If you need living proof that nutrition is the foundation of good health, look no
further than 62-yearold dietician, Ilsabé Spoelstra. She has the energy and verve of someone half her age, and she ascribes it to healthy living…
lsabé, who grew up on a farm in the Stormberge in the Eastern Cape, was inspired by the example set by her dynamo mother, who was a nursing sister and became a hospital matron at a young age. “She doctored the people who lived and worked on our farm and on neighbouring farms. I was her enthusiastic ‘assistant’.” This exposure to caring for others, coupled with a love for cooking, prompted her to become a dietician.
After school, she headed to the then Potchefstroom University where she earned a BSc in Dietetics and Physiology, followed by a postgraduate diploma in Hospital Dietetics and an honours degree in Dietetics. In that time, her friendship with her now husband, Jan, blossomed into something lasting – a union of kindred spirits. Ilsabé explains, “Jan and I complement one another, we’re both scientists; he is an agricultural scientist and I’m a dietician. I’m the slightly more cautious one, while Jan is the one who will say, ‘Let’s do it!’”.
A few years after getting married, they headed back to Burgersdorp. It was not long before she opened a dietetics practice. “It was a novel concept for the people of the area and after a while patients from 22 neighbouring towns visited my practice.” Ilsabé acknowledges, in her candid way, that it was not always easy to balance motherhood and a busy practice. “We already had two sons and there was another on the way. I had to ride into town from the farm often – come rain, or shine, or snow.”
During this time, Ilsabé realised that many women who lived on the farm were unemployed. She started a Merino wool and Angora rabbit spinning business, which created work for and taught skills to rural people. Ilsabé says her time in this farming community taught her valuable lessons. “I really lived life to the brim and learnt so much – especially that nothing you do in life is in vain.”
In 1997, the Spoelstras, with four little boys in tow, returned to Bloemfontein, where Ilsabé opened a practice at the Mediclinic Bloemfontein. Fuelled by the desire to learn more, she attended various courses, including one on nutritional supplementation at Tygerberg Hospital. Ilsabé says the courses in Molecular Biology and the Reversal of Cognitive Decline were “an eye-opener” for her, and brought with them the realisation that she and her husband should establish a wellness space in Bloemfontein where they could convey the importance of healthy food and scientific supplementation, and how diseases originated. She was, and still is, adamant that this venture of theirs would be based on science, and not fads. From this, Balans was born, and today it has two branches – one in the Brandwag Centre and the other in Northridge Mall.
One of Jan and Ilsabé’s success stories at Balans is a high-fi bre porridge, commonly known as “perrepap” because of the teff it contains. Many years in private practice showed Ilsabé that most people do not get enough fi bre from their diets, which leads to countless health issues. This made her think back to her childhood and the porridge they ate on the farm, and to the knowledge that was conveyed from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, her mother, and to her. Hence, her husband and the Balans team decided to develop and sell this product. The “perrepap” has had “babies” in the meantime, and has been joined by teff crackers, teff fl our, and “perrepap” rusks.
Asked about diets, Ilsabé says that she advocates for “undieting”. She believes that people should escape, or be “released”, from the diet roundabout. Instead, “People should carry the knowledge of good eating habits within them. Thus, I believe in mentoring and coaching my patients so that they are able to make healthier choices.”
And, no, in case you’re wondering, Ilsabé has no plans of retiring any time soon (if ever). “I might make small changes to my schedule so that Jan and I can travel and spend more time with our granddaughters.” For now, she remains fascinated by her “first love” – critical care nutrition – which after decades of practice, she is confident in the knowledge that “I know what I am doing!”
Text by Margret Linström