27 July 2020

How the pandemic is highlighting the role of the dietitian

Think dietetics is only relevant for those who need to lose weight? Dr Christine Taljaard-Krugell, President of ADSA, explains the role of nutrition during a pandemic.

  • Dietitians not only facilitate weight loss, but also help to improve people's overall health
  • Covid-19 has forced many people to look differently at their food and lifestyle 
  • Eating healthy is not only important for a robust immune system, but also a key part of recovery

As Covid-19 escalates across the world, few people are linking the disease to food and nutrition. With images of patients on ventilators, the role of dietitians doesn't even come to mind – after all, they're only there to help us lose weight, right?

But as diabetes emerges as one of the co-morbidities that cause Covid-19-related deaths worldwide, the focus on how and what we eat is more important than ever, according to Dr Christine Taljaard-Krugell, President of ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa).

Nutrition key in fighting Covid-19

“Getting nutrition right is crucial in the fight against the pandemic,” says Taljaard-Krugell. “Right now across South Africa, critical care dietitians are planning, monitoring and implementing appropriate nutrition regimes for sick and seriously ill patients."

"While dietitians are playing these vital roles in the multi-disciplinary medical teams caring for Covid-19 patients in hospitals or quarantine, the importance of preventative services is also highlighted more than ever before, as we see the risks of under-nourished and over-nourished people in times of Covid-19.  Luckily, many dietitian services can pivot to tech platforms such as telehealth and continue, no matter what physical distancing regulations are in place.”

A post-Covid-19 approach

Across the world, pandemic lockdowns have cast what we eat every day, the food available to us, and the food systems that support our lives in our communities in a somewhat different light.  It’s comparable to the experience of the World War II generation. 

Covid-19 has changed our food-shopping behaviours, the importance we place on food storage, nutrition knowledge and our family food priorities. It has influenced our attitudes toward food waste and even to our own food production, with a number of South Africans starting to grow their own food.

While none of us can go wrong with an increased focus on fresh produce, it is important to remember that the nutritional changes we now make for a post-Covid-19 world need to be based on evidence – and the world’s foremost evidence-based experts on nutrition are dietitians. 

“Public interest in nutrition is always extremely high,” says Taljaard-Krugell. “The pandemic is just highlighting our vulnerabilities and our opportunities to improve our well-being through nutrition.  Covid-19 has put us all on a knife-edge, and it is a critical time to sort the facts from the fads. We’re entering a global economic recession, and we can’t afford to spend money on unproven products and trendy diets at the expense of the virtues of balanced eating of good food. Dietitians play a valuable role in cutting through media-driven hype and helping people to focus instead on optimal nutrition.”

Eating for immunity

During the Covid-19 crisis, many  South Africans are changing their eating habits as a way to boost their immune system and overall health. Health24’s dietitians at Nutritional Solutions have been advising our readers how to eat for a robust immune system. They advise the following:

  • Limit your consumption of foods that serve no nutritional purpose, such as greasy takeaways, refined carbs, cakes, sweets and potato crisps.
  • Achieve balance in your meals by including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, healthy fats and protein.
  • Plan and shop wisely during lockdown to ensure healthy options at home.
  • Structure your meals throughout the day to stabilise your blood glucose levels.
  • Don’t forget to exercise, sleep well, limit alcoholic drinks and to drink enough water.

Take a step towards a healthier lifestyle

As we learn more about Covid-19, we know that diabetes and an unhealthy body weight can contribute towards more severe Covid-19 and even death.

Here are things you can do today to change your lifestyle:

  • If you do have diabetes, take a look at your diet as a way to better manage your condition. If you don’t know what to include in a healthy diet, consult a dietitian for help.
  • Manage your stress. Stress not only releases cortisol, which inhibits the effects of insulin, but it can also trigger unhealthy eating habits, reduce sleep and limit your ability to exercise during the day.
  • Be informed. Visit your doctor to get a clear understanding of your current vitals.
  • Losing weight. This may be daunting and challenging, but start by making small, manageable changes – replace your daily soda with water, start eating breakfast, or start including vegetables in your meals.

READ | Why antioxidants are the superheroes of nutrition 

READ | 4 things that dietitians do that you didn't realise

READ | I need to lose weight. Where do I start? 

* Information reworked from ADSA

Image credit: Trang Doan from Pexels 


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