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Without fail, when asked what I was studying at university, the response to ‘bachelor of dietetics’ presented with a blank mystified expression to say the least. “DIE…what?”

The term ‘nutritionist’ seems to be more familiar. Whilst certainly similar, ‘dietitian’ and ‘nutritionist’ are not synonymous with one another. The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) defined registered dietitians as qualified health professionals registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) who have a minimum qualification of a four-year scientific degree. Dietetic students receive training in a clinical, community and large scale foodservice system settings.  Dietitians can translate the science of nutrition into everyday information about food. As dietitians are required to complete a module called ‘Medical Nutrition Therapy’ they are experts in prescribing therapeutic nutrition for disease states, unlike nutritionists. A nutritionist is a non-accredited title that may apply to somebody who has done a degree in nutrition, a short course in nutrition or who has given themselves the title. Nutritionists should not be involved in the diagnosis and dietary treatment or management of any disease condition.

Dietitians are not the food police or another type of food enforcement group. I promise I don’t look at what you’re eating if I bump into you in a restaurant or at a grocery store. I eat unhealthily too sometimes- so please don’t judge what’s in my shopping basket! Even though you’ll probably spot me chowing down a big green salad or sipping on a fruit smoothie, I am not a magical creature that abstains from all unhealthy foods in the name of wellness. It’s all about balance, right?

Our scope of practice is quite wide! We can help assess and nutritionally treat many different disease states ranging from HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, critical care states, developmental disabilities (such as downs syndrome and cerebral palsy), kidney diseases and high cholesterol. Another aspect of the discipline is sports nutrition whereby we aim to enhance the performance of all types of athletes. We also have a very important role to play in the treatment and rehabilitation of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Other areas where you may find dietitians include: supermarkets, the pharmaceutical industry and commercial food systems.

Do you think a dietitian can help you?

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