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Is Brown Sugar Healthy or Unhealthy? - A Discussion

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Experts consider brown sugar to be a better alternative to refined white sugar. Read the article below to know more about this alternative.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Balreen Kaur Bali

Published At July 14, 2023
Reviewed AtJuly 14, 2023

Introduction:

Though it may be quite true, research shows sugar consumption in moderation is the key to preventing the accumulation of undesirable body fat. Brown sugar is a sweetener that is made from sugarcane that is Saccharum officinarum. Though this sugar is quite similar to white sugar, it contains varying amounts of molasses. Brown sugar would also be either the refined or unrefined variety, but the sugar that is purchased commonly in grocery stores, especially that is purchased for baking, is the refined brown sugar which is most commonly available.

What Are the Different Forms of Brown Sugar?

Light brown sugar has a caramel color possessing a light flavored taste of caramel. This brown sugar is a form of refined white sugar only that has some molasses added. Dark brown sugar is also refined white sugar, but it has more quantity or amount of added molasses that tends to give it a darker color and deep flavor. There are, similarly, many other types of brown sugar varieties commercially, for example, turbinado sugar, muscovado sugar, and free-flowing brown sugar.

Muscovado sugar is also another form of brown sugar, colloquially called in some countries as Barbados sugar. This is nothing but the unrefined form of cane sugar, which naturally includes molasses in it. Of all the forms of brown sugar, this sugar has the deepest flavor and is most used in preparing savory dishes, and remains quite a popular culinary choice. Sugar cane, the primary raw material used to manufacture brown sugar, is harvested between June to December worldwide.

What Is the Nutritional Content of Brown Sugar?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has enlisted the following nutritional information for one teaspoon or approximately 4.6 grams of brown sugar:

  • Fat: 0 grams.

  • Sodium: 1.3 milligrams.

  • Carbohydrates: 4.5 grams.

  • Fiber: 0 grams.

  • Sugars: 4.5 grams.

  • Protein: 0 grams.

  • Total Calories: 17.5 kilocalories.

There are around 17.5 calories in one teaspoon serving of brown sugar. There is no fiber or starch found in brown sugar. The glycemic load of brown sugar is also estimated to be three, which is very low and hence considered by some experts as a better substitute for white sugar. A one-cup serving of brown sugar would provide small amounts in milligrams of calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, etc. However, the point to be taken into consideration is that excess calories and carbohydrates yielded from any sugar source are stored in your body as fat, which means sustaining a healthy weight and preventing the risk of cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, or common systemic health conditions, it is important to consume it only in moderation or as minimally as possible (if a low-fat diet is adopted).

What Are the Dietary Guidelines for Sugar Consumption?

According to the 2020 to 2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines, the upper limits of sugar consumption should not exceed 10 percent of total calories each day. As of November 2015, the American Dental Association also formally endorsed the recommendation given by the World Health Organization to limit the added sugar content in any dietary food to less than 10 percent of the daily caloric intake. The rationale is that most added sugars which are part and parcel of sugary drinks, would not only favor the growth of unhealthy bacteria and their acids in the oral cavity, but the teeth tend to become demineralized eventually and prone to dental caries and regressive alterations for instance like dental erosion.

How Is Brown Sugar Stored and Used?

Storing brown sugar properly would be challenging because most forms of brown sugar are not only sticky but also easily clump together and can be hardened on exposure to air. While Some sugar manufacturers recommend storing brown sugar in cool and moist places inside rust proof containers and with a tight lid, some manufacturers also advocate storing it best in a resealable plastic bag that should be moisture free or ideally should be moisture prior. On purchasing, the quality of brown sugar is best when consumed only within six months of opening it.

The best way to use it would be, for instance, to have a baking recipe at hand that calls for white refined sugar. One can alternatively incorporate brown sugar instead. One also gains the added benefit that brown sugar, which is naturally softer and moist, may moisten and soften your baked goods easily compared to white sugar.

How to Identify the Sugar Labels?

People may often see that brown sugar and other types of sugar are found even on those food labels where they may not expect it. For instance, commercial products that are seen at the stores or foods like spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, tomato ketchup, salads, or drizzles may contain brown sugar as the added sugar. The fact to note is that sugar is often ‘hidden’ in most commercial foods, so it is also not uncommon that you can consume too much or have a sugar overload without even knowing it when you consume such products too regularly. The carbohydrates in brown sugar can quickly cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Hence it may be no different from the white refined sugar. If a person has diabetes or is prediabetic, it would be ideal to substitute sugar with an artificial sweetener (should be prescribed by a registered dietitian or nutritionist) like stevia, erythritol, or jaggery. Ideally, it would be better even to avoid the substitutes in diabetic individuals. They can consult with their healthcare provider or professional before they include brown sugar in their diet to know if it suits their body type and health status.

Conclusion:

Excess sugar consumption is often linked with an increased rate of acquiring type 2 diabetes. Hence it is ideal to find substitutes for white and brown sugar. Even though some health experts believe brown sugar is a healthier alternative to white (refined) sugar because of its molasses content (which contains trace minerals including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, and choline). Brown sugar only contains a smaller amount of molasses. Hence the micronutrient gained from brown sugar as such is considered insignificant. The health fact to note is that sugar consumption is always detrimental to systemic health. Brown sugar, as such, is a source of more calories and carbohydrates and provides no substantial vitamins or minerals. However, compared to white sugar, brown sugar is recommended by some health experts to be included in eating patterns of a balanced diet.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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