Dalina Soto is a bilingual registered dietitian and the founder of Nutritiously Yours, LLC. Because Spanish is her first language and because she is a mama herself, Dalina offers a unique perspective on nutrition, focusing on what is both realistic and healthiest for each of her clients. Check out our interview with Dalina below!
E: Why did you decide to become a registered dietitian?
D: I actually started off at Penn State as pre-med and because I am lazy I decided that I didn’t want to really do a gym class, so another way to get that credit for an elective is to take nutrition. So, I took the class and I fell in love and I was like, this is want to do. I figured, going into medicine, I’m going to be on the other spectrum, I’m going to be working with people when they are already too sick. With nutrition, I can actually help prevent the sickness and help them to get healthier without having to go into a doctor’s office all the time. So I decided to switch my career because I wanted to be on more of the preventative side.
E: When your typical client comes in, what are they looking for from you, what kind of help?
D: When a client comes in, they are usually, for the most part looking for either weight loss help, or if they get a referral from a doctor it is usually because they are diabetic or have high blood pressure or there’s some sort of chronic disease going on that can be helped with nutrition[…] Because we are on the preventative care side, we can definitely help you deal with anything and everything. Almost every disease state has nutrition implications, so we can definitely help you fight a disease and help you get better. I have a lot of clients that have lupus or have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) or other diseases that you would never think are [connected to] nutrition, but they are. Nutrition can definitely help you get on a better track, get healthier, it can help you get off some of your medications. We can help a lot.
E: Sounds like it! I see on your website that you accept insurance for up to six free visits with a registered dietitian, can you tell me a little bit about that, how you learned that option and if many of your clients take advantage of this?
D: So I became a provider due to the new Affordable Care Act. Because the health care industry spent so much money on E.R. visits and doctors visits, they decided, why don’t we start focusing on preventative care, and they realized that registered dietitians would be the best way to help their patients and clients. […] The problem is, I don’t think it’s very well advertised. [… ] We can help with picky eating if you’re a mom, we can help with breast feeding, we can help with meal planning, food shopping, anything. We can help a lot.
E: I also see on your website that you are a Spanish speaking dietitian. Do you see a lot of Spanish speaking clients?
D: Right now, no, because I’m trying to get the word out that I do speak Spanish […] Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Spanish-speaking dietitians so I want to get the word out there, I really want people knowing that I’m here and that they’re able to come and utilize the fact that I speak their language, that I eat the same foods that they eat, that I can help them get on a healthier path.
E: I can imagine that if you’re seeing both English and Spanish-speaking clients they come from a variety of cultural background, so how does a client’s background influence what kind of advice you give them for nutrition?
D: I always want to focus on being culturally competent, so if someone comes in here and one of the things that I ask is, what do you like eating, and we’ll go through their food journal and go through what they’re eating on a daily basis. I ask them, “what are you not willing to give up?” because I want to make sure that they’re able to keep the foods that they love and still be healthy. One of my main things is that I want people to love food again, I want people to eat foods that they grew up eating and I want them to love their culture and eat its food, it’s just, how can we make it healthier for you and how can we get you on a better path while still enjoying those foods?
E: Given that Philadelphia is such a diverse city, I also imagine that you see clients with a lot of different economic backgrounds. How does a client’s financial standing influence the advice that you give them?
D: It influences a lot. […] There are people that live in communities where there aren’t any super markets what they have is corner stores and fast food places. I’m going to help them make a healthy choice with what they’ve got. I’m not going to sit there and say, “you need to go to the super market and you need to buy fresh fruits and they need to be organic,” I would never say something like that. I try to find out where they live, find out what resources they have around them and teach them how to make the healthier choice with the resources they have. If McDonald’s is the only thing that they have available to them and they have to feed their kids, then what can we get on that menu that’s going to help them get on a healthier path? There’s plenty of things that you can get on that menu that are going to be better than others.
E: As a mom that works outside of the home yourself, what are some of the things that you do to make sure you and your family stay healthy when you don’t have a lot of time to plan and prepare healthy meals?
D: I try at least once a week to get to a super market and buy a ton of fruits and vegetables and try to think ahead, if I can, to what I can buy to cook fast and easy when I get home. So fruits and vegetables, my fridge is always full of them and then I try to buy lean meat, so I have a lot of chicken cutlets, I‘ll have a lot of lean pork chops […] You don’t have to make an elaborate meal, you don’t have to go in the kitchen and cook for two, three hours.
E: Also as a mom, what do you think are the main things to focus on when it comes to nutrition for kids?
D: I think picky eating is one of the biggest things moms face, and so a lot of the time we think that we have to cater to our children and give them exactly what they are asking for or else they are not going to eat. I think it’s really starting early and having them eat with you and having them see you eat and letting them know that what you’re putting in front of them is basically what they’re going to get [...] I think we also have a portion distortion when it comes to children, which is that they should be eating a lot more than what they actually physically can eat, so a lot of the time it’s explaining to moms what a correct portion size is for a child that’s one or two so that they understand that [their] child is actually eating enough, you don’t have to worry.
E: What are your thoughts on eating locally grown food, organic food, and things like that?
D: I prefer locally grown just because they’re fresher, they’re traveling less and you can always wash them very well and eat them. There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to organic and non-organic and I think that you have to do what’s best for you and your family. I don’t think that everybody can afford organic, so if they can’t, I don’t want them to feel like they’re any less than anyone else because they can’t afford it, so I try not to focus on organic or non-organic. I try to focus more on locally grown because you’re going to get more nutrition out of it because they’re fresher and they’re traveling less, so you’re going to be able to get them at more peak ripeness.
E: What is the main takeaway that you think moms should know about nutrition for themselves and for their families?
D: So I think the main thing is, we shouldn’t be afraid of feeding our children. There’s sort of a stigma out there when it comes to our kids like, I can’t give them frozen chicken nuggets or I can’t go get them McDonald’s one day. I think it’s more about educating the parents to not have that guilt if they aren’t able to cook and they have to go to a fast food place. It’s more of, let’s just take the stress out of eating and just enjoy eating. Let’s learn to love food again and have your child have a healthy relationship with food. I think that’s the biggest thing for moms to learn. I think there’s a lot of info in the media and there’s a lot of expectations of these picture perfect families that you see and you want to be them, but let’s be honest, we’re not going to be them. I’m not going to be them and I have the knowledge. So let’s just learn to love food again and try to do our best with what we have.
E: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
D: I just think we need to learn how to relax and not be so hard on ourselves as moms, whether we’re working or staying at home, I think we have these expectations of what we should be and where we should be but it’s so hard to meet those expectations and we’re usually so hard on ourselves. We just need to learn to do what’s best for our families because no two families are the same, and we need to learn how to be a little bit less judgmental on ourselves.