Are Alternative Sugars Better for You?

This spring, I’m hosting my very first Dietetic Intern. It’s been awesome to be able to show her what a media Dietitian does and introduce her to the fun world of blogging, pitching and Canva. I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while, so she dug through the info and put together this extremely informative blog post. Here’s a little bit more about her:

Yinglu is working toward her Master’s in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she is currently a Dietetic Intern. Yinglu volunteers as Nutritionist for the City Harvest Cooking Matter Projects in New York. She also serves as a writer for Dabai Nutrition Blog on WeChat, the largest social media platform in China.

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The facts about alternative sugars. Learn about coconut sugar, date sugar, brown rice syrup and stevia.
By Yinglu Peng, M.S. Candidate and Dietetic Intern

It’s not secret that eating excessive amounts of sugar will likely lead to health problems. No matter what type of health professional you talk to, they will most likely tell you to cut down on sugar. Obviously, that is easier said than done. Not only does sugar taste great, but it also makes you feel good. With these negative health implications in mind, many food companies are promoting “alternative sugars” as healthier versions of table sugar. Fantastic news, but is it true? Let’s take a closer look at sugar and its alternatives.

White Sugar, also known as table sugar, contains 16 calories per teaspoon. It provides energy but no nutritional benefits. This type of sugar is called “added” because it does not naturally occur in foods. The American Heart Association suggests women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar and men no more than 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams).

Coconut sugar is growing rapidly in popularity. Unlike table sugar, coconut sugar contains several nutrients, like iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, along with some short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants. It also includes a fiber called inulin, which may reduce the rate at which you absorb sugar and might be a better choice for people with diabetes. The taste of coconut sugar is similar to brown sugar, and it provides as many calories and carbohydrates as regular sugar–about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon. Coconut sugar is still sugar, and people should treat it as such.

Agave nectar is marketed as a natural product from the agave cactus plant. It contains 20 calories per teaspoon, and it’s sweeter than table sugar. Many agave lovers suggest that you can use less agave than sugar to achieve similar sweetness. However, it contains more fructose than table sugar. Excessive intake of fructose can screw up your appetite sensor and lead you to overeat. Thus, it’s important to be mindful about the amount of fructose you ingest.

Date Sugar looks similar to brown sugar but it is not really sugar. It’s actually simple granulated dried dates. Since the entire fruits is used to make date sugar, it is a whole food sweetener packed with dietary fiber and nutrients. Since this sugar comes from dates, it contains iron, calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin B3 and B6, and it’s rich in antioxidants. Date sugar is still rich in calories and can cause surges in blood sugar, so eat it in moderation.

Aspartame, also known as Equal or NutraSweet, is one of the most studied artificial sweeteners. It contains 0 calories, is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is widely used in diet soda. According to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), three key studies showed aspartame could cause leukemia, kidney and other cancers in rats and mice. Yet, the results are not totally conclusive, and, other studies have proven aspartame to be safe. The jury is still out on aspartame, but the FDA says it’s perfectly safe to drink and sell.

Brown Rice Syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that breakdown the starches. This liquid is then boiled down into syrup. Do not fooled by the name of this sugar. Although it’s made from brown rice, by the time it reaches your digestive tract, it is no different than table sugar. Also, brown rice syrup is less sweet than table sugar, so you may need to use more to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Stevia leaf extract, also known as Truvia or PureVia, contains 0 calories and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is actually a plant that is naturally grown in Brazil and Paraguay. The local people have been using it for hundreds of years to sweeten their food or as medicine for stomach discomfort. At the time, it’s considered safe, but there is limited scientific evidence on this natural sweetener.

Sugar alcohols (erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.) are less sweet and caloric than sugar and often used in sugar-free foods marketed to people with Diabetes. Eating large amounts of sugar alcohols has been shown to cause bloating and diarrhea. Most people don’t consume enough to cause any issues, so it is safe for most people.

The bottom line is that sugar is sugar. No matter how it’s marketed, you should be cautious about the amount you put into your body.







Chimichurri Parsnip Chips

This month’s Recipe ReDux challenge was a fun one and right up my alley. I’ve alluded to this in previous posts, but I’m terrible at meal prepping. As a matter of fact, I tend to go to the supermarket, find a brand new fruit or veggie, buy it and then not know what to do with it. It’s like buying a new top that doesn’t match anything in your closet. Recently, I bought some parsnips and thought to myself, “Well, I love carrots so I’m sure I will figure out what to do here.” But alas, the parsnips sat in my fridge for a few days until I read this month’s Recipe ReDux challenge:

“Cook with at least 3 ingredients that are actually in your refrigerator or pantry right now. Try not to go to the store to buy anything new. Give tips on how to make a healthy dish out of whatever you have on-hand.”

Oven baked veggie chips, made with parsnips

This was my cue to invent something fun with parsnips. I combined them with some oil, salt and a dried chimichurri spice I have on hand and these delicious chips were born.

For those who have never used parsnips before, they look like a white carrot. They are a bit sweeter and more starchy than the traditional carrot, so they bake up perfectly into crispy chips. To get the chips really thin, I used a food processor with a slicing blade, but you can also use a mandolin or a pairing knife (although this might take quite a while).

Makes 2 servings (a serving is about 1 cup worth of chips)

Oven baked veggie chips, made with parsnips

4 large parsnips, washed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable or Canola oil
1 tablespoon dried Chimichurri seasoning
1 teaspoon of salt.

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Recipe for baked veggie parsnip chips. Gluten-free, vegan and healthy chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the parsnips, oil, Chimichurri seasoning and salt. Stir until the parsnips are evenly coated with seasoning.
  3. Lay out flat on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Season with a touch more salt, if needed.




7 Tips For Breaking Into The Media World

In my last blog post, I discussed my journey into the world of media. How it began, what my daily life looks like and the fact that everyday is not perfect. Now it’s time to share what I’ve learned, so that it may help you in your media journey. Let me reiterate… I’m not an expert, but I will tell you what has worked for me. These 7 tips are things you can start doing today.

7 Tips For

  1. Get online. If you want to write or be featured in the media, you need to have an online presence. There are no ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about this point. This is the first thing I tell people when they ask me how I got my start. I began blogging and using social media. If you don’t have any social media or a blog set-up, that is step #1. A blog is not 100% necessary, but it’s one of the best ways to establish your voice and brand. Social media is also a great way to start marketing yourself to the masses. Your social media will be a reflection of you, and it will help you find your unique voice. 
  2. Find your niche. Tip number one should help you with this, but it’s really important to find your niche before you start pitching publications. For instance, if you really love talking to parents, then pitching a publication that caters to millennials, like Shape, is probably not the right path for you. I’ve always been interested in fitness and running, so getting into fitness magazines was my bread and butter. And, once you find your niche, you’ll be better able to come up with interesting ideas to pitch.
  3. Talk to other people. I think networking is one of the most important things you can do, no matter the goal. I told you in my last post that I started writing for because a friend connected me with the editor. I’ve also been able to pitch a few other magazines because I met the editor somewhere. ‘Networking’ seems like such a dirty word, but its really about being friendly and having a genuine conversation with a new person. You don’t need to go up to a stranger and say, “I want to write. How can you help me?” Instead, maybe strike a conversation with other Dietitians who have similar experiences. You may become friends and can then help each other out on projects. I refer to some of my fellow media Dietitians as my “coworkers” because we talk almost daily.
  4. Practice your writing skills.Practice... This may seem like a no brainer, but in order to write, you have to write. I always say that my love of writing came from my love of reading. I’ve always been enamored by the way authors string words together in such an eloquent fashion. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be that good, but I strive to learn from the books that I read and from everything I write. I think about grammar and spelling and pronouns and tense. The only way to get better at writing is to practice. If you don’t have a blog, then Stone Soup is a great place to start practicing or fellow Dietitian Toby Amidor has an internship program, where she takes on writing contributors for her blog and she gives them feedback in return.
  5. Accept rejection. Maybe I should’ve put this as number 1 because rejection will happen more than acceptance publications, especially when you first start. Let me tell you a story. I pitched and pitched this one publication that I really wanted to write for. I finally got one pitch accepted, wrote the story and then the editor ripped it to shreds. I was upset and felt like a terrible writer. But instead of being negative, I thanked her for her feedback and made all of the corrections. At the end, she thanked me for being so cooperative and working with her. The world of media and writing is one in where people will openly tell you that they don’t like your ideas or something you are doing wrong. You need to have thick skin and be able to deal with that.
  6. Be as creative as possible. Be Creative...People often tell me that they don’t know how to set themselves apart as bloggers, and I have that feeling all the time. Sometimes I’ll be trying to pitch really creative content and I end up with zero thoughts in my head. But creativity is all around us. What’s the latest trend that your client mentioned to you? What’s the craziest food creation that you keep seeing pop up on Pinterest? Are there any new studies in the AND’s daily newsletter? Or maybe there’s a food day or month coming up, like the start of spring or Peanut Butter & Jelly Day (yes, this is a thing and it’s April 2nd). Use these unique opportunities as a way to be creative.
  7. Learn from an expert. Something that I’ve always been a fan of is asking people for advice. I want to learn from the experiences of those who have been successful, and I think the only way to learn is to ask and do. Luckily, one of my closes RD pals was a writer in her past life. I’ve been extremely lucky to learn from Amy Gorin, and you can too! She and Erin Palinski-Wade created a course called Master The Media, in which you can learn all of the ins-and-outs of being in the media. The second installment of the course launches in June, but get more info here!

Was this list helpful? What other questions do you still have about breaking into the world of media? Let me know in the comments!

How I Got My Start In The Media World

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the airport on my way to visit a friend in Atlanta. I have an article due today that I haven’t had time to start until now. I really hustled this week to be able to take today off, but there’s always more work to be done. This is my life as a Media Dietitian. Its not as glamorous as social media would lead you believe. Don’t get me wrong, being able to travel or take days off whenever I want is pretty amazing, but there are also downsides. That’s why I decided to write a series of posts about becoming an entrepreneur in the media world, including how I got my start and my day-to-day life.

How one Dietitian got her start in the media world

First, let me say that everyone’s journey is different. What has worked for me might not work for you. Also, I’m still new to this whole world. I’ve learned a ton and have had some successes in the past year, but I’m still learning and have also had some failures.

How did I get my start?

Perseverance, timing and a “yes” from one editor.

I think my writing career started in grad school, unbeknownst to me. I was always pretty terrible at tests, and I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a class that only required writing a paper. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really enjoyed writing. I didn’t mind spending hours sorting through research and trying to combine it all into one easy-to-read story.

 I started my blog to share recipes but also write about interesting nutrition topics for the general public, like the health benefits of coffee and whether or not you need a protein shake. Through blogging, I realized that I love to write and that I am pretty good at it. That’s where the perseverance came in. I continued to blog for the fun of it, even when no one was reading.

Perserverance pays off

Eventually, I wanted to expand my writing portfolio and I sought other outlets that would allow me to write for them, even if that meant writing for free. I became a Stone Soup blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. I also wrote for The Active Times and other Dietitians’ blogs. After I felt confident in my writing skills, I decided to pitch articles to magazines.

Luckily, I took a class called “Analysis of Current Literature” in grad school, where I learned how to pitch articles to the media. Using what I learned as a guide, I searched for editor’s contact info and eventually sent a few pitches. There were a lot of unanswered emails…like, a lot. But one pitch I sent was right on the money and perfect timing.


I proposed an article to Women’s Running about nutrition considerations when running in the heat, and they were already planning this topic for their August 2016 issue of the magazine. They asked if I would be willing to write for the magazine, rather than the website. I was so thrilled that my first pitch was accepted that I called my mom and told her the “big news”! I wrote the article, but I still had so many unanswered questions, such as:

Should I pitch them more articles?

How much should I be getting paid?

How do I break into other publications?

Honestly, I ended up learning most of what I know now through trial and error. But some of it also came from knowing the right people and networking. One of my good friends also wrote for, and she offered to connect me with the editor. Having one publication under my belt was great, but wouldn’t two be so nice? When she connected me, they said they would love to have me pitch them, and they started accepting my pitches right away. At the same time, I also began pitching Eating Well.  I was thrilled when they actually answered my email. I pitched many ideas before one was finally accepted, and I started writing for their magazine.

This progression continued, and I started picking up more and more writing gigs and getting more publications under my belt. Some publications responded to a “cold pitch” (aka, I didn’t know the editor and just sent an idea), some I networked my way into and some I’m still trying to get a response. Right now, I write for Runner’s World, Shape, Fitness Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Women’s Running, Food Network Healthy Eats, Food & Nutrition Magazine and Greatist. While that sounds like an impressive list, I’m always trying to grow my media experience and take on more projects.

What do I do on a daily basis?

I’m always working towards a deadline, and I’m constantly pitching new ideas. That’s the thing about writing…once you finish an article, you need to think of another one. To be in the media means to be constantly present online. I’m on social media, blogging and writing for at least half of each day. It also means that I’ve been lucky enough to partner with some food brands that I love, like KIND, Dave’s Killer Bread, The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Welch’s and POM. I’ve helped get them national media exposure, and sometimes I speak on their behalf or create sponsored blog posts.

I also ventured out on my own to use my expertise from my past life (working in advertising) to help Dietitians and food bloggers create, manage and understand email marketing campaigns. I’ve given webinars, and I’m talking about this topic at the online RD Symposium.

As you can probably see, everyday is different. Sometimes I’m struggling to get three things done at once and some days I’m pitching new ideas. Everyday is exciting, but not everyday is good. I think that’s one of the reasons I decided to write this post. I want others to know that not everything you see online is as sparkly and exciting as it looks.

What have I learned?

So so so much…I feel like I’ve gained a PhD in working for myself during the past 12 months. It wouldn’t do justice to talk about what I’ve learned in one paragraph. Instead, my next blog post will discuss my life lessons and provide tips for anyone hoping to forge their own path in the media world. Check back later in the week for the second installment.

Brussels Sprout Naan Pizza With An Egg On Top

Did you know that naan pizzas are all the rage right now? I’m absolutely loving this new trend of making a pizza on a piece of naan bread. While I grew up eating traditional pizza every Friday night, I’m totally okay with embracing new flavors. I figured I would go non-traditional for this recipe, and the result is a really interesting and absolutely satisfying Brussels Sprout Naan Pizza With An Egg On Top.

Brussels Sprout Naan Pizza

The combination of bitter Brussels sprouts with salty parmesan and a rich egg makes a really delicious brunch or dinner. I will just leave these pictures here and let them do the talking. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this beauty is ready in less than 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Brussel Sprout Naan Pizza With Egg_edited-1

Makes 1 pizza

1 whole grain naan bread
1/4 cup shredded cheddar
6-7 pieces of shaved parmesan
2 teaspoons red onion, diced
1 egg
1 cup of Brussels sprout leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

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Brussels Sprouts Naan Pizza With An Egg On Top


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. On a baking sheet, place the naan bread. Top with shredded cheddar, shaved parmesan and red onion. Crack an egg onto the middle of the pizza. Surround the egg with brussels sprout leaves. Drizzle the entire thing with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place in the oven for 13-15 minutes or until the egg sets.

Brussels Sprout Naan Pizza