Q&A with UHD Alum Denise Hernandez
By Toni Carter
If anyone is qualified to give you nutrition advice, it’s Denise Hernandez. Hernandez has been studying health and wellness for eight years; and aside from being a UHD grad, she has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University and is a registered and licensed dietitian.
Currently, Hernandez works as a registered dietitian for The Houstonian. She is acquiring a Certified Specialist certification in Sports Dietetics and is an active member of the Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
At the Houstonian, Hernandez provides nutrition counseling, diet analysis, meal planning and food shopping education. She has published articles, educational material and presents lectures on various topics of health and wellness. She also has experience working with children and adults and enjoys finding creative ways to coach her clients through their nutritional goals.
We had a chance to catch up with her for an informal Q&A session. Read on to learn Hernandez’s motivation for becoming a dietitian, as well as some healthy eating tips for those who wish to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
1. What inspired you to become a Dietitian?
I have a family history of heart disease where both of my grandmothers died prematurely due to strokes, one before I was even born. Diabetes is also prevalent amongst my paternal side of the family. I wanted to make a difference not only within my family but to anyone who seeks nutritional guidance.
2. How did you get into this field?
After graduating from UHD with a degree in biological and physical sciences, I learned about this field. Wanting to help people prevent chronic disease, I decided nutrition was the best approach.
3. What types of clients or patients do you work with?
I work with all types of people. I see children and adults who are pursuing some general nutrition guidance as well as those diagnosed with several conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and food allergies, to name a few. I also help clients making lifestyle changes such as adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I stay abreast of the latest nutrition research and help clients adopt these findings to their own lifestyles.
4. What foundation of knowledge and skills does it take to do what you are doing?
Education is key. Continuing education is crucial in my field. Nutrition is such a young science and concepts or theories are refined every year. It’s also important that we stay informed to help the public discern bad nutrition advice from the good. There is so much misinformation out there. Skills that are important for a dietitian include being personable, passionate, and patient.
5. You have published articles and have presented lectures on various topics, what would be your ultimate professional goal?
I love being in front of a group presenting or teaching. I’ll always work with clients one on one because I love the interaction but ultimately I’ll focus more time in large group settings.
6. How do you balance work and home life?
My daughter challenges me every day as a dietitian and her mother. She is extremely picky even though she was introduced to healthy eating as a baby. It’s okay, challenge accepted. She just started kindergarten and her education is very important to me. I’m lucky that I can schedule my hours around her hours. I’m usually done by the time she gets out of school.
7. What do you love about your profession?
The best feeling ever is when my clients get to their goals, are able to get off of medications, and improve their quality of life.
8. What advice would you give a student interested in studying nutrition?
If someone’s interested and feel they possess the skills and qualities mentioned before, then they should go for it. The field and programs are very competitive where the most dietetic interns that are accepted per class are 12 interns. Therefore they must be patient if they don’t get in on their first try.
9. What would be the first change you recommend someone who wants to start eating healthier make?
Take it step by step. The best change is the one that you can see yourself keeping 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and more down the line. So many people try fad diets or quick fix approaches which are not sustainable.
10. What are some suggestions that are easy to implement and to keep going?
Get help! My job is not just making meal plans but serving as my clients’ motivation to continue the process. If you don’t seek a dietitian’s help, find like-minded individuals that help keep you motivated. There is always one thing that a person can do to improve their diet, get as many fruits and vegetables in daily. Start with that.
11. What are some main things to look out for when reading product labels?
Tip: There is not just one thing on a label for every person. It depends on what your goals are. If you’re trying to improve your cholesterol levels, then focus on saturated fat; blood pressure then look at sodium; diabetes, total carbohydrates. One easy approach is to look at the daily percentage values on the right hand side of a label. If you’re looking for an item low in something make sure it’s below 10%. Before you do all of that, however, make sure you look at how many servings there are per container. I can’t tell you how many people overeat because they don’t realize that a container has more than one serving. The new proposed nutrition labels should address that.
12. Eating healthfully can get pretty expensive – what are some tips you have for eating clean on a budget?
You don’t need everything to be organic. Shop seasonal produce and you’ll save. Plan ahead of time and you’ll avoid last minute additions to your grocery shopping which can get costly.
13. If eating healthfully also means cooking most meals at home – what advice do you have for those who don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen?
I suggest batch cooking. I love crock pot recipes.
14. What are some typical meals you serve your family?
I keep it extremely simple, especially because of my picky one. So on most days it’s chicken with some whole grain, like pasta or rice plus veggies or fruit. Turkey spaghetti is also a favorite.
15. If you were to choose one takeaway readers’ could have from this article what would it be?
Be good to your body. You only get one. Start making small changes today that with time will multiply to several and improve your life. Don’t wait until it’s too late. I like what Michael Pollan has to say about your diet: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Sorry that’s more than one.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. Annually, UHD educates more than 14,000 students; boasts over 50,000 alumni and offers 44 bachelor’s and eight master’s degree programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service, Sciences & Technology; and University College). In 2018, UHD grew its First Time in College student population by 11 percent and transfer students by 14 percent.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston. It also is ranked among 15 U.S. universities with lowest net price to students (according to the U.S. Department of Education). The University is noted nationally as both a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Minority-Serving Institution. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.