Last week we talked about some of the harmful effects of added sugar. BUT, if you are going to have sugar, which kind is the right choice? This week we’ll look at honey, coconut sugar, brown sugar, raw vs white sugar, and even stevia. We have to realize there isn’t a simple answer when it comes to added sugars/sweeteners. Added sugars is where the clear majority of health issues lie. Watch your labels and start playing sugar detective to know what you are eating!
Honey contains a few more calories than table sugar but unlike stevia or table sugar, it contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants making honey more like a food than a sugar. Unfortunately, most non-raw honey has been filtered, heated/pasteurized and processed thereby negating many of the health benefits in an attempt to prevent crystallization once on a store shelf.
(Caution: If you are allergic to bees, raw honey could potentially cause reactions!)
Coconut sugar/coconut palm sugar (not to be confused with palm sugar) is made from the sap of coconut trees and is less processed because the sap is extracted and then placed in heat to dry. It has a couple minerals and antioxidants and a lower glycemic index than table sugar thanks to inulin (a type of fiber). Coconut sugar contains the same number of calories as table sugar, but the amount of nutrients is negligible unless large quantities are consumed so it should really not be consumed for its “nutrition” – it is still ultimately added sugar.
Raw Cane Sugar
Raw cane sugar (also called turbinado sugar) is extracted from the sugarcane plant and not refined. Although in large amounts, no sugar is “good”, raw sugar would be a better alternative than white table sugar since it retains some minerals. Raw sugar includes unrefined cane juice or powder (Sucanat and Rapadura) and date sugar.
Beware: White sugar can be labelled in disguise as refined or dried cane juice and refined cane sugar!
While all of our article has been designated to explaining different types of sugar, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a natural sweetener that appears to be in good standing. Stevia is a sugar-free and calorie-free South African herb made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It has a glycemic index of zero so it doesn’t raise blood sugar. It appears stevia COULD be your best choice for a sweetener without the additional calories of local honey, etc BUT be careful of overly processed stevia products as in general the word “processed” often means “processed with chemicals”.
Also, be aware of overuse as it can cause you to develop more of a taste for sweets. According to Livestrong.com “crude stevia extracts and whole-leaf stevia are not approved, the Mayo Clinic notes, because there are concerns about their effects on the kidneys, cardiovascular system and blood glucose levels.”
In summary, granulated white sugar/table sugar is the most chemically processed and refined of sugars. Brown sugar is just white sugar with added molasses, thus containing even more calories and sweetness. Choosing artificial sweeteners vs a “better” sugar is a choice you have to make based on the information available to you. There is no simple answer it seems. Our advice? Watch your labels, know your sugars, and choose what is best for you while exercising moderation!