Fuelling wellness: Dietitians at the heart of healthy communities | Western Cape Government


Fuelling wellness: Dietitians at the heart of healthy communities

6 June 2024

Dietitians stand at the forefront of public health initiatives, championing wellness and healthy living for all people. With their specialised knowledge in nutrition and lifestyle counselling, they are key in fostering healthier communities and aiding residents in managing chronic illnesses. This June, as we commemorate International Dietitians Week, we honour and celebrate the invaluable contributions of dietitians to our communities.

Givenese Gallant is one of many registered dietitians serving community members in the Western Cape. Givenese is dedicated to transforming lives through nutrition and wellness and currently works in the Northern and Tygerberg health sub-districts, including Elsies River Community Health Centre and Bishop Lavis Community Day Centre.

She believes in the importance of prevention and advocates for healthy living for people of all ages.

“Prevention is indeed better than cure. Maintaining healthy eating habits throughout all stages of life is essential for warding off various diseases, including iron deficiency in toddlers and teenagers, acute malnutrition like colds and flus during the winter season, and chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.”

Healthcare providers within the public healthcare system treat many people accessing services living with either a single or multimorbidity of chronic illnesses in the Western Cape. In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that about 80% of deaths that occurred in low- and medium-income countries resulted from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Givenese says it’s important to be aware of your numbers, such as your blood pressure and weight.

“Many people are aware that eating healthy foods and living a healthy lifestyle is important in preventing chronic diseases, but often wait until they are diagnosed before they make a change. Remember help is available and you don’t need to wait until you’re diagnosed to live a healthy life. Know your numbers too. It is imperative to monitor your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol on a regular basis to prevent the development of chronic diseases.”

With the rising cost of living, people are often looking for ways to save money without breaking the bank. There are many ways to eat healthy on a budget. For instance, if you cannot afford the fruits and vegetables at your retail stores, then consider purchasing fruits and vegetables from the local vendors, as they are cost-effective, and you would also be supporting small community businesses. 

Givenese shares five other practical tips that have proven effective for her patients:

  1. Plan ahead: “Try to make a shopping list of ingredients or items to restock, before going shopping. Look out for specials of healthy foods.”
  2. Eat ahead of shopping: “Never go shopping on an empty stomach. This will prevent you from buying unnecessary foods like fast foods, which are high in salt, sugar and fat. Eat a brown bread peanut butter sandwich with a fruit before you go shopping.”
  3. Opt for balance: “Meat, chicken and fish are protein rich foods which can be expensive. Try to add beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya and vegetables to your list to extend the bulk of the meal.”
  4. Choose seasonal foods: “Fruits and vegetables are seasonal foods. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables because they tend to be more affordable. For instance, avocados, guavas and citrus fruit (lemons, oranges and nartjies) are more affordable during the winter season.”
  5. Cook larger meals: “Try to cook larger meals at night so that you can take leftovers for lunch the next day.  Pack a healthy lunchbox for work or school This will prevent you from buying unnecessary unhealthy snacks.”

Beyond the plate: Embracing holistic health and wellness

The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness has placed a significant focus on wellness for a healthier person, family, and overall community.

“A healthy lifestyle is not limited to healthy eating but includes many other aspects such as physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Ongoing research and findings suggest that many diseases and life-threatening conditions can be prevented and reversed through dietary and lifestyle changes,” says Dale Patience, Dietitian and Therapeutic and Medical Support Services Programme Coordinator, for Western Cape Government Health and Wellness. 

“Our main priorities are focused on preventing chronic diseases of lifestyle, and we therefore play a key role in focusing interventions to create awareness on the importance of a healthy diet and together with other disciplines, focus on increasing and promoting awareness of the importance of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Dale.

Our healthcare workers provide care to many people accessing our services who come from vulnerable communities. Challenges are detected where intervention is needed for the health and safety of the individual when it comes to their health and food security.

“Within our public healthcare spaces, dietitians are detecting people accessing care who have food insecurity and access to resources which impacts the effectiveness of dietetic intervention. It is difficult to counsel patients when there are limitations to the types of foods available in the household, but being aware of our community living standard measures, and financial challenges, our dieticians tailor meal plans that are practical, cost-effective, healthy, and nutritious, and able to feed a large household which will keep people fuller for longer,” says Dale.

With the increase in accessibility to smartphones and electronic devices, more people are becoming nutrition experts, giving false advice, and marketing products not backed by scientific evidence but led by likes and followers. “The issue with social media is that our communities become vulnerable to purchasing products and following diets which promise quick and unrealistic results and are often detrimental to the health and wellbeing of our communities,” says Dale.

“It is important that dietitians keep up to date with social media trends and ensure that education is focused on providing scientifically sound and evidence-based nutrition information and support to clients. We do urge our communities to refrain from false information and consult with a dietitian before following fad diets associated with social media trends,” says Dale. 

At the same time, exercise is any physical movement that uses energy. You should exercise at least 30 minutes daily for 5 days per week. Exercise has numerous benefits, including improved mood, better sleep, reduced stress, strengthened heart, muscles, and joints, and reduced risk for conditions like Type 2 diabetes. So, make every step count! 

Reasons to consult with your dietitian

You can visit your local dietitian at your healthcare facility for advice on weight gain as a result of a medical condition, weight loss safely and sensibly, problems feeding your baby or child, suffering from digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, heartburn, if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or you are experiencing symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance.

Wellness starts with you and me, so let’s make small lifestyle adjustments to improve our health. If you require dietetic support, ask your local healthcare provider for a referral, or to make an appointment for a free consultation at your nearest healthcare facility.