Dietitians talk six trends dominating the world of healthy eating in 2024

Gaining weight during intermittent fasting? Struggling with processed foods? How practical is healthy snacking? Our experts have answers

22 May 2024 - 13:31
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Experts from the Association for Dietetics in South Africa break down the latest nutrition trends.
Experts from the Association for Dietetics in South Africa break down the latest nutrition trends.
Image: Supplied


One of the pitfalls of intermittent fasting can be the tendency to binge on unhealthy foods during the eating window, and care must be taken to consume quality, nutrient-dense meals and snacks. 

“All types of intermittent fasting regimes have been shown to help people consume less energy, which in turn creates an energy deficit. However, if the weight loss you experience comes from a reduction in muscle mass, this may lead to a slower metabolism which can cause a weight plateau and make further weight loss harder,” said registered dietitian Carmen Basso.

“The lower muscle mass may also interfere with strength and stamina, resulting in unsatisfying gym, exercise or sports sessions. We ideally want to lose weight from our fat stores instead. What tends to be important here is pairing intermittent fasting with adequate exercise training programmes to ensure muscle mass is maintained.”

Basso’s tips:

Be careful about jumping from one weight loss trend to the next, as this can trigger or exacerbate a poor relationship with food and with your body. In the longer term, severe diet restriction regimes, such as intermittent fasting, may lead to disordered eating for some. This is why consulting a medical professional or registered dietitian before committing to such diets is the safest approach. The focus should be on your health and your weight loss goals will follow.


Eating to improve or maintain mental health includes vitamin D-rich foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, as research has shown these foods may have a positive impact on mood and mental health.

Dietitian Elske Rich said: “We have to think about how we can add these foods to each meal by making practical food swops, such as choosing wholegrains over refined ones and changing out saturated fats such as coconut oil or butter for olive or canola oil, which are unsaturated fats. Examples of vitamin D-rich foods include tanned mushrooms (achieved by exposing edible mushrooms to sunlight for 10 minutes before cooking) and eggs. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can be included in your diet by regularly consuming fish and nuts.”

Rich’s tips:

“Dietary changes are not a substitute for seeking mental healthcare when you need professional support. People can be under the misapprehension that eating for mental health can make a difference overnight. As with any new lifestyle change it takes consistency and working at it every day. Getting your mental health and emotional wellbeing to an optimum level will take time and adaptation. Overall there are, fortunately, no downsides to this trend and over the long-term taking up eating for mental health is worth the commitment.” 


Dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson Kgadi Moabelo acknowledged that registered dietitians and nutritionists express diverse views, with some arguing moderation is key, while others emphasise ongoing avoidance of the foods.

She said: “Despite recent conflicting studies, most experts agree prioritising whole foods remains a foundation for a healthy diet. There have been widespread efforts by food manufacturers to reduce the amounts of certain ingredients such as sugar and salt in highly or ultra-processed foods, but the foods can still pose health risks. The inclusion of artificial additives, preservatives, and low nutrient density ingredients remains a concern. These processed foods often lack essential nutrients and the fibre found in whole foods, potentially contributing to issues such as overconsumption and weight gain and potential long-term health problems.”

Moabelo’s tips:

“There is currently no consensus when it comes to highly and ultra-processed foods. It is important to note the rise of plant-based eating introduces a new dimension to the processed food debate. Dietitians highlight that not all plant-based options are created equal. Highly processed plant-based foods, laden with additives and lacking in nutritional value, are still considered less healthy. Emphasising whole, minimally processed plant foods remains a key tenet for those pursuing plant-based diets.”


Basso said: “I have been following Dr Megan Rossi and her focus on dietary diversity as each type of beneficial gut bacteria performs a different job inside of our gut, and each likes a different type of plant food. She and her team have come up with an amazing system to rather aim for 30 plant points a week, which translates the science of plant diversity into a plant points system.

“This is essentially a fun, useful way to tally up your different plants consumed across the week to give you a score. Each plant type counts as 1 point, while herbs and spices count as ¼ points. This helps to support gut biome diversity, which leads to increased immune cells, increases resilience to infections, strengthens the gut barrier, improves mental health and balances blood glucose.”

Basso’s tips:

“Start with dishes containing small portions of fish or chicken to reduce your red meat intake. You will find mushrooms and brinjals make excellent meat substitutes for many meal and sauce recipes. Make a habit of choosing higher fibre whole grains, which means looking at the food product label and choosing options with more than 6g of fibre per 100g of a product. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. This can be achieved by making vegetables and salads the basis of each meal and including fruits and nuts as snacks.”


“The claimed benefits of probiotic use may include improved gut health, mental wellbeing and a boost to the immune system response, which has become important to many in the aftermath of Covid-19. However, it is important to note more research is needed on the mechanisms at play in the body when it comes to consumed probiotics and intestinal immune cells,” said Rich.

Rich’s tips:

“It’s important to know probiotic supplements are not strictly regulated, leading to variations in quality and potency. Routine probiotic supplementation can be pricey, hiking up your monthly budget when the efficacy is uncertain.

“You may get better results using probiotics to balance gut health by focusing on consuming quality foods and drinks that include identified probiotic strains. Yoghurt, buttermilk, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha and some cheeses contain probiotics that are part of the fermentation process, and these can be included in a healthy eating regime.”


“The healthy snacking trend is in line with the movement towards more mindful eating, holding an awareness of when you are satisfied and making portion control easier. It doesn’t necessarily help to reduce meal planning and food preparation time and effort, as you still need to make sure you have sufficient healthy snacks on hand so you can avoid grabbing convenience options when you are hungry,” said Moabelo.

Moabelo’s tips:

“The healthy snacking trend may suit some with busy, on-the-go lifestyles but it can be challenging to ensure your eating is balanced, and portions controlled. It’s important that your snacks include a variety of foods to meet your protein, healthy fat, energy and micronutrient needs. For example, a boiled egg, carrot sticks and a small portion of nuts can be a sufficient snack. Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water between your snacking. It can help to keep a snack food diary to keep track of your daily food consumption.”

To find a registered dietitian in your area visit

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