Is Brown Sugar Evil?

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I know that as part of a healthy, balanced diet I should try to limit my intake of refined white sugar as much as possible and stick to natural sweeteners such as honey and applesauce. But I am wondering – is brown sugar just as evil or is it OK to indulge in on occasion? And are there any nutritional benefits that can be derived from it?

Although it looks to be a more wholesome, less refined product, brown sugar is usually just refined white sugar that has had molasses added to it. Molasses does have some mineral content, and blackstrap molasses is actually a sweetener I recommend in moderation as a sugar alternative due to its high mineral content, however, brown sugar only contains 3.5% – 6.5% molasses content (and it probably isn’t high mineral blackstrap molasses either).

As with most foods, the less refined a sweetener is the better it is for you. While eating straight sugar cane provides some nutrition as the fiber, vitamin and mineral content is still there, refined white sugar is offering nothing but glucose (sugar). Taking in straight glucose leads to sharp rises in blood sugar levels and excessive insulin release leading to all sorts of problems like fatigue, abdominal pain, blurred vision, weakness, confusion or unconsciousness. Chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, adult-onset blindness, overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract and many other disorders.

Now that high-fructose corn syrup is recognized as the major bad-guy sweetener, sugar is being marketed as the “natural” choice. Don’t be fooled. When looking for a sweetener you’re looking for the least refinement possible which is why I try to recommend, in moderation and organic where possible, raw honey, raw agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, grade B maple syrup and stevia, which contains no sugar at all. I don’t see a problem in using these sweeteners in whole food preparation (not white flour baking, for example) from time to time.

Some health foods have begun using “evaporated cane juice,” sugar that has had less processing than white table sugar which still retains a minute amount of minerals and vitamins. The jury is still out on whether or not this stuff is actually any better for you than straight up sugar. While it is less refined, which is always a good thing in my mind, evaporated cane juice is still sugar and is likely to still come with all the problems table sugar comes with.

And remember that organic sugar is still sugar. “Organic” is not synonymous with “healthy” – you’re not getting any pesticides with organic white sugar, but you’re not getting any nutrition either.

Author by Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.

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