From beverages to desserts — sugar is an essential component of a number of items we regularly consume. Apart from sweets, sugar can also be found in processed foods that many rely on for quick meals. Among the many adverse health impacts, excessive sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. “Large-scale studies have shown that the more high-glycemic foods (those that quickly affect blood sugar), including foods containing sugar, a person consumes, the higher his risk for becoming obese and for developing diabetes and heart disease,” according to atkins.ca.
Since it is difficult to completely eliminate sugar from one’s diet, many resort to what is widely considered a “healthier” alternative — brown sugar. But, is it really good for you? “Brown sugar (if you know the source is authentic) can give you some extra minerals (like calcium) than normal white sugar. However, there are no special health benefit of consuming the same,” Sharanya Shastry, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Bangalore, said.
Agreeing, Dr Ajay Nair, Consultant – Internal Medicine, Narayana Multi-speciality Hospital Jaipur, said that brown sugar and white sugar make little difference in terms of adding nutritious value to your diet. “Individual preference determines whether you prefer brown sugar or white sugar, as the main differences between the two are taste and colour. Although brown sugar contains more minerals than white sugar, the amount of these elements is so small that it does not provide any significant health benefits,” he added.
Then, how is brown sugar different? Explaining, Dr Nair said, “Brown sugar is a form of sugar that is coloured brown due to the inclusion of molasses. It can be produced commercially or naturally. Brown sugar may be superior to white sugar in baking recipes requiring a deeper taste or a more moist and chewy texture.”
Shastry further shared that brown sugar is derived from palm plants such as aren (Arenga pinnata, Wurmb) Merrill), kelapa (cocos nucivera), siwalan (Borassus flabellifer L). “It consists of a few minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc but sugar consumption, on the whole, should be optimal to have good health,” she added.
As such, if the presence of these important minerals in brown sugar is making you believe it’s healthier, you may be wrong. “Brown sugar contains more calcium than white sugar, with 83 mg per 100 g compared to 1 mg per 100 g of white sugar. Equally, the presence of other minerals such as iron is slightly higher in brown sugar. However, per teaspoon, the tiny differences in these mineral amounts are not worthy of consideration, as sugar is not a nutrient-dense food. People refer to foods such as these as ’empty calories’,” Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Dietician, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore, explained.
How much should you consume?
Highlighting the fact that sugar is considered to be a significant element of the obesity epidemic and the leading cause of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, Dr Nair shared the adequate amount of sugar that is safe for men and women. “Women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or 100 calories, of sweeteners and syrups added to foods during processing, preparation, or at the table. The recommended limit for most males is 9 teaspoons or 150 calories,” he said.
In a day, 2 tsp (10 gm) of any amount of sugar (in the form of juice/cooking/sweet/beverage) is recommended, according to Shastry.
Possible side effects
Just like white sugar, can brown sugar also adversely affect your health? “While there are no special side effects caused by consuming brown sugar, in some cases, when consumed in excess, it may lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and makes you vulnerable to yeast infections,” Shastry said.
Agreeing, Dr Nair said that even though brown sugar is safe and well-tolerated by most healthy adults when consumed in balance, “excessive use may increase the risk of weight gain, yeast infections, and diabetes“.