Brown Sugar vs White Sugar, Which is Better for Your Health

by Hemi Weingarten

Do you find yourself paying more for brown sugar than the “regular” white sugar? Have you ever wondered which is healthier for you?

In order to answer, let’s explain how sugar is manufactured. Yes, although it comes from sugar canes or beets, sugar does go through quite a bit of processing before we see it in its final form on supermarket shelves.

What you need to know:

The raw materials utilized are either sugar cane stalks or sugar beet (a root). Let’s talk sugar cane today:
  1. After the sugar cane stalks are harvested, they are chopped into small pieces
  2. The stalk pieces are pulverized in order to release the sugary cane juice.
  3. The juice usually has some impurities in it such as mud, pieces of stalk and other stuff, so it is filtered using both mechanical and chemical processes (using polyacrylamides).
  4. The purified liquid is boiled until the water evaporates.
  5. The remaining “juice” is heated once again and the sugar begins to crystallize. A side product that is left over is called mother liquor (it is the source of molasses)
  6. A centrifuge is used to separate individual sugar crystals.
The result is raw sugar. It is also known as Turbinado or Demerara sugar. The crystals are relatively large and have a brownish tinge to them. Stay tuned folks, this is NOT brown sugar.

Raw sugar is shipped to a refinery for further processing to create the white sugar that we know:
  1. The raw sugar is heated and melts into a liquid again.
  2. The coloration is removed by using chemicals such as phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide or calcium dioxide.
  3. The liquid is boiled one last time in order concentrate it into the fine white granulated crystals that make up white sugar, or refined sugar.
Here’s the kicker: Brown sugar is made by taking refined sugar and mixing in some molasses. The molasses are not healthy and do not contain any important nutrients for the body.

Therefore, brown sugar cannot be considered healthier than white sugar, even though some marketers would like us to believe so. Each teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of sugar, which adds 16 calories to your food / beverage.

What to do at the supermarket:

All granulated sugars are more or less the same nutritionally. Sugar with molasses tastes a bit different (very few people can actually tell the difference) and behaves a bit differently in baking – the end result is slightly more moist.

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  1. This can be true in some parts of the world, but not everywhere... Here in Brazil brown sugar is know as "mascavo" and it is really a "impure" version of white sugar. By impure one understand a sugar less refined and not refined + molasses.
    Also we can find here the "demerara" and it is a less white sugar, with less refinement, but more white then the mascavo.
    Finally we have the "cristal" one that is between the demerara and the pure white sugar.
    So, blind global generalizations about any kind of process is near disinformation !