Is raw sugar better than refined sugar ?

I love my coffee. And just like every other south Indian man, I believe that filter coffee is the best. Of late health aficionados have started bothering me with my increasing waistline and decreasing stamina. They often point to my coffee tumbler and indicate that that is one of my biggest problems. Its not the coffee they make fun of, it is the sugar that I add in the coffee every morning.

The raw and the refined

On my international travels I often visit hip coffee shops where I always see the option to add brown unrefined sugar to my coffee. Taking it as a sign of healthy consumption and to get the health fanatics off my back, I started looking for sugar substitutes to use at home as well. Artificial sweeteners were ruled out as I am pretty sure they have stuff in them that would create havoc in some part of my anatomy. So I looked to unrefined (brown)cane sugar as that manna from heaven that would redeem me.

Now almost 70 % of the sugar in the world comes from sugarcane. India was one of the first countries of the world to grow sugar as early as 3000 BC. It took more than 2000 years to spread to Europe and from there spread to the Caribbean as part of the slave trade. Sugar dominates many island economies, like Fiji and Mauritius. I one visited a Sugar museum in Mauritius called “La venture Du Sucre” or an adventure in Sugar.

The process for producing sugar is very simple. Cane is crushed between rollers. The juice thus obtained is dried and then boiled once, this gives us the raw sugar. There are many varieties  include muscovado, turbinado and demerara. Then the raw sugar goes through a number of processes, where anything non sugary is removed from the raw sugar, color is removed so that’s how you get the white crystals. For those keen to understand the process in details, I found this excellent diagram on Sucrose .com.

Health ? or just fad ?

Now the catch is that raw sugar, contains molasses and all the non sugary ingredients that are removed while processing. So does that make raw sugar more healthy ? Well that’s a matter of debate.

According to a piece I was reading in MotherJones web page the main difference between the two is in the boiling of the cane juice: The juice for refined sugar is boiled several times to remove all the molasses, whereas raw sugar is boiled only once. So does that make the raw sugar more healthy ? I would assume so as it is less refined and closer to its natural state, it should retain some of its natural properties, so closer to nature and therefore better ?

From a calorific value point of view, there is no difference. A teaspoon of sugar would set you back anywhere between 16-20 calories. Some of the raw sugars have more calories than the refined white sugar.

Now according to research published by the University of Granada in Spain, raw sugar does have rich anti oxidant properties under lab conditions. So it might have some benefits after all. According to V Ramesh, MD of the Chennai based EID Parry, their Amrit brand of raw sugar, has some essential trace elements including potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous and iron. So I am assuming that’s making me healthy.

Healthy for now

And finally to get the health fanatics off my back, Amrit claims to have 10 calories less than refined white sugar. So I am good for now. But as always if you have any research to validate this further, please do reach out to me. Till then its back to coffee for now.


Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Aditya

    Seems this article was written long back. Any further updates on Parry’s amrit. Did you come across any new brands? What is the difference between jaggery powder and this brown/burra sugar?

    1. admin

      Actually we stopped covering nutrition and I believe this is one of the last articles in that series. I have since then moved on to Organic Jaggery and prefer Future Organics or Navadarshanam brand. Also Plam Sugar from Cape Comorin is a good ideas as well. Do try them out.

  2. Mohsin

    I think white sugar is big cause of Diabetes while brown sugar does not cause any illness like diabetes. So Brown sugar is less refined and more suitable for consumption. Your article is good in this regard.

    1. Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

      That’s correct Mohsin, but there is an ongoing debate on sugar itself. Brown seems to be better than white. But we still wait for something better.

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