Is raw cane sugar better than white sugar?
My son, a newly minted college graduate, walked into our local Whole Foods, and walked out with a bottle of a well-known brand of iced tea/refreshing juice/flavored water/whatever it was — and proudly announced that it only had 24 grams of organic raw cane sugar! I tried to explain that sugar is sugar, and our bodies don’t care if the sugar is organic, raw, from a bag or a bulk bin. Didn’t matter, because he happily threw back the entire 16 ounces of sugar – disguised as some kind of health drink. I decided to write about the differences between raw cane sugar and white sugar, and if one is better than the other.
What is organic raw cane sugar?
If you’re gunna have sugar, organic is best. Organic cane sugar is unrefined, meaning that it doesn’t have any of the cancer-causing damaging pesticides found in conventionally grown sugarcane. It is much less processed, and retains a lot of the nutrients present in cane juice.
Organic cane sugar contains 6 vitamins, 11 minerals and 17 amino acids, and is made up of fructose, glucose and sucrose. Compare that to table sugar, which is just sucrose and calories, and all the chemicals used in the refining process — lime, sulphur dioxide and phosphoic acid comes to mind.
Before we go any further, let me insert this caveat:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that sugar is unfit for direct consumption because of the impurities it often contains. Therefore, all sugar undergoes some kind of processing before it can be sold here in the U.S. Using the term, “organic” implies that the farming methods used to harvest sugarcane or sugar beets, did not include the use of commercial pesticides and herbicides. But all sugar is processed — some less than others.
There is no meaningful difference between organic raw cane sugar and white sugar, in spite of the raw sugar advocates saying otherwise. Of course, consuming something labeled “organic” and “raw” feels earthy and whole, especially in those brown paper packets, yet the reality is that both types of sugar are chemically known as sucrose, have the same calorie count and are processed by the body in the same way.
So, going back to my son’s drink, according to Dr. Greger, “the consumption of sweetened beverages constitues the major change in fructose intake and represents, on average, a 16-oz soft drink per person per day in the United States…sugar contains no essential micronutrient and therefore if a reduction in energy intake is desirable, reducing sugar consumption is obviously the place to start.”
What about sugar in the raw?
A leading raw sugar brand, aptly named Sugar in the Raw™ says that its product is more wholesome because “white sugar is obtained by refining the sugarcane cystals to remove the molasses and trace nutrients…” and that “some nutritionists believe that the small amount of micronutrients retained in Sugar in the Raw™ provides advantages over refined white sugar.”
A quick look on Amazon indicates that raw sugar is also more expensive. A 4-pound bag of Sugar in the Raw™ retails for $12.99, as compared to regular sugar at $3.25.
Is there a cancer connection?
Aside from the increasing obesity rates among adults and children, sugar consumption has been associated with certain cancers, including breast, prostate, uterine, colorectal and pancreatic.
According to my mentor, Verne Varona, in Nature’s Cancer-Fighting Foods, “Cancer cells have voracious appetites for glucose and are the first to use sugar. The lactic acid generated from sugar metabolism must be transported to the liver for processing…This acid lowers the pH in cancerous tissues and results in physical fatigue from liver stress due to the amout of work required to clear the lactic acid buildup. As a result, larger tumors tend to be more acidic.”
The goal, then, is to return the body to an alkaline state, and reduce sugar intake, which you can read more about here.
Foods with natural sugar provide essential nutrients that prevent disease. Dr. Greger says that fructose in sugar and high fructose corn syrup are “alcohol without the buzz” meaning that they have the same potential to cause liver damage.
If you drink a glass of water with 3 tablespoons of table sugar in it, you will have a large spike in blood sugar within the first hour, releasing tons of insulin. Your body will then dump fat into your bloodstream, thinking you are starving, because your blood sugar drops so much, so suddenly.
However, if you eat a bowl of berries, which has natural sugar, you would think that the blood sugar spike would be the same, right? Think again. There is no blood sugar spike or any hypoglycemic dip after the fact. Part of the reason is because the berries are food, and fill the stomach, which slows down the release of sugars into our system.
There is also soluble fiber in berries, and other fruit, which also slows the release of sugar, thereby reducing the blood sugar spike. There are also phytonutrients that inhibit the transport of sugar into the blood stream, and can actually block the intake of sugar by the cells lining our intestines. Amazing!
Take a look at the video below, where Dr. Greger talks about sugar. At 6:05 on the video, he will explain why eating sugar from fruit does not have the same effect on the body, and why it is so much healthier than refined sugar.
Best bets if you gotta have it
You may know this syrup of the agave cactus as Tequila, but it does provide a healthier alternative to sugar. Make sure to get a high quality brand like Madhava.
Coconut Palm Sugar
You won’t be able to tell the difference between this and regular sugar, except that it has about half the sugars of cane sugar, and is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins.
Otherwise known as eggfruit, lucuma is naturally sweet and can be used in place of cane sugar because it is low on the glycemic index. It also contains iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B3, and fiber.
And my personal favorite: Stevia
The Stevia leaf is naturally sweet – boasting 300 times sweeter than sugar. However, and here’s the good news: this plant contains ZERO sugar. You’ve seen Stevia as both a powder or liquid extract, and a little bit goes a very long way. I use Stevia to sweeten oatmeal, coffee, tea, smoothies, and just about anything else where I want a bit of a sweet taste. I prefer the organic Stevia packets so that I can carry them with me, and I get to control how much I use from that little packet, which is very convenient!
You’re sweet enough already
Don’t be fooled by the packaging that these companies spend millions on – the brown paper envelopes and the brown crystals that look so intoxicating. You can ingest sugar as raw cane sugar or white, as molasses or sugarcane, and the results are the same. Sugar is sugar. Only when you eat fruits and when the sugar is in it’s natural state, combined with fiber and minerals, does it become a healthier food source. So say a sweet farewell to your sweet tooth! I just can’t sugar-coat it anymore: raw cane sugar isn’t better than white sugar. Awful news, isn’t it…?!