Our nutrition services team works with our chefs to ensure our meals are medically tailored to meet the unique nutritional needs of our clients. We caught up with Zachary Hedden, Project Angel Heart’s new registered dietitian, to learn more about his background and how he became interested in nutrition. We also checked in with Astrid De la Cruz, registered dietitian and nutrition services manager, about her experience working at Project Angel Heart and what she’s looking forward to in the coming year.
Welcome, Zachary! Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a Colorado native and grew up in southeast Aurora. I was introduced to nutrition while I was attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. After culinary school, I worked for the United States Antarctic Program for 11 years, which included working in food service. I earned my master’s degree in nutrition from MSU Denver in 2021, then completed my dietetic internship with Sodexo in 2022 to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
What is your favorite part of being a dietitian?
I love being able to talk to people about food, especially when it comes to how it can have such a positive impact on their health. I learn so much from hearing about people’s foodways—the disciplines of food-related behavior—and culture. It’s especially rewarding when I can guide people toward making impactful choices while staying true to who they are.
What is your favorite type of food to cook at home?
I really enjoy making holiday meals for my friends and family. Holiday meals can carry a lot of meaning, and cooking for others is a great way to share your love. Some dishes are traditions, but others can be a fun way to experiment with new flavors. I also love learning about other cuisines around the world and incorporating what I learn into the food I make.
How did you become interested in nutrition?
When I was in culinary school, my university started a new program that blended culinary arts with nutrition science. It seemed like the perfect pairing because I could interact with and learn from my community while using the science and culinary skills I learned in school.
What does food as medicine mean to you?
Food is very meaningful for a lot of people. It can carry a lot of tradition, culture, and values–which can influence your mental and emotional well-being. It also means that food is nourishing for your body. It sustains life but can also be transformative and healing when our bodies need it to prevent and treat disease.
What are you looking forward to with your new role at Project Angel Heart?
I’m excited to connect with and learn from the members of the community, and I hope to help guide them on their way toward healing.
What have you most enjoyed since you started at Project Angel Heart?
Hands down, what I have enjoyed most since starting at Project Angel Heart is connecting and building relationships with staff, volunteers, and the community members we serve. I specifically enjoy building connections around food and everyone’s unique and personal journey.
What have you learned from our clients?
SO MUCH! I truly believe that our clients know their bodies best. Every person is unique in their challenges regarding food and health, and I am constantly reminded to check my assumptions. I look to empower and support our clients to determine their goals and how nutrition can facilitate that.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
In the coming year, I look forward to doing more community outreach in our neighborhood and working to remove barriers so marginalized communities can better access our services.