Food & Fitness

Sugar is sugar is sugar – but is it?

Last month some coworkers and I (back when I had coworkers! :)) had several humorous and heated discussions about whether all sugars are created equal. I decided to do some research and get to the bottom of it!

How many different types of sugar are there?

Tons! Sugar goes by many names, but some of the common ones you might actually see on the shelf include honey, molasses, white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, icing sugar, agave nectar, and corn syrup. If you start reading ingredient lists, you’ll find everything from high-fructose corn syrup to glucose-fructose to beet sugar to caramel and more. Sugar. is. everywhere.

What is the actual difference between various types of sugar?

This is the big question! Sugar comes from various sources (e.g. corn, sugar cane, honeycomb), so that’s one of the biggest differences. The other important one to take into consideration is how processed the sugar is. As a general rule, the more processed *anything* is, the less healthy it is.

healthy dessert

Plain yogurt just needs some fresh or frozen fruit to sweeten it up!

Is brown sugar better for you than white sugar?

To answer this question, we have to look at what brown sugar actually is. Brown sugar is a slightly less processed version of white sugar with a tiny bit of molasses added. Technically, it has a few additional trace minerals in comparison to regular old white sugar, but probably not enough to make a difference, nutritionally-speaking.

But coconut sugar and cane sugar are better than granulated white sugar – aren’t they?

Coconut sugar still retains some nutrients from the coconut palm, whereas white sugar has been stripped of any nutrients. Coconut sugar also has a lower Glycemic Index score than regular white sugar. Cane sugar is a little bit less refined than white sugar, and like brown sugar, it’s probably only marginally “healthier” for you.

Although coconut sugar does contain some nutrients, it’s not going to be a big enough difference that your body will say, “wow! Look at all these delightful nutrients you’re feeding me!” This is one of the worrisome issues with these types of sugars: they’re touted as a “health food,” and people think that it’s a good thing to add it to everything. In reality, these types of sugars are a pretty close relative to white sugar.

What about molasses and honey and maple syrup?

This is where things get interesting. Blackstrap molasses actually does contain a decent amount of nutrients, and is a good source of potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Honey contains plenty of antioxidants (and it can heal wounds!). 100% pure maple syrup also contains trace nutrients similar to molasses.

These three are significantly better for us than the above-mentioned sugars – but they are still sugar, so we don’t need to start adding them to absolutely everything.

honey snack

Peanut butter and honey on bread is a favourite meal.

Should I increase my intake of the “healthier” sugars?

While molasses, honey, and maple syrup are all much better for you than regular white sugar or brown sugar or other granulated sugars, you’re not going to do yourself any favors by having spoonfuls and spoonfuls of them every day. A little bit can go a long way! Where possible, replace processed sugars with molasses, honey, and maple syrup. Both molasses and honey go great with peanut butter on toast, for example, instead of a jam that’s filled with white sugar. These three liquid sugars can also be used in baking (but if you do use them in baking, please don’t refer to the baking as “sugar-free!” It’s not. The sugar used is just a little bit better for us).

There you have it! Ultimately we shouldn’t be increasing our intake of added sugars, since we are all likely consuming too much added sugar anyways, but we should consider replacing refined sugar with something a little better.

Are you convinced? What’s your favourite added sugar? Have you used honey on wounds? Share in the comments section below!

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