Refined Versus Natural Sugar

You cannot escape all the sugar in foods, nor should you. You need it for survival, and let’s not forget that sugar is yummy. But there are some sugars that are better than others. There are ways to get the sugar you need, eliminate what you don’t, and still have a pleasurable life.

Granulated Sugar

Commonly referred to as white sugar or table sugar, it is made both from sugar cane and sugar beets. They are generally interchangeable, although cane sugar is preferable for candy work, as it tends to crystallize less than beet sugar.

Brown Sugar

This is white sugar that has molasses added to it, although traditionally brown sugar was less refined. The manufacturing process makes it more economically feasible to refine it all, then add molasses, removed during refinement, back in.

Light brown sugar has less molasses, and less flavor, than dark brown. They are interchangeable, and their use should be determined by your taste preferences.


This is the by-product of the sugar refinement process. Molasses is widely used for its flavor and color. Unsulfured is considered the finest quality, and is made by boiling ripened sugar cane. Sulfured molasses is made from green sugar cane that is treated with sulfur dioxide during extraction, which acts as a preservative.

Blackstrap molasses is made from subsequent boiling, and while it has less sugar, it contains large amounts of micronutrients, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is commonly used as a diet supplement, as well as in cattle feed and large-scale food manufacturing.

Molasses from sugar beets is a different product and is not marketed to the general public.

Corn Syrup

This sweet syrup is made from corn starch. Similar to the way carbohydrates are broken down in your system, acids and enzymes are added to liquefied corn starch, turning it into glucose with a small amount of dextrose and maltose. Another enzyme is used to create high-fructose corn syrup. It is a complicated process, but even with such a big production it is cheaper to produce and transport than sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup has the same level of sweetness as sugar, and because it is less expensive, it is used far more frequently in manufacturing. In fact, Americans now consume more high-fructose corn syrup than any other form of sugar.


In an effort to curb your intake of refined sugars, think about using honey as a sweetener. Twice as sweet as sucrose, honey has a unique flavor that enhances baked goods. It is rich in antioxidants, and long-term use has been shown to provide health benefits, including improved digestion, a stronger immune system, and lower cholesterol.

Date Sugar

Date sugar is another option. It is nothing but ground dried dates, but it is equally as sweet as refined sugar. It has the added benefits of fiber, which slows down its absorption into your body, and all the vitamins and minerals of dates. It does not melt like sugar, so it’s not good for coffee. But it is terrific in cakes, and wherever you shake sugar for sweet crunchy toppings.

Maple Syrup

The majority of syrups in your market are made from corn syrup. But the real thing, made from reduced maple sap, is full of minerals and antioxidants. Lighter colored maple syrup is less concentrated than the dark stuff.

Unrefined Dehydrated Cane Sugar

This is sugar from sugar cane, but it has been extracted naturally, retaining all of its vitamins and minerals. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly food raises your blood sugar. Glucose, one of the fastest carbohydrates, has a GI of 100. High numbers are good for quickly raising blood sugar and for quick bursts of intense exercise. Low GI numbers are best for general activities or long periods of steady exertion.

Agave Nectar

From the same plant that gives us tequila comes a syrup sweeter than cane sugar but with a very low glycemic index, so it is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream. This prevents it from raising blood sugar levels significantly, eliminating the highs and lows associated with sugar intake. For this reason, it’s favored among those with diabetes and hypoglycemia.

Creative chefs use agave nectar anywhere sugar or honey will go: barbeque sauces, marinades, baked goods, etc. It adds a distinctive sweet flavor, reminiscent of tequila. Agave nectar is available through Internet sources (like The Colibree Company) and at health food stores.


This sweetener is extracted from an herb (called stevia, sweetleaf, or sugarleaf) that is 300 times sweeter than granulated sugar but with a gylcemic index of zero. This means it will not affect your blood sugar level, giving you no highs or lows. It doesn’t melt, or caramelize like sugar, but it dissolves nicely in liquids.

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