your nutrition journey, visit http://www.adsa.org.za/Public/FindARegisteredDietitian.aspx

ADSA will be joining theBritish Dietetics Association (BDA) and the South African Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (SASPEN) to celebrate Dietitian’s Week. Please keep an eye on our social media channels for more information.

Facebook www.facebook.com/adsarogza | Twitter www.twitter.com/ADSA_RD | Website: http://www.adsa.org.za

Trust a Dietitian