09 October 2007

Dieticians to the rescue

Sure, dieticians can help one to lose weight, but this isn't their sole purpose. Should you be consulting one?

I’m in the privileged position that hundreds of South Africans ask me questions on Health24’s DietDoc Forum every day.

But I’m often shocked and saddened when users confide that they’ve been diagnosed with serious conditions and now don't know what to do about their situation, especially with regards to their diet.

Has no one mentioned to these patients, who really urgently need a diet prescription, that it’s essential for them to consult a dietician? Surely the doctor or clinic or hospital is aware of the fact that many medical conditions require special diets and that dieticians are trained to compile such diets for individual patients?

I’m amazed that there are still so many South Africans who are not aware of the role that dieticians can play in promoting healing and good health.

If you or any member of your family suffers from any of the following conditions, you need to see a dietician as soon as possible:

  • Obesity, particularly stubborn obesity that does not respond to standard diets, or is associated with the metabolic syndrome, or occurs in children, or is so severe that it can be classified as “morbid obesity”.
  • Diabetes and insulin resistance: no patient with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance (often associated with either the metabolic syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome), should dream of managing his or her condition without ongoing counselling by a dietician. Go for your initial assessment and diet prescription and then go back to your dietician whenever there is a change in your circumstances (e.g. growth in children, other illnesses, changes in medication, changes in physical activity, getting older, psychological stress etc.). It may be necessary to adjust your diet to make provision for these changes.
  • Patients with kidney disease require the guidance of a dietician because they have very special needs for diets that are low in protein, potassium and sodium. In renal disease the delicate balance of electrolytes is vital to your condition and you need a dietician to help you so that your kidneys can function optimally.
  • Patients with cancer, particularly those receiving chemotherapy or who have had invasive operations to remove tumours, need to consult a dietician. The correct diet can make you feel so much better during these stressful periods. It will also play an important role once the treatment has been completed.
  • HIV/AIDS is another condition that requires a special diet prescription from your dietician. This depends on a wide variety of factors such as the type of antiretroviral medication you’re receiving, what side effects this medication has on your appetite, what secondary infections you suffer from (e.g. Candida infections of the gastrointestinal tract) and if you’re developing lipodystrophy syndrome because of certain antiretroviral medications.
  • Heart disease, hypertension and stroke can all be treated with the correct diet, both at the preventative and the curative level. Your dietician will assist you with a diet that controls the amount of saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol that you eat, and monitor other important aspects like the intake of protective nutrients and cutting down on salt intake.
  • Anyone with an eating disorder (e.g. anorexia, bulimia or orthorexia) should consult a dietician so that they can learn how to eat normally again and repair some of the damage that has been done to their systems.
  • Specific metabolic syndromes such as cystic fibrosis or phenylketonuria need very specific diets to ensure that patients, especially young patients, grow as normally as possible, without constantly suffering from debilitating symptoms.

I could go on and on – most medical conditions, from heart disease to gout to gallstones, can either be prevented or alleviated by the correct diet.

Diets for growth and physical activity
Dieticians don't only prescribe diets for patients who are ill; they also help healthy individuals who have special needs by working out individual diets to meet those needs.

Serious athletes are aware of the important role that diet plays in peak performance. In fact, most of these athletes regularly consult a dietician while they’re training and competing. The right diet can make the difference between winning and losing.

Then there are people who cannot gain weight and struggle to keep their weight within normal bounds. This is just as serious a problem as obesity and underweight people will also benefit from consulting a dietician.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their children of all ages can call on dieticians to assist them with advice about diets appropriate for each stage of the life cycle. Dieticians can also help moms to sort out children's eating problems and food fetishes.

Teenagers, who can be just as difficult about eating as toddlers, will also benefit from seeing a dietician. Even if teenagers won't listen to their parents, they quite often will take the advice of a professional.

How to contact a dietician
If you need a dietician, you can find one by either visiting the ADSA website or by phoning our Head Office on (011) 789-6621 or (011) 789-1384 (08:00 to 16:30, Mondays to Fridays), or sending an e-mail to

This week (9 - 13 October 2007) is National Nutrition Week and we as dieticians are ready to serve the South African public. But to give you help and assistance, you need to make use of our services.

Text copyright: Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc
8 October 2007

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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