Healthy Food habits are our first line of defence against lifestyle diseases because they focus on prevention rather than cure !

Sindhu HS, Freelance Nutritionist & Nutrigenomics Expert, counsels clients based on genetic testing, by helping them connect their genetic report with their food and current lifestyle, with a major emphasis on gut health.

Sindhu talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the importance of deep research and analysis in nudging people towards a healthy lifestyle through the applications of nutrition in human life.

For students, technologies such as genomics are helping us connect the dots between our physiology and external factors!

Sindhu, Your background?

I grew up in Bangalore, I used to love to dance, sing, paint and cook. Even when I was a young girl of 6 years, my mother made me prepare coffee, tea for guests. I was constantly told to welcome people at home, provide them with food and whatever required. This habit has been with me even today. My parents are very traditional by heart. My dad is a very successful man, he owns a company called “Paajaka Consultancy Services” (http://www.paajakacs.com/). My mother is equally successful as she has managed to stay “on ground” taking care of my grandparents on both sides. My sister and I were always very active in participating in all competitions because of her. We had a lot of relatives coming home every week, and she would do whatever possible to keep them comfortable. So I believe I was raised by strong people which helped me in taking decisions without fear as I would have already thought of the pros and cons in my head. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics. I didn’t want to be an engineer, and so I was looking for an apt course. One of my tutors suggested clinical nutrition and dietetics and said that though there is no future, I will at least learn how to cook ! Since I didn’t want to do engineering, I was ready to join that course. Who knew I would reach here? 

I used to do modelling, participate in debates, deliver talks, dance, sing etc. Basically I used to be involved in any cultural activity. 

I did my Bachelor’s in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics and Masters in Food and Nutrition. I have also done a Lead Auditor course (ISO 22000) with a IRCA number and am a Diabetes Educator. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My key influencers are my husband (my main motivator even today and powerhouse of my life) and my parents and inlaws, they stand strong in the background. I would call them as my mentors even today. 

Basically, an urge to achieve has led me to this path.  

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I always try to study, improve, and explore my subject. I always have an open mind when anything comes my way. So, as such though I did not plan anything, my career has been great, from being a nutritionist to nutrigenomics expert and now a “gut health trainer” .

Until almost the 1st year of my bachelor’s degree, I was not at all interested. It was from the 2nd year that things changed as we started studying biochemistry, microbiology along with nutrition. I wanted to do my masters and study more. That’s when I realized this subject was close to my heart. 

Biochemistry has a unique connection with biology, chemistry, and nutrition. It was amazing to understand how each food component is digested and the way the body responds to it and eliminates the same in different ways. 

At ChanRe Rheumatology and Immunology Center (my 1st job during my masters), I joined as Junior Nutritionist and got trained under eminent doctors. I, along with a physiotherapist and a psychologist, introduced an obesity clinic, handling 250 patients per month. We got good results helping them with their arthritis symptoms through a planned diet for osteoarthritis, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis. We also conducted many awareness programs on nutrition and wellness.

After my masters, I joined Truworth, then called ChiHealth, which was the only corporate wellness company in south India. It was a complete online platform for corporate companies which had a chat system, an online call service for diet consultations. I was also the Hygiene Auditor for a few corporate companies. Some key responsibilities were planning diets for lifestyle wellness like weight management, diabetes, gout, pregnancy, lactation as well as helping personnel in improving lifestyle and fitness.  I was Lead Auditor – ISO 22000:2005, HACCP, auditing corporate kitchens and cafeterias and preparing reports based on HACCP and ISO 22K, and defining corrective actions and follow-ups while giving the right direction. I was also involved in writing articles, developing tools and diet plans for corporates. We also conducted corporate wellness camps.

What prompted you to do a course on Food Safety?

My dad was the main motivation for my career in Food Safety. He is a trainer for POSH, Industrial Relations (IR) etc. One of his contacts told him about FSMS (Food Safety Management Systems) and he made sure I got the certification. I think I would give the complete credit to him about this. 

My next stint was at LeanSpoon, a company which is very close to my heart. It was a start up founded by a young couple who were very passionate about providing healthy food at one’s doorstep. I handled multiple roles here, as the Lead Nutritionist, HACCP Auditor, Nutrition Lead, Kitchen nutritionist and so on. We even got featured in newspapers, magazines; a few food bloggers mentioned us on their blogs. We even catered to a few Tollywood stars. LeanSpoon later got sold out to a renowned Hospital in Hyderabad and is now catering to patient’s needs. 

How did you get your first break? 

As I was doing my bachelors, I wanted to earn some pocket money for my petrol expenses. So I joined a nearby hospital (ChanRe) for a salary of Rs 4000 per month. I did this for almost 2 years while I was doing my masters. 

After my masters, I was not ready to go back to work at the hospital as the pay for a nutritionist was very less, which was Rs 7000 / month after my masters. So I couldn’t see my future there. I was looking for a corporate wellness company and one of my friends mentioned ChiHealth wellness solutions. I applied and got through the interview. I got a great experience there as a fresher. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Internal competition in the company – Some of them I addressed by open discussion, some of them I proved by the quality of my work. 

Challenge 2: Delivering product on time. I did overtime for a few days and made sure the product was delivered

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I currently work at Navipoint Health/Genomics Pvt India Limited, India, Chicago.

Nutrigenomics is the science that you apply by reading one’s genetics report. Genetic reporting is done once in lifetime as it fully describes one’s genes, the good and the bad. The report talks about everything from calcium absorption to the potential risk of diabetes/Hypertension etc. Nutrition and lifestyle changes are the ultimate objective of these reports. On top of this is the “gut health” which my current company also focuses on. 

At Navipoint, we connect 3 ends, 1. Lifestyle/food habits, 2. Genetic Data, 3. Gut Health profile. As we all have been hearing this a lot, there is something called “gut-health-axis”, the gut is the main source of energy which can make or break the biology of one’s body. Through deep research and analysis, we have been able to successfully give lifestyle and nutrition recommendations. 

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

I need nutrigenomics skills, which I acquired recently. I am currently doing a gut microbiome course which is one of the important skills required. 

What’s a typical day like?

I get up around 6.00 am and go for a walk or exercise for 40 minutes. We generally eat healthy food. Fruits for breakfast, salad for lunch and rice, dhal, veggies for dinner. I believe in good sleep and resting. I take enough naps too. I love playing with my kid, so we spend time with each other. 

What is it you love about this job? 

I love the current challenges which are wonderful. They make me thrive every day. 

How does your work benefit society? 

I counsel clients to help them change their lifestyle. The nutrition industry has improved, and salaries are better now. There are master’s in nutrition in different states of India now as well as a Nutrigenomics institute in Pune. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

It was in LeanSpoon where we delivered customized food based on health goals and delivered it to homes.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Take any course and please give your 200%. 

Future plans?

I go with the flow and life has been good. I have gained good and bad experiences. Experiences will make us a better person. I am planning to upgrade myself with respect to different studies and personality development. Recently I completed a course on “Gut Health” and am looking forward study more and gain more knowledge.