I had the pleasure to interview Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, DBA, MS, RD. Sylvia is the founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a nutrition communications and culinary consulting company, and a board member of the Grain Foods Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board and the Global Rise organization Board.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was raised with a passion for Hispanic food and culture, and I quickly became interested in the nutritional aspect of food thanks in part to my mother, who is a dietitian and physician. I’ve also always loved cooking and appreciated how food can bring and keep people together, no matter who they are or where they come from. So, I decided that I wanted to make a career of helping people fall in love with the process of creating and enjoying delicious, yet nutritious, foods.
I set out on this path by earning a B.S. in dietetics and nutrition and an M.S. in public administration, a doctorate in business administration with emphasis in global leadership then founding my company, Hispanic Food Communications.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
Here are my top three tweaks, or tips, for simple nutrition:
- Diversify Your Diet! The simplest way to have a healthy, balanced diet is to eat a wide variety of foods every day, so I suggest that everyone tries to incorporate at least three food groups with every meal and at least two food groups with every snack. Many people naturally do this with their breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but it’s easy to forget to do so when snacking. Some easy examples include a piece of toast with peanut butter and sliced bananas or strawberries, vegetable soup with crusty bread, or crackers and cheese.
- Eat Your Vegetables! Every meal, including breakfast, should include at least one cup of vegetables — and it’s important to keep them diverse too, incorporating lots of different colors. Although this may seem a little challenging, incorporating fruits and veggies at breakfast can be fun and delicious. For example, fill your omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, etc. or try oatmeal topped with fruits. How about a veggie/ sausage quiche or my favorite a spinach frittata with Swiss cheese. The options are endless.
- Drink Your Water! While it is possible to drink too much water, which is important for everything from healthy skin to helping you to not overeat, most people do not drink even close to enough. You should drink (8) 8-ounce glasses, which equals roughly 2 liters, every day. One of the best ways to stay on track is drinking a glass with every meal or, even better, a glass every hour from the moment you wake up until dinner.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I can’t think of just one specific story, but the favorite aspect of my career is that it has taken, and continues to take me, all over the world! I get to help people from all backgrounds make healthy — not perfect! — choices whenever possible, and I get to do it with the compassion, empathy, and love that eventually gives them enough motivation to take their health journey to another level.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first embarked upon my career, I sometimes spoke and gave advice too quickly, before listening to and analyzing the whole picture. But as a nutrition expert, I need to be able to really listen to my patients, students, and consumers before I provide any personal/expert advice. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to always stop and think critically before speaking.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
My advice and counseling motto is to teach people to make small, simple, step-by-step changes that eventually lead them to discover the vitality, energy, and enthusiasm that help them function more effectively every day. Impacting the world by helping as many families and individuals as possible is my biggest joy!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am most grateful towards the high school professors who recognized and believed in my potential, encouraging me to continue my nutritional studies in the United States despite not speaking a word of English. Also, my college professors helped me succeed by regularly staying after class to help me understand the difficult concepts we were learning. I am forever grateful to these mentors and, very fortunately, am still in touch with most of them.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
On an international scale, it would be nice to wave a magic wand that eliminates all starvation and malnutrition. A movement that would bring a tremendous amount of wellness, however, would be for more countries, through everything from government subsidies to school education, to encourage their people to eat more fruits and veggies every day. Thinking about America specifically, I would like to start a movement that helps everyone stop being hypersensitive to what they hear and read about food in the media every day, and instead recognize that they have the safest food supply in the world and can enjoy everything in moderation.
What is your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Question EVERYTHING You Hear and Read! From news about politics to news about diets, it’s essential to get all of the information that you can and wait for multiple sources to offer their perspective before weighing in yourself.
- Keep Your Nutrition Messaging Positive! It’s easy to point out all of the reasons why someone shouldn’t be eating this or that, or at least so much of this or that, and why their diet is damaging their health. They will listen to your advice and have a much better chance of success if you tell them, with compassion, how they can keep eating this and make it a bit healthier by changing or adding just a few ingredients.
- Be Grateful for Your Career! I know that many people aren’t fortunate enough to make a living doing something they love, so I wish someone had told me how important it is to recognize how lucky I am. I get to do what I love, something that I would do as a hobby even if it weren’t my job, every day, and now I remind myself of it by taking tons of pictures and writing down or telling people how I feel.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
While I have come to admire and become friends with many dietitians throughout my time in the industry, Mary Abbott Hess is someone whom I’ve always regarded as a role model. Mary is a true pioneer in dietetics and, after watching her tirelessly work to advance our profession for decades, I’d love to talk to her about nutrition education and her personal food philosophy over a very long brunch!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I think about and care about each of these topics almost every day, but environmental change is most important to me. Food waste, in particular, is very close to my heart and I’m a huge advocate for policies and actions that seek to reduce it.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Website/blog at www.hispanicnutrition.com
Facebook: Sylvia Klinger
Instagram: Sylvia Klinger
Pinterest: Sylvia Klinger