One of the things that’s hardest about being diabetic is figuring out who to ask for help: do you need a dietician, a doctor, an endocrinologist, a health coach? In general, when people ask medical questions on Diabetic South Africans, we aren’t able to help. We’re not medical specialists and it can be dangerous to advise without seeing someone in person. When it comes to complicated or personal dietary advice, we recommend that people see a dietician. But do you know what a dietician is?
A qualified health professional
In South Africa, a dietician is a qualified health professional registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). They have a minimum qualification of a four year scientific degree. Dieticians study the science of food and nutrition, and use nutrition therapy to prevent and treat everything from obesity to diabetes, heart disease and more. They can also help with sports nutrition, allergies and food intolerances, and diets through various life stages (like pregnancy). They learn the scientific knowledge behind food as well as the awareness of food and how it affects health.
Guidance and help
When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I went to a dietician and she gave me hope. It was the first time I felt able to smile since my diagnosis, because she clarified what had been a mass of confusing information. I learnt how to get some control over my diet, my blood sugar, my energy and, as a result, my life. She taught me carb counting and explained the different parts of my plate and how they interacted. She gave me an idea of how to start eating a healthy diet.
Years later, I went back to a dietician to figure out how to eat well with two young kids, a full-time job, and Type 1 diabetes. My challenges were completely different, but the help and guidance were the same. What reassures me about going to a dietician is that – unlike a health coach or a wellness practitioner – they have a scientific degree. And a deep understanding of nutrition. There are many different kinds of dieticians, and it’s important to find one who aligns with your style of eating: some promote extreme low carb, others a more moderate diet. The ideal dietician will be one who you connect with, who listens to your needs, and who works with you to craft a diet you feel you will be able to follow for many years.
How to find a dietician
If you’re looking for a dietician, you can ask for recommendations (we have a few wonderful dieticians on our Panel of Experts and recommended in this list of the best diabetes specialists in South Africa). Or you can search for one on ADSA: they have a list of all the registered dieticians in SA, so you can find one close to you. If you’re on medical aid (any level, even hospital plan) you get a consultation with a dietician for free as part of your PMBs – just call to check how long is covered.
Feeling informed and confident in your food choices is such an important part of living well with diabetes. And in this case, knowledge really is power!