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Nutrition in tough times

Boitumelo Maswabi

Dr Eluya breaks it down

The role of nutrition in boosting the immune system is one issue that is at the core of Covid-19 expert advice and though many Batswana continue to suffer brutal economic hardships, one may wonder whether a healthy diet, for most, is achievable in these times.

Hence this week, Voice Woman sought the expertise of registered Dietician and Nutritionist, Dr Lebo Eluya, who is based at Gaborone Private Hospital.

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Dr Eluya, who has over 20 years experience, helps with management of weight, diabetes and other diet related conditions through a thorough assessment and appropriate individualised treatment plan.

Her day to day job entails seeing clients referred to her by other doctors for specific medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension or weight-loss.

“I also help walk-in clients who do not necessarily have a referral. It’s usually clients who’re interested in bettering their health in regard to nutrition,” she added and further explained that the consultation process is, however, just as detailed.

For example, if it’s digestive health, there are specific tests for that.

The initial consultation is quite comprehensive as she would need to know the social background of her client.

“ Your background impacts your eating habits. For instance, if you’re working from home, that’s a red flag because it can influence your dietary habits, so knowing the social background of my client is paramount.”

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The dietetics expert says that despite the tough economic times, it’s not all doom and gloom.

This new reality affects everyone but it has also spurred us on to be more adventurous, vigilant and prudent.

“We agree that Covid-19 has affected every aspect of our lives but people have become more conscious of their health as we are aware that with covid, people who don’t do very well – health-wise – are those with core morbidities; those struggling with obesity for instance. Thus people are now keen on seeking the services of Nutritionists/Dieticians. I always compare this pandemic with the HIV/AIDS era, people became more concerned about nutrition; eating for one’s immune system, the same is currently taking place.”

The good doctor advises those worried about the high cost of food to simply reconsider their buying trends.


“That’s why consulting a Dietitian is important. You have to be a smart shopper and start downgrading from pricey brands. Also, if you used to eat out often, you’d need to cut down on that, without disadvantaging food vendors or eateries as they still need our support. It’s interesting that though Covid has affected most, this is not reflected on spending.”

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She says while the pandemic has affected most Batswana, it has been profitable for some.

“ The average Motswana is struggling, this is where school-feeding programmes now have to be promoted because they take the burden off the family resources. I know some parents who were against the programme. There were some negative perceptions towards the programme but parents have got to fully embrace it. If your child can be fed breakfast and lunch at school, it means you only have to worry about supper. The truth is, the meals they’re fed at school are nutritionally complete that even the humble bread and tea for supper should suffice. ”

As people worry about what constitutes a good diet, the forthright nutrition guru recommends practicality and reminds us to also be mindful of quality over quantity.

“We’re so used to eating for quantity (laughs). Ask yourself, what is the point of having 4 instead of two slices of bread for breakfast? What exactly are you trying to achieve?” she asks rhetorically.

“We have to be realistic and prioritise. Cut down on many of the luxuries we are so used to. Food cannot be the only one to take the blame, the family’s food intake shouldn’t suffer over non-essentials like data,” she says, and highlights the difference between physiological and psychological hunger, “Hungering for bacon and eggs is just psychological/emotional; you do not necessarily need those things. Look at the variety of your meals; where and what do you buy? Are the fruit/veggies you’re buying in season? Do you need to eat blueberries/cauliflower/broccoli as opposed to oranges/cabbage/spinach/morogo-wa-dinawa, which are cheaper and in season? We just need to plan better.”

QUALITY VS QUANTITY: A recommended plate

Reassuring Batswana that the rising cost of food should not cause us to worry about malnutrition (undernutrition) and issues of immunity, the good doctor says we should move away from the misconception that eating healthy is expensive, “What is more expensive is getting a medical report that you have diabetes, kidney failure or other diet-related ailments. The long-term investment of eating well. “Offals over T-bone steak, they’re still a good source of protein. I’m not encouraging people to eat offals everyday, but cheaper cuts are just as nutritious.”

She also cautions against sourcing information online that may mislead, “ You need to trust the right people for the right information. Yes, some people can go it alone managing their diet and health but just as you’d self-medicate with any over-the-counter headache pill, when a headache persists, you visit your GP. The same applies with weight, for instance, when you’ve tried all diets that you’ve come across online, perhaps all you need is a session with a dietitian. As a nutrition expert, my job is to simplify the science, Everyone seems to be an expert in nutrition nowadays (laughs). There’s a proliferation of articles and books on nutrition online; my advice is that you trust registered experts for your information.

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Through her Facebook page of over 4 thousand followers, which she created just recently, Dr Eluya wants to make nutrition fun.

OVERKILL: A typical plate

“It’s not a conservative page. I send nutrition messages in a fun way and to make people think. I’d post a picture of a typical plate of food which would comprise 5 salads, that’s an overkill, but because people are told vegetables are good, they end up with such choices. I am not saying whether it’s good or bad but I’m basically coaxing my followers to think because I don’t want to keep feeding people information, I want to engage them,” she says more than 50% of clients she has currently she got through her page.

“Initially, I only got referrals, but now people are putting a lot of pressure on their medical aid to cover dietetics services, which they’re covering now.” In closing, Dr Eluya encourages corporates to “include nutrition as part of their wellness programmes, because what employees eat impacts on productivity.” Some companies have in-house gyms to encourage wellness. I deal with certain companies that don’t even have a nutrition programme, which is scary. I challenge The Voice to consider that!” (Laughs)

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