“In my view, culinary arts and nutrition are two disciplines that complement each other perfectly. One cannot be fully effective without the other.”
– Can you tell us about your background and how you got started with your career?
“I was born and raised in a very small town called La Lima, in the north coast of Honduras, Central America. Surrounded by the simplicity and limitations of a rural banana-exporter town, my childhood and young adulthood years were filled with both struggles and happiness.
“At age 20, I migrated to The United States. As a newcomer from a Spanish-speaking country, learning the language and overall acculturation were the main barriers I had to overcome. All I envisioned at the time was being a role model for my then toddler son, be able to improve myself and consequently help contributing to his well-being.
“With the advice of one of my dad’s childhood friends, I enrolled in a Community College in the Bronx. First, I enrolled in an English as a Second Language Intensive Program that would allow me to complete college credit coursework. Knowing I wanted to pursue something health-related, I decided to apply for the Dental Hygiene program. I remember vividly the day I learned I had made it to the small group of selected students to the much competitive program. I was thrilled. However, around the same time, I was given the opportunity to apply for a scholarship offered by New York University for Community College students with academic excellence. Eventually, I was awarded a spot at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. That is how I ended up studying Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU. The moment I realized nutrition was one of the options offered through the scholarship, there was no doubt in my mind that was the career I wanted to pursue.
“Right after graduation, my family and I moved to Syracuse, NY where I completed a Certificate of Advanced Studies, and a Dietetic Internship through Syracuse University. After, I sat for the national dietetics examination and became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
“In my view, culinary arts and nutrition are two disciplines that complement each other perfectly. One cannot be fully effective without the other. That is why pursuing a career in culinary nutrition was the perfect match to better help individuals looking to improve their health. Knowing basic cooking principles is an essential tool when it comes to taking charge of our health and overall well-being.”
– Besides being a registered dietitian nutritionist, what other certifications do you hold?
“In addition to being a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), I furthered my education by completing a year-long Certification in Professional Cooking in 2015. Also, I have earned an additional certificate of training in weight management, as well as a certificate in the psychology of eating, and nutritional counseling.”
– When did you realize nutrition was your passion?
“I realized early in life that I truly enjoyed everything food related. Cooking has always been something I loved doing. However, my interest in nutrition came a little later, but it certainly derived from my passion for food and cooking. Watching cooking shows and reading food magazines was not only entertaining but inspiring to me. I would write down the recipes and try finding the ingredients needed for a recipe—which I didn’t always have or could afford to buy—but that did not deter me from trying new recipes. One of my favorite childhood memories around food was when I first learned how to make pies from scratch with a family friend. I was probably 10-years-old then.”
– Is there a population in specific you prefer to work with and why?
“Although I am a professional open to serve anybody with interest in healthy eating, I do feel I particularly favor working with adults who are overweight and struggle with
“Working with the elderly has helped me see there is still a lot to be done in our society to ensure our elderly live dignified lives.”
obesity. I also find a great deal of fulfillment with the geriatric population. Working with the elderly has helped me see there is still a lot to be done in our society to ensure our elderly live dignified lives.”
– What brings you the most satisfaction from your career?
“Simply put, helping people to improve their health, giving them the tools needed to reach their goals, and making people realize that adopting healthier habits is possible, and although it may not be simple or easy, it is totally attainable with knowledge and understanding as well as the right support system.”
– What do you feel is your most significant strength as an RD, and what do you think makes you good at what you do?
“When I think of strengths, I like to think of myself as multifaceted; I can be the clinician and recipe developer-photographer with the same keenness. Specifically, to clinical practice, I think empathy is one of my biggest strengths. We can not have a positive impact on somebody’s life if we can not empathize with each individual situation and struggles when it comes to improving health and adopting healthier lifestyle habits. I can unequivocally say that when it comes to effective nutrition education and counseling, one-size, does not fit all.
“Also, I consider my appreciation for food culture as another strength. In fact, my motto reads: ‘I appreciate real food and ingredients, especially those that reflect one’s culture.’ Food culture says a lot about a community, from the type of foods eaten, various cooking methods–traditionally passed onto younger generations — agriculture, animal husbandry, foreign influences,
economy, customs and traditions. Food culture explains and encircles a lot about human behavior, and that is certainly invaluable.
“Latin-American cuisine, in particular, goes beyond stereotypical dishes or ingredients erroneously labeled as ‘Latin’ or ‘Hispanic. Hispanic food encompasses much more than rice, beans, corn tortillas or tamales. Each Latin American country has its own cuisine, and although many share some similarities, each of them features its native ingredients and cooking techniques frequently preserved from pre-colonial times, and also expanded by outside influencers (especially African and Asian influence) during the post-colonial era.”
What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges we face today when it comes to nutrition and health, and how can we overcome them?
“There are undoubtedly many challenges. Effective but flawed food marketing and misinformation reach every one of us constantly. Whether is a new product in the market, or a new ‘miracle diet,’ people are repeatedly faced with food dilemmas, to the point where common, wholesome foods are all of a sudden forbidden from consumption.
“I disagree with the concept of ‘superfoods.’ The moment a food or product is extensively marketed as superior, individuals tend to undermine the nutritional value of anything else —think walnuts over almonds, or coconut oil over olive oil. Ongoing research gives us more detailed information on the nutritional profile of all foods, which is totally valid; however, the fixation of one food over another disregards the concept of variety, which is key in healthy eating. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the nutrition and dietetics professionals to decipher all this information, based solely on science-based information so that the average consumer can make an informed decision.
“I disagree with the concept of ‘superfoods.’ The moment a food or product is extensively marketed as superior, individuals tend to undermine the nutritional value of anything else.”
“Additionally, convenience continues to be a major force dictating what to eat. Although convenient foods such as pre-peeled or cut up produce, pre-marinated meats, or salad kits are sometimes good options, what I am really referring to is highly processed, ready-to-eat, pre-packaged food-like products that are in many instances loaded with sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. This is where nutrition counseling plays a fundamental role in helping people to attain a healthier relationship with food. One that is not addictive or controlling, but rather appreciative of real food, flavors, and quality, without any guilt.”
– Can you think of a situation in your career that reinforced your passion for what you do?
“Patients, clients or participants—depending on the setting—are usually the ones reaffirming my conviction of what I do. In some instances, the stories behind each individual are much more than just someone trying to be healthier. I have seen clients breaking down in tears because they do not want to continue the cycle of chronic diseases such as obesity, food addictions or eating disorders in their families. I have also been the recipient of great news from patients who have lost weight and kept it off. Even in my role as a food and nutrition writer, I have been honored to be chosen to write stories behind weight loss journeys that have transformed someone’s life. All of this truly empowers me to keep moving forward.”
– What advice would you offer to someone wanting to follow your career path?
“For those interested in nutrition as a career, first I would suggest narrowing it down to what aspects of nutrition and dietetics bring them more fulfillment, and to follow that path. Be open to exploring non-typical careers within nutrition. This is one the many advantages of being a registered dietitian, that one can choose amongst a wide array of career options, such as working in a clinical setting, community nutrition geriatrics, school service, consultant, food policy, media spokesperson, food writing, culinary art, amongst others.”
– Where do you see yourself, career-wise, 5 to 10 years from now?
“I plan to keep the ball rolling and to dig deeper into publishing more nutrition and culinary content. More specifically, I see myself as a resource to continue to bring exposure to the Latin-American cuisine.” – GM
For more about Suellen, visit her Instagram at
A special thank you to farmacynyc.com for permitting us to shoot at their Hell’s Kitchen location in New York City.