What does a dietitian do?

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 forceful advice, we often 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 dietitians 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 Association of Dietetics in South Africa

ADSA will be joining the British 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.

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