We bring together nature and science to take care of you

7 May, 2024

Rita Cava, Biologist and Doctor of Nutrition

Specialist in Diet Planning with Over Twenty Years of Experience in Research and Teaching.

Rita Cava Roda is a biologist and a doctor of Nutrition and Food Technology with over 20 years of experience in research and teaching. She has been a professor at the Simón Bolívar University of Venezuela in the field of Food Microbiology and at the University of Murcia in the Nutrition degree program and the Master's program in "Nutrition, Technology, and Food Safety". Her curriculum includes numerous publications in scientific journals and presentations at nationally and internationally renowned conferences.

In addition, she is a Dietitian-Nutritionist and currently provides nutrition and dietary consultations at Kiré Clinic in Murcia. Her specialties include dietary planning for obesity, metabolic nutrition, gut microbiota, and digestive problems.

  • Bachelor's degree in Biology.
  • Master's degree in Food Sciences.
  • Doctorate in Nutrition, Bromatology, and Food Technology.
  • Graduate degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dr. Rita Cava Roda

We spoke with Dr. Rita Cava about her career and recommendations as a specialist in such an important area of health as nutrition.

  1. What led you to obtain a Bachelor's degree in Biology and later a doctorate in Nutrition and Food Technology?

I have always been interested in understanding the biochemical processes in our body, which is why I specialized in Biochemistry during my Bachelor's studies. By studying Biology, I gained knowledge about how "basic science" is crucial for understanding the metabolic pathways that our body undergoes and how this affects the functioning of our organs.

Once I acquired this theoretical knowledge in biology and biochemistry, I wanted to link it to practical application, so I pursued a Master's degree in "Food Science" at the Central University of Venezuela, and later a doctorate in "Nutrition, Bromatology, and Food Technology" at the University of Murcia. These studies allowed me to connect the theoretical knowledge of metabolism to the real impact that nutrition has on it.

  1. You are also a doctor of Bromatology. What does this science consist of and how do you apply it in your daily work?

Bromatology has allowed me to have a deep understanding of the nutritional and microbiological composition of food, as well as its functional and technological properties. This knowledge of food and its properties has helped me associate them with the benefits or harms they can have on human health. Also, thanks to Food Technology, I can select the most suitable treatments and preservation methods to maintain the nutritional and organoleptic properties (taste, smell, etc.) of food, while ensuring its safety.

  1. In your research work, what do you consider to be your most significant contribution or the one that has given you the most satisfaction?

I am generally satisfied with the achievements throughout my professional career in research, especially with the results of my doctoral and postdoctoral research. Specifically, the studies I conducted on cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla have allowed me to demonstrate that these widely used spices have beneficial effects on health. In an article published in the Foods journal in 2021, we describe a research study that demonstrates the antimicrobial and antioxidant effects of these natural spices, especially the synergy they exhibit when combined, enhancing their antimicrobial capacity. The properties of these spices can have practical utility, for example, in the pasteurization processes of the dairy industry, where natural ingredients such as cinnamon and vanilla can reduce the temperatures used during the process, ensuring microbiological quality and preserving the integrity of milk proteins in better condition.

  1. Could you tell us about a research project you are currently working on that you consider relevant?

I am currently working on a project related to gut microbiota at Kiré Clinic where I currently practice. In general, the basis of this project involves using kits to analyze the gut microbiota of patients, which allows us to individually characterize the microbial populations they have and indirectly relate them to different types of diseases. This provides a more precise diagnosis and allows us to offer personalized treatments based on probiotics and prebiotics, as well as nutritional and lifestyle guidelines that balance the gut microbiota and improve health.

  1. What has been your experience combining research, consultation, and teaching throughout your career? 

It has been fantastic because each stage has supported the next. Research has provided me with tools to identify a problem, establish hypotheses, define objectives, and generate results with reliable and relevant data. Teaching has taught me how to effectively communicate with people, understand their motivations in order to guide and motivate them to achieve their own goals. The combination of these two facets enables me to establish a communicative and empathetic bond in consultations, explaining scientific data in everyday words that are motivating and convey hope, making patients feel that there is a practical solution to their daily problems.

  1. Tell us about your experience with patients in nutrition and dietary planning consultations. What are the main concerns they have and what leads them to seek the help of a dietitian-nutritionist?

The main concern expressed by my patients is the consequences that overweight has on their health. They are referred to a nutritionist by their doctors because they have chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are negatively affected by overweight. These non-communicable chronic diseases are the main threat to society.

Other concerns that lead them to seek consultation include weight stagnation, which usually occurs during menopause, digestive problems, gut syndrome (especially in young people), and individuals who want to improve their body composition.

  1. What is your approach when designing a dietary plan for a patient?

To propose an approach, the first step is to conduct a comprehensive patient assessment (anamnesis). We analyze all the diseases and personal problems, dietary and lifestyle habits that the patient presents, and from there, we establish the objectives to be achieved, which may or may not coincide with the patient's goals.

For example, if a person has diabetes and is not significantly overweight, the nutrition plan would focus on improving blood glucose indicators. On the other hand, if the patient is overweight, the approach would be a nutrition plan to reduce weight that also includes sugar control. However, it is important to know the patient's daily routines, preferences, and eating habits to develop an individualized plan that the patient can comply with and be enthusiastic about, in addition to providing nutritional education.

  1. In addition to a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, do you often recommend supplementing the diet with dietary supplements? In what situations?

I am a strong advocate for dietary supplements. They complement any diet because they provide essential elements for maintaining health that are not sufficiently obtained from the diet due to personal preferences or habits. For example, if a patient does not like fish, alternative protein sources must be used, but then the diet needs to be supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. Another example can be individuals who do not feel satiated; they can also benefit from certain supplements that induce this sensation. It is important to note that dietary supplements do not replace a diet, but rather complement it.

  1. What are the active ingredients you most commonly recommend?

The active ingredients I most commonly recommend are omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamins C and D, flavonoids, and quercetin. These last two are active ingredients derived from plants.

  1. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the microbiota. What role does gut microbiota play in digestive health and obesity?

Gut microbiota plays a prominent and fundamental role in digestive health. Currently, scientific evidence leaves no doubt that digestive health depends on the state of the microbiota and that any imbalance (dysbiosis) will be the starting point for various pathologies such as inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, or immunological and even mental health disorders. In fact, within the microbiota project I am currently working on, there are patients referred by dermatologists who have various skin conditions (such as psoriasis and rosacea), and previous assessments using the kit and other clinical analyses determined that the alteration in the microbiota is causing these imbalances.

A nutritional plan, combined with medical treatment, has been able to produce positive results in resolving these dermatological conditions, which often have an immunological component. In these cases, the use of probiotics and prebiotics has shown good results in combination with a personalized diet.

  1. Do you believe that the general population has a good relationship with food? What needs improvement?

The relationship with food has a prominent social context, both at the family level and within social circles. The pressures exerted in these contexts make it very difficult for people to maintain a balanced diet, and the effect of advertising adds to this. That's why it is important to receive proper nutrition education (without needing to be an expert) that allows us to choose and combine different foods based on their protein, fat, and carbohydrate content, and thus manage social pressures. This is especially important for children, who are currently the most vulnerable population and may face greater health problems due to their diet. Educating from home, despite the busy lives we lead, is one of the fundamental tasks to achieve good health throughout life.

  1. How do you see the future of food and nutrition in the context of the climate and social changes we are experiencing?

We must return to basics, which means trying to buy minimally processed foods, preferably organic, and avoiding fast food, junk food, and reheating food. Healthier eating should be predominantly based on plants, which provide an important source of protein, as well as a considerable amount of fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial elements. We know that climate, social pressure, and commercialization affect both eating habits and the functional properties of food. However, whenever possible, we should follow a dietary plan that promotes overall well-being. To achieve this, individuals, communities, and local governments must take concrete actions with the aim of having healthy and productive generations.

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