Life-saving lessons from a dietician

Daniel Chida
HEALTH CONSULTANT:: Ofentse Moseja Dibotelo

With the Covid-19 death toll rising at a frightening rate, the importance of health is at an all time high.

It is in this terrifying climate that the advice of Dieticians such as Ofentse Moseja Dibotelo has become more significant than ever before.

Fortunately, the brains behind Mint Condition Health Consultancy, housed at Dreamcatcher Health Centre in Phase 4, Gaborone, is only too happy to offer guidance in these trying times.

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The son of former Chief Justice Maruping Dibteleo, Moseja took a totally different path, pursuing a life in nutrition rather than law.

The Voice’s DANIEL CHIDA visited the popular Dietician to find out more about his profession and what it has to offer in the era of Covid-19.

Typically, what services does a Dietician offer?

We do disease management, corporate workplace wellness programmes, sports nutrition, menu planning, nutrition education services.

Having studied in Australia, what differences did you notice Down Under, in terms of their educational system and ours?

In Australia, the education was dispensed in an interactive manner.

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We were taught to keep things simple and be more expressive of ourselves.

For example, we were on a first name basis with our lecturers – something that was unheard of back home.

Confidence was built through individual presentations and group work.

That is how I got to learn to do power point presentations and be a team player by not letting others down in group presentations.

There’s also an emphasis on practical work and we did a lot of placements in various health settings.

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In Australia, it was a hands-on approach. As an international student I really felt welcome and this spurred me on to do well in my studies.

Coming back home as a young professional I was able to stand my ground and work independently, due to the type of education I received in Australia.

Years later, when I did my postgraduate studies in South Africa, I experienced the same academic environment.

It is common for students who graduate overseas to ‘shun Botswana’ and take up employment outside the country instead of returning home. Why do you think that is and what can be done to retain them?

Many Doctors and other health care professionals shun coming back home probably because of the low remunerations packages here.

They want better pay and opportunities to do their medical specializations.

Maybe to retain them, government should offer payment packages comparable to our neighboring countries, South Africa and Namibia.

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Government employees should be allowed to practice privately while at the same time working for government.

This is where such things as flexi work come in.

You are one of the exceptions who choose to return home – what influenced this decision?

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I decided to come home, because I come from a close-knit family that always facilitated my travel to come home every university vacation.

As they say ‘home is where the heart is’. I also came back home as a patriot because I wanted to give back to my fellow countrymen and dispense the scarce skills I acquired overseas.

Moving on, Covid-19 has brought the country to its knees; as a Dietician with ‘scarce skills’, what health advice can you offer the nation?

People must engage in regular physical activity because exercise can reduce your risk of major illnesses, keep muscles strong, keep you agile, and boost your self-esteem.

According to the WHO, we must do a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

Proper nutrition and hydration are important; people who eat a well-balanced diet and engage in regular physical activity, generally are healthier.

They also tend to have stronger immune systems and lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases.

People should eat and enjoy a variety of fresh unprocessed foods everyday to get the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants your body needs.

Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals and they are obtained from eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

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Drinking enough water, approximately two litres per day (8 to 10 cups) is healthy and avoiding sugar, fat and salt to significantly lower risk of overweight and obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

What special dietary advice can you recommend to anyone with Covid-19?

Eating when you are short of breath, eat small frequent meals, choosing small portions of nutritious foods (protein and energy dense), choosing softer, moist foods that are easier to chew and swallow and taking your time during eating – chew foods thoroughly and swallow slowly.

One needs to manage a dry mouth by drinking 6 to 8 cups of fluid each day.

Nourishing fluids such as milky drinks, fruit juices, smoothies and also add gravy, mayonnaise, salad dressing, sauces to foods and choose moist dishes like stews.

Snack on sugar-free sweets or chew sugar-free gum to help stimulate saliva production is also recommended.

Foods that taste bland such as Citrus foods (oranges, lemons) can help stimulate your taste buds.

Also try foods with strong flavors like chillie, spaghetti sauce, bacon, pickled foods.

Season foods with onion, garlic, chillie powder, herbs, vinegar, mustard, tomato sauce.

Which nutrients can help boost one’s immunity and fight aspects of Covid infection?

Vitamins A, C and D can help with protection against respiratory infections, while Vitamin E, iron, zinc can increase immune function.

Stepping away from Covid-19, there is a problem with Non-Communicable Diseases in Botswana. How can that be reduced?

The main risk factor for NCD such as hypertension and diabetes is increased weight leading to obesity.

Increase weight leads to elevated blood pressure, increased blood sugars, and increased lipids, cholesterol in our blood, which may predispose us to developing diabetes, hypertension, etc.

All this is due to four modifiable risk factors: unhealthy diets – fried/fatty foods, refined carbohydrates, consumption sugary foods and drinks; lack of physical activity; use of tobacco products and abuse of alcohol.

Our eating habits can either buy us good health or destroy it.

There is an increase in the incidence of diet related disorders such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart diseases, arthritis mainly due to our unhealthy eating habits.

What is healthy eating?

Healthy eating simply means having well nourishing meals at regular times. Enjoying a variety of foods, making starchy foods the basis of your main meals, eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean meat, fish, low fat milk, eggs will help you enjoy the goodness of a healthy diet.

Dry beans, lentils, peas should be eaten regularly. Eat fats sparingly, use salt in moderation, drink plenty of clean safe water, consume sugary foods and drinks sparingly and avoid taking alcohol or have it in moderation.

Use fibre rich (unrefined) starches to promote bowel movement and prevent constipation.

Starches are good sources of energy and should always be part of your meal.

Sources of starches are cereals and grains (maize, wheat, sorghum, oats, millet, breads, mealie meal), potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and yam.

What is your take on nutritional supplements?

Evidence suggests that in the short-term these diets may be beneficial and lead to weight loss, and may result in better short-term control of blood sugar in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, but there is still need for more research. Low carbohydrate diets that are high in plant-based carbohydrates and plant-based oil may be beneficial in reducing cholesterol in our blood thus leading to decreased morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular conditions like stroke, heart attack and pulmonary embolism.

However, for some people these diets may prove to be unsustainable due to their restrictive nature.

Not enough research has been done on these diets and some patients may experience increased cholesterol levels.

The diets do not contain sufficient mineral and vitamins so may lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Another common adverse side effect is constipation due to low fibre intake.

Away from the office, how do you while away the hours?

I spend a large part of my time with my kids and wife. I rather enjoy playing with the kids and arguing over their homework.

I also enjoy watching the news and sports.

It’s Friday, what’s up for the weekend?

I will probably take a drive to the cattlepost to enjoy nature and tend to my livestock as well as have a laugh with our employees – it is good for relieving stress.

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