Have you ever wondered what the real difference is between all those different types of sugar on offer? Each sugar has got slightly different properties, with key differences being the crystal size (how fine a sugar is) and the process of obtaining it (giving it different sweetness levels and colours.
The component that makes sugar sweet is called sucrose. The more sucrose, the sweeter, and the purer the sugar. We have an innate liking towards sugar. This is most likely historical, where we needed calories to survive. Unfortunately, as is well established now, our current diet tends to consist of too much sucrose, which has a damaging effect on our health, and hence, whilst we discuss some small health benefits of some of the sugars in this blog, no sugar is healthy when eaten in excess.
Sucrose exists in two molecules: glucose and fructose. All sugars discussed in this blog contain sucrose. We will tell you the approximate % of each below.
Differences in caster sugar and white granulated sugar
Granulated sugar is one of the most well known sugars. It is what comes to mind when most people hear the word “sugar.” It is the most accessible sugar, and it is the one usually found in sachets in restaurant tables and coffee shops. When not eaten in excess, sugar provides health benefits as a carbohydrate and provides a quick source of energy to the body. Keeping in mind that glucose is one of the brain’s main sources of energy, it will activate and power up your body and mind. Your body's cells, tissues, and organs mainly rely on glucose to function.
Caster sugar is essentially the same as granulated sugar. The main difference is that caster has smaller finely ground particles compared to granulated sugar. The benefits are smaller particle size is that it dissolves quicker than granulated sugar, which is why sponge cake recipes often recommend the use of caster sugar. Don't worry if you haven't got any at hand, you can replace it with the same amount of granulated sugar. Golden caster sugar is un/less refined and has some more caramel flavours compared to caster sugar.
White sugar comes from either beets or canes. You can't really taste the difference between them, but in pure granulated form, you may smell a slight difference. For the UK, British sugar uses beets to make their sugars, whilst Tate & Lyle uses cane sugar. Both are over 99.9% sucrose (sugar), and there is no difference for your health between them.
Is Demerara sugar brown sugar?
Demerara sugar is a light brown cane sugar. It consists of a caramel taste and has slightly larger crystals than other sugars and can be used when you want to add a crunch to cookies and other sweet goods. Unlike many popularly known sugars it undergoes minimal processing in the manufacturing process. Demerara sugar contains approximately 93% sucrose.
Consuming demerara sugar can can help you retain most of the vitamins and minerals, such as potassium in your diet, which is missing in white sugar. Demerara sugar contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamins B3, B5 and B6. Demerara sugar works well in coffee. Be mindful that this sugar still contains around 93% sucrose, and thus as all sugars, it should not be consumed in excessive quantities.
Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?
One of the more common known sugars: brown sugar. It has a milder caramel-like taste. Onto the benefits sugar in general offers an energy boost; it serves as a carbohydrate which easily breaks down glucose for immediate energy. Keeping in mind that glucose is one of the brain’s main sources of energy, brown sugar will activate and power up your body and mind.
Brown sugar may be less refined than white sugar, and hence leaving some molasses in the sugar, giving the sugar its colour & special taste. Or for some brands, it is actually refined sugar with added molasses. If you choose organic brown sugar, it will be processed without any addition of chemicals.
Brown sugar contains approximately 95% sucrose and is often used in recipes where you would like to have a rich, caramel taste, such as teacakes or gingerbread.
Is Muscovado healthy?
Let's look at Muscovado sugar, as its quite similar to brown sugar. It is made from raw sugar, not spun to refine and usually has more molasses than brown sugar. Flavourwise, it is known for its toffee/ treacle-like flavour and sticky, sandy texture. It's commonly used for baking and is popularly used in gingerbread and rich fruit cakes. Muscovado Sugar contains minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients are still in the sugar, as its manufacturing process doesn't undergo a centrifugal process unlike granulated sugar.
As Muscovado contains more molasses than many other types of sugars, it benefits from gaining some of the antioxidants properties of molasses. Muscovado sugar contains approximately 80%- 92% sucrose.
Is coconut sugar the healthiest sugar?
Coconut sugar contains more nutrients including iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, as well as antioxidants compared to white sugar. This sugar is made from the sap of coconut palm trees (not the coconuts) and is less processed, hence keeping more nutrients.
Furthermore it also has a lower glycemic index than sugar, which is partly due to its inulin content. Inulin is a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to slow digestion, increase fullness, and feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Although coconut sugar contains some benefits over white sugar, it still remains high in calories, it serves the same number of calories per serving as regular sugar. Coconut sugar contains approximately 70%- 80% sucrose.
Honey & syrups for sugar alternatives
Some syrups contain some nutrients and antioxidants and can provide more benefits compared to some sugars. However these syrups still remain high in sugar and should be consumed with moderation. Three
Is Honey better than sugar?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid that is made by honey bees. It contains a generous amount of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Honey is rich in phenolic acids and flavonoids which result in protecting the body from inflammation. This is why when you have a cold you have been recommended to consume some honey as it aids in reducing the inflammation. It doesn't work as well as over the counter medication, when having a heavy cold, consult a pharmacist or GP.
These antioxidants can also prevent diabetes, cancer and heart disease. However bear in mind that it still contains fructose which is the main reason as to why sugar is unhealthy for you. Manuka honey has become more trendy over the years, mostly because of the antibacterial properties it possesses compared to traditional honey. It contains Methylglyoxal which is responsible for the antibacterial effects. Manuka honey has been used to treat wounds, sores and burns. It is also better than traditional honey to treat a sore throat. Not only does manuka honey attack harmful bacteria, it also coats the inner lining of the throat for a soothing effect. Honey contains approximately 60% sucrose.
Honey should not be given to children under 1, due to very small risk of infant botulism (very rare).
Maple syrup is a famous golden natural sweetener that is claimed to be healthier and more nutritious than sugar. It is obtained by making a tap into the bark of a maple tree. Maple syrup provides a decent amount of some minerals, especially manganese and zinc, keep in mind that it also packs plenty of sugar.
Maple syrup contains approximately 50%- 75% sucrose.
Molasses contain several important nutrients and antioxidants, making it a more healthful option than refined sugar. Although it still contains high levels of sugar and it should be consumed in moderation.
They possess a low glycemic index compared to other sweeteners, in simpler terms they won't spike your blood sugar as much as other sugars. Blackstrap molasses is a possible alternative for people that need to monitor their blood sugar levels. It also contains a lot of nutrients such as high iron, potassium, and calcium contents may benefit bone and heart health. Molasses contains approximately 50% sucrose.
Fruits as a sugar substitute
Dates, figs and bananas can be used in bakes to replace (part of) sugar and still have a sweet taste. These fruits are naturally high in sugar and will provide sweetness.
Why is having too much sugar bad for you ?
Although sugars contain minerals and vitamins, usually the quantities are too low to show large benefits (unless eaten in larger quantities, at which stage the benefit will be outweighed by the amount of sucrose). Eating too much sugar can have negative effects on your health. It has been linked to several diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and some types of cancer.
Sugar contains fructose which is the dominating factor in why it's considered to be unhealthy. Fructose does not trigger insulin release, nor does it trigger the release of hormones such as leptin, which tells the brain that a person is full, or inhibit hormones that tell a person’s body that they are hungry.
It also has been suggested that having a high amount of sugar in your diet can increase depression risk. Another mental health factor that should be taken into consideration is that high amounts of sugar can lead to impaired memory and have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. High sugar can also do the reverse effects of increasing your energy and in fact cause a high spike in your blood sugar resulting in a crash. Consuming high amounts can also cause cavities in teeth.
Please consult with a GP if you are worried by any health issues related to sugar.