Interview with Lamees Bassem El-Derbi
United Arab Emirates (UAE) Country Representative
By Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, FAND, CR Chairperson
I had the pleasure to speak with Lamees a multifaceted expert in bariatric dietetics, born in Abu-Dhabi, educated & citizen of Canada, mother of two who single handedly managed a dietetics department of one upon returning home in 2005 after her education abroad. While traditional values guide her personal philosophy, this modern thinking and educated dietitian knows that combining the best of both worlds is key to helping her patients attain and maintain optimal health.
Meet Lamees Bassem El-Derbi
This amazing wife and mom of two girls, Lillian and Lareen, 8 and 4 years old was raised in Abu Dhabi, educated in Canada for 5 years and returned to Abu Dhabi to practice dietetics and raise her family. She received her Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Nutrition from Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia, Canada in ’04 and completed her internship at Al Noor Hospital, Abu- Dhabi in’05. She has been interviewed and quoted in numerous UAE publications and on TV.
A certified expert in Bariatric Nutrition, she was a solo practitioner at Al Noor hospital upon returning to UAE after her education, which she says was the best education learning how to counsel and educate patients in all areas of nutrition for chronic diseases, pre/prost surgery and wellness. Wellness and preventive health care, weight management and the growth of “diet centers” for weight control, diabetes management has been becoming more common over the past 15 years of her practice.
Country Health Issues Impacted by Nutrition
The most common health issue are diabetes, obesity and Thalassemia. Lamees cites traditional food patterns, family style dinners with abundant portions of high carbohydrate, fat rich foods such as meats and ghee flavored dishes and sedentary lifestyles as contributing factors to these issues. Fast food has become very popular and perhaps has been a contributing factor along with little exercise to the obesity crisis. The government has increasingly created campaigns to increase awareness of health issues.
The Emirati government provides health insurance in which dietetic services is included in the coverage. Levels of medical coverage, number of sessions and extend of medical coverage and delivery are determined by the individual Emirate government
Bariatric surgery is also covered by insurance due to the alarming increase of obesity and diabetes seen. Patients are screened by a dietitian and a release or recommendation is given to the MD when the patient is determined to be suitable and ready for surgery.
For healthy adults, life expectancy is very good, 75 years Lamees estimates. Arabs living in Abu-Dhabi and UAE are fairly content, have little stress and live a good life.
Opportunities in UAE Dietetics
There are many opportunities for dietitians interested in practicing dietetics in the UAE which is comprised of the seven emirates: Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.
Several universities including UAE University, Zayed University and American University of Sharjah all have dietetics programs. After applying, taking and passing a licensing examination, dietitians can work in government hospitals, clinics, public health departments.
The local dietetic association is called UAE Nutrition Group, Dietitians are encouraged to join IAAND to expand their education, knowledge and keep up with current practice.
In order to legally work in the UAE, all non-UAE citizens must hold a valid working permit or license from one of the relevant Health Authorities before beginning employment.
Traditional Food & Recipe Traditions
Emiratis are known for their generosity, bravery and friendliness. It is the custom of the Emiratis to entertain their guests warmly and serve them Arabic coffee with dates as a gesture of respect and warm welcome. UAE is known for its delicious dishes and recipes passed away from one generation to another.
Traditional Emirati foods include rice, fish and meat. Ghee is added to most dishes and typical spices include cardamom, saffron, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, dried lemon.
Some dietitians are creating more healthful dishes by modifying portions of rice, meats and ghee added to cooking.
Vegetarian is not very popular among Emiratis. Vegetables are sometimes cooked with the main dish (salona) and served with rice or bread.
Family meals are sacred and are a priority in UAE culture. Sharing a meal with family members is very common with traditional dishes such as Machboos, Biryani and Mandi.
Other Emirati foods include Harees, Salona, Balaleet, Lugimat, Chabab, and Fareed and traditional home made bread like Khameer and Ragag. Below is a brief description of some of the Emirati dishes:
Harees: is a type of wheat pudding or porridge with beef, spices and local ghee.
Salona: is a mixture of seasonal vegetables with meat, chicken or fish and is served most often with boiled white rice.
Machboos: is made in several different ways with either meat, chicken or fish. The rice is seasoned and whole spices are added like cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, dried lemon, yellow raisins and lentils
Balaleet: is a common breakfast dish with sweetened vermicelli mixed with eggs and spices like cardamon, saffron and raisins.
Lugimat: is a moist batter fried in ghee and served with date syrup.
Chabab: is an Emirati pancake that is made with flour, eggs, sugar and spices like cardamon.
Fareed: gets its name from the thin layers of bread that are used instead of pasta or rice. Meat and vegetables are boiled until soft, spiced and the entire stew is poured over the bread layers.
For more information on dietetics practice in the UAE:
The link for the universities with dietetic programs are:
UAE University: https://www.uaeu.ac.ae/en/
American University of Sharjah: https://www.aus.edu/
Zayed University: https://www.zu.ac.ae/main/en/
The local dietetic association name and link please:
UAE Nutrition group @ Facebook: UAE Nutrition Community
The agency for licensure name and link:
Department of Health: https://www.haad.ae/haad/
Dubai Health Authority: https://www.dha.gov.ae/en/pages/dhahome.aspx