Eating the right diet can help to protect against a host of diseases that become more common with age – such as arthritis, cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and stroke to name but a few. If you do become ill, eating well can help you to deal with your condition. But there are many reasons which can make it hard to eat well and get all the nutrients you need, such as illness, loss of taste and smell, dental problems and changes in appetite. This is where a dietitian can help.
Early dietitians were nurses and Florence Nightingale is considered by many to have been the first. They have to be qualified to at least degree level and are not the same as nutritionists, who are not regulated and don’t have to have any qualifications at all. “Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals regulated by law and governed by an ethical code, to ensure that they always work to the highest standards,” says Helen Bond, a freelance dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
Who can benefit from seeing a dietitian?
“A dietitian can help you if you have any kind of health or medical problem that can be improved or controlled by diet,” explains Helen Bond. “We aim to translate nutrition science into practical, easy-to-understand advice, to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices tailored to their individual needs.”
“For example, if you have been newly diagnosed with diabetes you might be recommended to go on a special course run by a dietitian to learn how to adapt your diet. Or, if you’ve had a heart attack a dietitian can advise on the best diet to help you stay a healthy weight and keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control, ” says Helen.
Where can I see a dietitian?
You can see a dietitian in hospital, in a community centre, in a nursing home, your GP’s surgery or at home. They will want to get a full picture of what you eat and drink in the course of a normal day so you may be asked to fill in a diary or questionnaire to take to your appointment. At the appointment you may be asked more about what and how much you eat, mealtimes, what snacks you eat, how much you drink (including alcohol), what type of food you buy, how much you exercise and other aspects of your lifestyle that have a bearing on your diet, before being given a plan tailored to your individual needs. Allow around 30 minutes for a first appointment.
How to find a dietitian
Your GP, consultant, health visitor or other health professional can refer you to an NHS dietitian. You may also be able to self-refer in some areas. Contact the nutrition and dietetics team at your local hospital to see if this applies where you live. How long you will have to wait will depend on your problem and how urgent it is.
To find a private dietitian near you visit www.freelancedietitians.org/ which is run by the BDA’s Freelance Dietitian Group. Expect to pay between £40 and £120 an hour depending on where you live – the average is around £70 an hour with follow-up appointments costing an average of £42 for half an hour.
Find out more
Visit the British Dietetic Association at www.bda.uk.com/ or call 0121 200 8080
To check the dietitian you see is registered visit the Health Professions Council website at www.hpc-uk.org