Do you prefer brown sugar to white sugar in your coffee and tea?
Most of us know that white sugar or sucrose just adds empty calories to our diet. Now, how about brown or raw sugar? Apparently, these are marketed to appear more superior, "more natural", and more nutritious than white sugar. But is it really true?
Sadly, no. Dark sugar is still refined sugar regardless of its colour. "Raw" and "brown" imply a more raw form of sweetener and are always an excellent selling point on food labels and a favourite marketing gimmick for businesses and manufacturers.
It's known that unheated, raw honey is better than processed commercial honey because of the presence of live enzymes that are kept in. Similarly, people know that brown rice is less processed and healthier than white rice, and if sugar is sold as a "raw" or "brown" form just like rice, they tend to rationalise that it is probably better for the body. However, brown rice is different. It has some bran attached, so it's higher in fibre and has significantly more minerals than white rice. But unfortunately, sugar that appears brown doesn't have the same nice story.
How is sugar made? It begins as sap in tropical sugarcane plants, which are crushed to make sugar juice. The juice extract is heated, creating dark molasses that contain sugar crystals. This is then spun in a centrifuge to remove the molasses. It is said that to get to the final product of white granulated sugar, about 60 different chemicals are used in the multi-step process. And all the natural minerals and vitamins of the original raw cane sugar are stripped and removed during the refining process (thus the reason why refined foods are broken down quickly in the body, causing a a rapid spike in blood sugar).
To obtain a darker colour, brown sugar or raw sugar has some molasses attached to it. Hence, it is so-called slightly less refined than white sugar, because it retains the last bits of molasses coating. But the amount of nutrients in that small amount of molasses is so insignificant that you have to eat nine teaspoon of sugar that is brown to get the amount of iron and calcium from one slice of whole-wheat bread. In other words, the trace or touch of molasses found in brown sugar or raw sugar is not adequate enough to make them any more valuable as a source of nutrients. For instance, on the left, the satchet of sugar (which I picked up in a cafe in the US) is labeled as "Sugar in the Raw". Notice how it attempts to use the additonal molasses of brown sugar as a point to sell its taste. Even though it does not really mention that it is a healthier option compared to white table sugar, the fancy name "sugar in the raw" is apparently created to say something positive about the contents.
Knowing what white sugar, brown, and raw sugars are and their nutritional value will help you make wiser choices. So, the next time when you are tempted to grab as much raw sugar for your coffee or tea, ask yourself how much difference it would make if you had taken white sugar. Are they all sweet nothings?
1) Aspartame (what you get in diet cokes and many candy or mint drops)
2) Splenda (a sugarless sweetener that is made from sugar!)
1. Hold tight, honey labels and claims are getting really wild! All in Eating Real Honey.
2. Find clues in honey labelling to avoid buying fake honey. Natural Honey, Pure Honey, Raw Honey ~ Making Sense of Honey Labels
3. See how marketers are leveraging on some of the most frequently checked ingredients on food labels - Fat, Calories, Sugar, Preservatives, Colouring, and Additives Did You Know Reading Food Label Can Be So Tricky?