Is a Career as a Dietitian for You?

Dietetics, the field of nutrition, health and the application of science-based nutrition knowledge offers a variety of distinctive career opportunities that goes beyond the usual view of the dietitian as someone who simply helps others lose weight. If you have interests in health, food, healthy lifestyle and science, you may well find your niche in this growing profession.

“A dietitian is a registered healthcare professional who is qualified to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional problems, as well as to advise on preventative nutritional strategies,” says Maryke Gallagher, registered dietitian and President of ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa. In South Africa, the minimum qualification for a dietitian is a four-year BSc degree and one-year of community service. To practice dietetics in the country, one must be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). A registered dietitian is, therefore, a recognised expert in evidenced-based nutrition. This scientific expertise is vital in today’s world where there is an abundance of unscientific health and nutrition information, as well as a plethora of fad diets and nutrition gimmicks.

While dietitians are certainly the ‘go-to’ people for those battling with overweight and obesity, there is a lot more to the career than just sharing weight reduction and management expertise. What we eat has significant impacts on many other diseases and health conditions. Whether therapeutic nutrition or preventative nutrition, dietitians promote good health and wellbeing for all. There is much scope to tailor a career in dietetics to your personal passions. You may be interested in focusing on children’s health, maternal health, food allergies or eating disorders, or on some of the many medical conditions that require a dietitian’s management such as diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and intestinal disorders. In addition, when it comes to sports, nutrition also impacts on performance, and dietitians may often play integral roles on the teams managing high performance sportspeople.

Without doubt, there is a high need for registered dietitians in South Africa. While infectious disease such as HIV/AIDS and TB continue to be prevalent in South Africa, non-communicable diseases like heart disease, strokes, cancers and diabetes are actually the main causes of deaths (1). Yet up to 80% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet, keeping physically active and avoiding tobacco products (2).   South Africa is ranked the most obese country in sub-Saharan Africa(3). Alarmingly, two out of three women and almost one in three men are overweight or obese, and almost 1 in 4 children aged 2-14 years are overweight or obese in South Africa(4). On the opposite side of the coin, chronic under-nutrition is also prevalent with 1 in 4 children aged 0-3 years suffering from stunting, a condition where a child grows to be small for their age due to poor nutrition(4). There is also a high incidence of micronutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A and iron, in South African children and women of reproductive age(4). South Africa has high levels of food insecurity with around 1 in 4 food-insecure South Africans experiencing hunger and a further 1 in 4 at risk of hunger(4).

Dietitians may work in a variety of settings with different areas of focus:

Private practice – like other health professionals, dietitians can set themselves up to consult privately with patients who need advice on nutrition therapy and support to make healthy eating a lifestyle change.

Hospitals – known as clinical dietitians, these practitioners primarily work in hospitals consulting with patients who are referred to them by doctors or other healthcare professionals. Their role in a patient care team is to assess and individualise nutrition therapy (whether an appropriate special diet, tube feed or intravenous feed) as an integral part of recovery or palliative care.

Community – these dietitians may be employed in the public sector, or by NGOs or community-based organisations. Their focus is generally on the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding; growth monitoring and the prevention of malnutrition; nutrition promotion and education; promotion of healthy lifestyles to address non- communicable diseases; prevention and treatment of vitamin and mineral deficiencies; and addressing food insecurity issues.

Institution-based – dietitians also work in food service management providing healthy and specialised diets to people living in institutions such as senior homes, school hostels, welfare care centres, prisons and health care facilities. Their work includes planning, costing and developing menus; controlling implementing, evaluating and overseeing food service systems; and managing special dietary requirements.

Industry/Corporate – there are varied roles for dietitians in the food, retail, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. They may advise on current food labelling legislation, nutrition regulations and the nutritional analysis of food items; be involved in product development; share latest developments and trends in nutrition; participate in nutrition-related marketing activities; lead corporate wellness programmes and conduct literature reviews.

Research/Academia – dietitians employed by educational institutions are involved in continuously providing new evidence-based nutrition information through on-going research and teaching and are responsible for the training of new nutrition professionals. 

Media/Publishing – in the Information Age, there is opportunity for dietitians, who have important knowledge to share, to generate expert content providing nutrition advice, latest evidenced-based nutrition news and views, commentary on nutrition issues and inspiration for healthy eating.

Do you have what it takes?

Maryke advises that a career in dietetics will suit those who:

  • are interested in food and health
  • enjoy and have a flair for Science
  • would be fulfilled by a caring, helping profession
  • are lifelong learners who are attentive to the on-going developments in Science
  • are able to translate scientific knowledge into practical advice
  • are comfortable in the role of the expert and like sharing knowledge with others
  • have strong inter- and intrapersonal skills
  • have a positive attitude and the ability to motivate others
  • have empathy, understanding and tact

 

 

References
  1. Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2014: Findings from death notification / Statistics South Africa. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa, 2015
  2. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2011
  3. World Health Organisation. 2015. Global Health Observatory Data Repository. Accessed June 2015. http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.
  4. Shisana O, Labadarios D, Rehle T, Simbayi L, Zuma K, Dhansay A, et al. South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES-1). Cape Town: Health Sciences Research Council, 2013.

 ABOUT ADSA

ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa is one of the country’s professional organisations for registered dietitians.  It is a registered non-profit organisation served by qualified volunteers. The Association represents, and plays a vital role in developing the dietetic profession so as to contribute towards the goal of achieving optimal nutrition for all South Africans.  Through its network of ten branches ADSA provides dietitians with the opportunity to meet and network with other professionals in their provinces. Through its comprehensive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system, ADSA supports dietitians in meeting their mandatory on-going learning, which is essential to maintain their registration status with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Visit: http://www.adsa.org.za

 


Get ready for National Braai Day!

In celebration of one of South Africa’s favourite past times (braaing) and the day dedicated to it (National Braai Day) our dietitians, Monique Piderit and Brigitte Leclercq, have put together some practical tips for a healthier braai:

  • A braai is a great excuse to get your greens in. Be creative when doing this, such as making interesting salads.
  • Try alternate your protein sources instead of only eating red meat, which may become boring after a while- try something like stuffed fish (stuff with nectarines for something different)- always make sure you are making a sustainable choice such as choosing fish from the green SASSI-approved list.
  • Grilled chicken and vegetable kebabs are an easy way to get your vegetable intake, without anyone noticing.
  • Have a healthy snack before you go out for a braai. This will prevent you from being overly hungry when you arrive and less tempted to over-eat on snacks. If you are hosting the braai, be sure to start your fire early enough to eat at a reasonable hour. The later the lunch, the longer you may sit mindlessly nibbling away on unhealthy snacks.
  • To keep your guests cool in the summer sun, serve cold water. Add colour and flavour using mint, lemon slices or strawberries, and top with lots of ice.
  • Choose chicken or fish over red meat. Select barbeque basting to still ensure flavour. Flavour your food with fresh herbs and spices, and limit the use of salt.
  • Leave condiments and toppings off starters, salads and side dishes. Substitute for flavour with lower fat condiments such as lemon juice, pepper, mustard, salsa and Tabasco. Make a potato salad with low-fat mayonnaise, or mix half mayo with low-fat yoghurt for a creamy alternative.
  • Surprisingly, even salads at a braai can be laden with unnecessary calories by the addition of croutons, bacon bits, cheeses and salad dressings. Look for garden salads with more vegetables than high fat ingredients. Fill up half of your plate with healthy salad and veggies.
  • Request that the host not dress the salad or ask for a portion before doing so. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and some black pepper instead of a pre-prepared salad dressing. Alternatively, offer to bring a salad to ensure you have a healthy option of veggies at the braai.

The weather promises to be amazing, so join friends and family to celebrate our heritage and braai!

 


ADSA represents registered dietitians working in various spheres of nutrition and dietetics in South Africa

The Association for Dietetics is the professional organisation for registered dietitians in South Africa. The activities of the organisation are centred around representing and developing the dietetic profession to contribute to optimal nutrition for all South Africans.

Registered Dietitians are qualified health professionals registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) who have a minimum qualification of a four year scientific degree with training in all aspects and fields of nutrition and dietetics. Whether they consult privately to one client, work within a community or as part of the food supply chain, they have to adhere to best practice guidelines delivering sound dietary advice based on the latest scientific evidence.

ADSA members nominate and vote for members to serve on branch committees regionally or on the ADSA executive committee nationally, once every two years. These elected members serve on a voluntary basis, in their own time, without remuneration.

All committee members are registered dietitians working in different areas within nutrition and dietetics. The current executive committee has representatives from private practice, academia, government and the food industry.

As an association working in South Africa, we know South Africans eat a wide variety of foods from the entire food supply. We can’t ignore entire sections of the food industry, because they’re part of the daily diet of many South Africans.

We agree that while there are lot of nutritious, high quality foods on the market in South Africa, there’s a lot that can and needs to be improved when it comes to nutritional value and quality of some of foods sold in both the informal and formal food supply.

It’s therefore important that there are registered dietitians working in various sectors within the food industry, to influence changes that will benefit all South Africans.

Furthermore, registered dietitians working within the food industry have numerous important roles such as ensuring that foods are labelled correctly, as well as for ensuring compliance to various nutrition-related regulations, which provides the consumer with the information they require to make informed food purchasing decisions. They are also involved in managing nutrition-related queries about products, including ingredient queries, and can also be involved in corporate wellness programmes within the respective organisations, to name a few of their roles.

ADSA will continue to represent registered dietitians working in various spheres of nutrition and dietetics in South Africa, at all levels of the association, to ensure that the association is able to effectively represent and develop the dietetic profession to contribute to optimal nutrition for all South Africans.