‘Making a contribution to the bigger health picture’

ADSA_NeilStephens2017a_1We chatted to Neil Stephen, Chief Dietitian at Addington Hospital in Durban, to find out why he became a dietitian, what he loves about his work and what the challenges are:

Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?

I developed an interest in nutrition when someone at the gym suggested I should see a dietitian to improve my performance.  I asked my parents if they knew of any dietitians and they told me that my cousin Nathan was one.  Later I decided to change from a general BSc to BSc Dietetics.  I was going to pursue a career in sports nutrition… which is the last thing I am interested in now.  To my surprise I was one of very few males in the class,  I had no idea that dietitians were mostly female!

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

I have quite a diverse range of areas I really love.  Top of the list is child health, followed by critical care, maternal health, student training and lastly, monitoring and evaluation of health systems and programmes (I’m a bit of a nerd).  I work daily with patients who have very little or nothing.  These patients are so humble and appreciative of any assistance you give them, whether its counselling or treatment.  The most satisfying moments are when I bump into moms with their young children or babies, who stop me, and they proudly tell me they are still breastfeeding. Another is when an acutely ill malnourished child improves over night and I know that nutrition has greatly contributed to the positive outcome.  Finally, its awesome speaking to previous interns and finding out they are succeeding at what they do. 

What has been your career highlight?

Well I started to collect data on every patient I treated when I started working.  I had a good amount of information per patient.  I put together a cool spreadsheet in excel to do my monthly stats for me, and eventually got my whole department on to it.  After a few years I decided to study further and used the information I had been collecting over the years.  So a highlight was definitely that I was selected to present my research for the MEC and Head of the KZN Department of Health.  Being selected really made me feel like I was valued and was making a contribution to the bigger health picture. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

I think that for me its been a long journey of challenges and realisations which have grown me into the dietitian I am today.  Working in the public sector, I experience first hand the outcomes of social and economic  issues that face the general population on a daily basis.  It is heartbreaking to find that children are severely malnourished purely because they have a limited access to food.  A large proportion of patients of all ages are referred for HIV related problems which are often hard to manage and outcomes may be poor.  I need to mention that I love pregnant moms, children, and critically ill patients because they almost always accept advice and are compliant – the challenge is the patient who is resistant to change, because they don’t embrace the importance of lifestyle and dietary change.

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

Hahaha, I usually just take a nap.

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

  • How can I lose the fat on my….(insert body part!!)???
  • Isn’t there some kind of a pill or something I can take??
  • I don’t eat carbs.

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

Dietitians are all equally qualified to treat any patient presented to them.  If you have a specific need, some dietitians will list their special interests, one of which you may be looking for. 

What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?

  • Favourite dish – Butter Chicken Curry with garlic butter naan bread
  • Favourite treat food – chocolate mousse (I can eat it by the litre)

 

Read more about the career of a registered dietitian: Is a career as a dietitian for you?

 


Turnip Tagliatelle with Chicken & Herb Sauce

Registered Dietitian and food blogger Cheryl Meyer, from Dish & Delite, kicks off our new series of NutritionConfidence recipes with a delicious ‘Turnip Tagliatelle with Chicken & Herb Sauce’. As always, the focus is on real food that is healthy and delicious, encouraging local, close-to-home ingredients.

We love this recipe because turnips are easy to spiralize and make lovely veggie noodles. When raw, they can tend to have a sharp distinct taste, warming them softens the flavour and makes for a perfect veggie noodle base for your dish.

Cheryl says: “Veggie noodles are a great way to the boost the vegetable component of a meal and plain yoghurt serves as a nutritious alternative in this twist on classic creamy carbonara.”

INGREDIENTS

(serves 4)

4 medium turnips

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

4 chicken breasts, cubed (approx. 125 g each – 500 g)

4 leeks

250 g mushrooms

2 teaspoons crushed garlic

½ cup plain yoghurt

2 large eggs

30 ml fresh chopped parsley

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to season

METHOD

  1. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a non-stick pan and cook the cubed chicken pieces. Set the cooked chicken aside.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and leeks.
  3. Heat the other 2 teaspoons of olive oil and soften the mushrooms and leeks. Just before cooked, add the garlic for the last 2 minutes. Remove and combine with the chicken.
  4. Peel turnips and cut the ends off flatly and evenly. Spiralize them to tagliatelle thickness (blade C on the inspiralizer).
  5. Boil turnip noodles for 2-3 minutes.
  6. In a small bowl or jug whisk the egg, yoghurt and parsley together well. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. When the turnip noodles are done, drain them, return them to the pot off the heat, pour in the egg mixture and toss until evenly coated (the warmth of the cooked noodles cooks the egg but it is important to do this off the heat, otherwise the egg will scramble when you add it, and we don’t want that).
  8. Serve the noodles topped with the chicken, leek & mushroom mixture and garnish with grated parmesan cheese.

 

Nutrition Information: Per serving

Energy: 1487 kJ Protein: 38.7 g Carbohydrate: 25.7 g Of which, total sugars: 11.0 g Fat: 14.8 g Fibre: 4.7 g Sodium: 303 mg

 

To find a dietitian in your area, visit http://www.adsa.org.za

 


Time To Make Lifestyle Your Medicine

DR. DAVID KATZ

103041_262 — GOOD MORNING AMERICA — DR. DAVID KATZ GM05 (CREDIT: ABC/ Ida Mae Astute )

“We could, as a culture, eliminate 80 percent of all chronic disease,” says Dr David Katz, one of the world’s leading proponents of lifestyle as medicine, during a recent visit to South Africa. “But my family and yours cannot afford to keep on waiting on the world to change. By taking matters into our own hands, we can lose weight and find health right now. We can reduce our personal risk of chronic disease, and that of the people we love, by that very same 80 percent. We can make our lives not just longer, but better.”

As current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, the premise of Dr Katz’s work is based on the evidence of a litany of studies published since 1993 that show that around 80% of all chronic disease can be attributed to a particular short list of lifestyle behaviours. This is why cancers, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes, dementia and other common killers are now commonly known as ‘lifestyle diseases’. Researchers have argued that they are not, in fact, ‘causes’ of death, but rather the tragic effects of disease-causing behaviours embedded in our lifestyles. As Dr Katz points out, the good news for us is that it means that 80% of chronic diseases are preventable if we make the necessary lifestyle changes.

“If you consider,” he says, “that a wealth of research has shown that people who eat well, exercise routinely, avoid tobacco, and control their weight have an 80% lower probability across their entire life spans of developing any major chronic disease, then we realize that this combination of not smoking, eating healthily, being physically active and managing weight is perhaps the greatest advance in the history of medicine.”

Internationally, Dr Katz is renowned for drawing our attention to what we are doing with our ‘fingers, forks and feet’. What we most need to reduce our risk of the most common diseases is to make sure our fingers are free of cigarettes, our forks are full of healthful food and that our feet carry us a fair distance each day. Stopping smoking may be hard, but it is a clear and possible goal. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a rougher measure, but it still serves to give us a fair enough indication of what our healthy weight should be. We know that at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day will go a long way to both managing weight and staying physically strong and limber.

However, with one fad diet after another capturing media attention and shifting us wilfully from low-fat to low-carb, from high-fat to high-protein, from vegan to carnivorous, there is unnecessary confusion and complexity about what really constitutes healthy eating.

Dr Katz cuts through the clamour of ‘the latest, greatest diet’ phenomenon by championing the simple, common sense advice of writer, Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (In his book ‘In Defence of Food: Eater’s Manifesto’, Pollan expanded on what he means by ‘Eat food’ to assert that we should ‘avoid eating anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food’.)

What most countries’ most recent dietary guidelines have in common is the recommendation of eating patterns that are higher in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole-grains and seafood; and lower in red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, as well as refined starches. As Dr Katz pointed out: “Additional strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns. Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions.”

“It was wonderful to experience a leading international authority supporting a message that is at the very core of the work of South African dietitians,” says Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, Cath Day, “Just because it can be such a profitable industry, there’s always going to be a ‘new’ idea for the next ‘right’ diet, which is usually based on some or other distortion of scientific evidence. But what Dr Katz emphasises is that, as nutrition professionals we already know exactly what balanced healthy eating is, and it is never going to be one single eating regime for everyone to follow. What we eat is rooted in our diverse cultures, affected by availability and influenced by our individual tastes. It is always possible for a person to transform to a healthy diet while fully taking into account their unique circumstances around food; and this is exactly what our dietitians work with clients to achieve.”

Dr Katz pointed out to the South African nutrition community that what conspires mightily against a culture of healthy eating in Western societies is far less about the distracting ‘noise’ of the latest fad diet. Instead he urged that the focus should remain steady on the proliferation and accessibility of a vast array of highly processed, fast and convenient foods which have invaded our eating regimes and are overwhelming our habits of sourcing fresh, natural foods and preparing healthful home meals from scratch.

“If lifestyle is the medicine, it is culture that is the spoon that makes the medicine do down,” concludes Katz. The trouble is that we currently have a culture that largely values convenience over health, and we make lifestyle choices, including what we do with our fingers, forks and feet accordingly.

Dr David Katz was in South Africa to speak at the 2016 South African Nutrition Congress hosted by the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA) and ADSA. He invited the South African Nutrition community to join http://www.truehealthinitiative.org/ an international coalition uniting nutrition experts in the global consensus on lifestyle a medicine.
To find a dietitian in your area who can assist you with a healthy eating lifestyle plan, visit www.adsa.org.za