Noora Al Askar, a spokesperson advocating a healthy and positive lifestyle through nutrition, is a leading Clinical Nutritionist and Human Geneticist at the Royale Hayat Hospital. Al Askar graduated from University of Leeds with a Bachelor of Science in Human Genetics, and earned her Masters of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition followed by a year of clinical research at PhD level around the subject of Obesity Prevention in Young Adults in the Arab World, with possible interventions to solve this epidemic.

Noora also obtained her board certification from the United States where she is also licensed to practice. Once back in Kuwait, Al Askar was asked to establish the Clinical Nutrition Department at a leading private hospital from the ground up, which grew to one of the top operating profit centers in the hospital, developing from a single clinic to a Joint Commission International accredited department, writes Rawan Qabazard.

Why ‘Nutrition’? Growing up in my Grandparents’ home I have been greatly influenced by the memories of beautiful gardens very much like an organic farm, filled with grapevines, henna trees, mango, banana, lemon and orange trees, and lovely mother and baby Abaza goats we had as pets. My Grandmother (may she rest in peace) believed in the power of nature’s remedies and gave me much insight during our garden strolls. I used to love that, and found it absolutely fascinating.

My parents also had us subscribed to ‘National Geographic World’ (now known as ‘National Geographic Kids’); it was the only children’s magazine with a scientific organization at its core. One of my favorite playtimes was going out in the garden imagining I was in a rainforest trying to find remedies to heal and cure diseases. I believe this subconsciously led me to pursue ‘Nutrition’ as a science later on. I always felt it to be more a passion rather than just simply an academic study.

Everyone knows nutrition is important. Are people in this region aware of that? Yes. The past 5 years has seen a rapid growth and rise in health awareness. People are growingly conscious of taking charge of their own health. Awareness on a national level is imperative, governments across the GCC are now realizing the importance of public health awareness and are working hard to help build initiatives around that.

How are people reacting to the new lifestyle changes we are noticing in the region? It’s still baby steps here in the region but there is progress, and that’s a massive positive step. To the extent that restaurants are also riding the health wave now, offering a broader variety of healthy options on their menus due to popular demand.

Do programs differ from person to person? They most definitely do; people have diverse needs and lifestyles and programs cannot be universal. Recent scientific discovery has combined nutrition and genetics into a field called ‘Nutrigenomics’. This allows us to understand how our genetic makeup affects the way our body reacts to the food we eat and vice versa. For example, I see people taking copious amounts of fish oil supplements knowing they’re beneficial, but show no positive change in their blood triglyceride profiles; whereas others witness improvements. This is because of specific SNPs in their genes affecting the proper utilization of Omega 3. We actually have a test at the clinic to discover this. We test for 45 different nutrition and lifestyle associated genes, and send out the results overseas to a laboratory that is research backed by a strong scientific board.

What are the main health concerns that arise from bad nutrition? Everyone knows bad nutrition is one  of the primary causes of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease
and many lifestyle-attributed cancers. However, on a more present day-to-day basis, nutrition also plays a vital role in your energy levels, overall immunity and even your mood. Our general wellbeing stems from well-rounded eating habits, if you have proper nutrition, it will reflect back in all areas of your life.

When it comes to pregnancy, most women think that it’s a free pass to eat as they please, what would you advise them?
Pregnancy is an absolutely wonderful time, and proper nutrition is absolutely crucial for both mother and baby. More and more research is showing that what a mother eats during her pregnancy affects the child’s development both in the womb and later on. I would advise mothers to deeply look into the nutrient value of food they eat.

For toddlers and children who go to school, what can parents do to limit unhealthy food intake? It’s important to understand healthy food associations to encourage children to eat healthy foods themselves. During family meals you could say have some fish it’ll give your brain super powers! Or leafy greens will help grow healthy hair like Rapunzel, or make you strong like Iron Man! Children like to know ‘WHY’, instead of just forced into eating. Explain and make it fun and simple to relate to, and it will slowly sink into their subconscious. Try to have healthy home baked desserts for children to have as snacks instead of store bought junk food- having these alternatives is also psychologically healthier for children than banning them from something entirely.

Lastly, for patients who have undergone weight loss surgery, why do they need to follow a specific plan? We are physiologically unique, a one size fits all is a recipe for disaster. For example many people have sweet tooth, a common problem for rapid weight gain. Just simply undergoing weight loss surgery won’t help that, and it’s not realistic to expect them to cut off completely. Instead, we need to gradually coach them and provide healthier alternatives so their weight loss won’t be jeopardized. By doing so, we ensure an effective long-term weight loss and positive lifestyle modification too. It’s a gradual process, and psychology plays a vital role.

About Noora S. Kh. Al Askar
Position: Clinical Nutritionist and Human Geneticist
Department: Family Clinic & Bariatric Center Qualifications: • American Board Certified Nutrition Specialist. • BSc in Human Genetics – UK.• BSc in Human Genetics – UK.• Masters in Clinical Nutrition – UK.• Member of the Academy of Integrative  Medicine – USA.• Member of the American & British Dietetic Associations.

Follow Noora at @noorasnutribox