Food Myths – Sugars


Blog May 11, 2016

Food Myths – Sugars

We all love them but should we have them?  We can’t get rid of sugar completely because many of the fresh foods we eat contain sugar. Which “sugars” are the best ones to use if you use sugar?  This question has many people wondering what to do.  Moderation is always a good way to go but also knowing as much about the different kinds of sugar as you can gather the information.  There are pros and cons.  (We will not discuss artificial sweeteners, only sugars.)

The food myth that I started out researching is “High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is worse for you that sugar”.  Well, what I found, and really already knew, is that they are about the same.  Table sugar (granulated sugar or white sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup have no nutritional value but are high in calories. They both spike your energy quickly but are also a short lived energy.  One is no better or worse than the other. 

High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, 45% glucose.  High fructose corn syrup is a corn base.  It is made by breaking down the corn starch into a corn syrup then adding an enzyme, fructose.  The fructose is either 42 % or 55% while the rest is glucose and water.  HFCS is very cost efficient.  It is economical to manufacture as well as the cost of the base ingredient.  It is also very versatile in it usage.  That is why we find it in many of our foods and beverages.  HCFS has been linked t0 hypertension, high uric acid levels, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease.   

table sugar

Table sugar is sucrose, 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  It can be made by crystallizing sugar cane or beet juice.  Table sugar is made by stripping the nutrients and color of the sugarcane plant through a several-step refining process.  Think of it as the scrawny offspring of sugarcane. It offers no substantial health benefits because all the wholesome stuff has been taken out during its production.  The natural yellow color of the raw sugar must be removed to create white sugar. During processing, bone char is used to help produce the pristine color of white sugar. This is not suitable for vegans, because the bone char comes from the bones of cows.  It can also have traces of chemicals utilized in the refining process such as lime, Sulfur dioxide and phosphoric acid.  Table sugar has been found to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. High intake of refined white sugar can also lead to the following conditions:  tooth decay, gout, immune suppression, inflammation, pancreatic damage, multiple sclerosis, vision problems, osteoporosis, hyperactivity, hypertension, hyper cholesterol, nutritional deficiencies, cancer, kidney problems, depression, and schizophrenia.   Who wants that?

What is bad for us is that we consume large amounts of sugar daily.  The sugars are associated with a higher risk of fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Kimber Stanhope, Ph.D., R.D., a researcher at the University of California, Davis, suggests that fructose itself in added sugars may be hazardous to our health.  Stanhope notes “If you look at what nature provide for humans to eat, we only had fructose in whole fruits, in amounts that are relatively dilute.” Our bodies were not designed to absorb pure sources of sugar without the addition of fiber, water and other nutrients.  We need to concern ourselves with the amount of sweets we consume.  Too much honey, agave syrup or dehydrated cane juice would likely cause the same health problems.  “The American Heart Association recently recommended that women consume no more than 100 calories a day in added sugars [6 teaspoons]; men, 150 calories [9 teaspoons],” Stanhope notes. Our current intake is around 355 calories per day.

Let’s look at the other sweeteners available to us today.  Are they any better? 

Turbinado sugar and table sugar come from sugarcane (table sugars are also be made from beets).

Turbinado sugar is what’s left over after raw sugar cane juice has been stripped of its natural molasses and impurities, as well as its vitamins, minerals and other trace elements.

Brown sugar can be unrefined or partially refined soft sugar consisting of sugar crystals with some residual molasses (natural brown sugar), or it is produced by the addition of molasses to refined table sugar (commercial brown sugar).  Commercial brown sugar contains from 4.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar). It can undergo processing to give a product that flows better for handling. The addition of dyes and/or other chemicals may be permitted in some instances.


Organic sugars can be another story.

Organic cane sugar is unrefined sugar minus the cancer-causing and environmentally damaging pesticides present in conventionally grown sugarcane. Organic cane sugar has the full-bodied taste of sugarcane and is much less processed.  It retains the nutrients present in cane juice. Unrefined cane sugar contains 17 amino acids, 11 minerals and 6 vitamins including antioxidants that may help reverse oxidative damage. It is made up of sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Organic cane sugar is not like white sugar, which has been thoroughly processed.  Turbinado sugar is created with the first sugar cane pressings. Aficionados of the health benefits of turbinado sugar point to its health benefit of less calories than white sugar. 

turbinado sugar granuals  Organic Turbinado sugar or “raw” sugar is crushed from sugar cane. The juice evaporates naturally and crystallizes into large crystals thus retaining the vitamins and minerals. Once the water element of the sugar cane has evaporated, the remaining crystals are full of the same nutrients that were found in the growing sugar cane. Sugar cane nutrients include 0.20 milligrams of niacin; 32.57 milligrams of calcium; 0.09 milligrams of copper; 0.57 milligrams of iron; 2.49 milligrams of magnesium; 0.09 milligrams of manganese; 0.01 milligram of phosphorus; 162.86 milligrams of potassium. 

The juice for table sugar is boiled several times to remove all the molasses, whereas turbinado sugar is boiled only once so it retains some of its natural molasses.  It has a light caramel flavor.  It is light brown in color.  It  and natural brown sugar are both ideal for vegan diets, as neither are processed in any way other than the completely natural evaporating process, with no chemicals involved.   It has replaced regular white sugar in many of our households because it only contains 15 to 20 calories per one teaspoon, just 4 to 5 grams are complex carbohydrates but it still has little nutritional value.  Every 100 grams of turbinado sugar contains 100 milligrams of potassium; 85 milligrams of calcium; 23 milligrams of magnesium; 3.9 milligrams of phosphorus; and 1.3 milligrams of iron. The total mineral salt content is 740 milligrams.  It has less calories because of the weight of water in the moisture is taken into account.  Turbinado sugar attracts moisture with its soft texture.

Other wholesome sweeteners:

muscovado, demerara and turbinado sugars

Demerara – It is a type of cane sugar with a fairly large grain and a pale amber color. It has a pleasant toffee flavor and can be used in place of brown sugar.

Sucanat – This is made from crystallized pure cane sugar, this unrefined sugar retains a higher proportion of molasses than other types of cane sugars. It has an intense, rather burnt taste that can be too heavy in flavor in lighter baking recipes but is fantastic in things like spice cakes and ginger cookies.

Muscovado – Another cane sugar, this one has a very moist texture and a strong molasses flavor. It can be found in different strengths. It’s excellent in savory dishes like barbecue sauces and marinades.



Jaggery – This sugar is typically made from palm, coconut, or java plants and comes compressed into a pattycake or cone. : It is much more complex than refined sugar and therefore does not increase the sugar level of the blood very quickly. It provides energy slowly, over a longer period.High Fiber and Mineral Content: It is rich in minerals, salts, vitamins and even contains some fiber. It has an earthy sweet flavor. The darker the color, the richer it is in mineral content (particularly iron content) and the better it is for your health.  Respiratory Tract Cleanser: Jaggery (sugar cane jaggery) has been in use as a lung, throat, and respiratory tract cleanser as well as for coughs and colds. This cleansing property of jaggery has been proven over many generations. The regular intake of jaggery is particularly recommended for those who work in kilns, cement factories, stone crushers, dusty workplaces, furnaces and those who have to do a lot of driving, due to the effect that these professions can have on the respiratory system.  Cooling and warming effects: Palmyra jaggery, usually made into a drink by dissolving in water, has a remarkable cooling effect on the body during the summer. Perhaps that is the reason why Palmyra sap is harvested and jaggery is made only during the summer.  Date palm jaggery is manufactured and consumed in the winter. It has a warming effect on the body and is nutritious as well.


Piloncilo – Similar to jaggery, this uniquely Mexican sugar is the secret ingredient in many salsas, soups, and mole sauces. It has a strong and almost-smoky molasses flavor.

Syrup dripping off a spoon on black background

Maple syrup is known to have naturally occurring minerals, such as zinc, thiamine, and calcium. University of Rhode Island researcher Navindra Seeram was enlisted to study the plant’s antioxidants, known to exist in plant structures such as the leaves and the bark, and found 13 that were not previously known to be in the syrup.  “I continue to say that nature is the best chemist, and that maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it,” Seeram said. “It’s important to note that in our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.”

A previous study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 found that maple syrup contains polyphenols such as abscisic acid (ABA), which is thought to stimulate insulin release through pancreatic cells very much the same way berries increase sensitivity of the fat cells to insulin, which makes the syrup beneficial for those with metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

These discoveries of new molecules from nature can also provide chemists with leads that could prompt synthesis of medications that could be used to fight fatal diseases.

Enhances Liver Function:  The pilot study, conducted by Dr. Keiko Abe of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, showed that healthy laboratory rats fed a diet in which some of the carbohydrate was replaced with pure maple syrup yielded significantly better results in liver function tests than the control groups fed a diet with a syrup mix containing a similar sugar content as maple syrup.

“It is important to understand the factors leading to impaired liver function — our lifestyle choices including poor diet, stress and lack of exercise, as well as exposure to environmental pollutants that produce tissue-damaging free radicals,” says Dr. Melissa Palmer, clinical professor and medical director of hepatology at New York University Plainview. “The preliminary results of this research are encouraging and emphasize the importance of choosing a healthy diet to help counteract the lifestyle and environmental factors that may impact liver function, even our choice of a sweetener. In addition to Dr. Abe’s recent findings, published research suggests that pure maple syrup may prove to be a better choice of sweetener because it was found to be rich in polyphenolic antioxidants and contains vitamins and minerals,” notes Palmer.

organic sugar

Maple sugar is made when the sugar maple’s sap is boiled longer than needed to make maple syrup. Maple granulated sugar is 100% pure maple. It is produced by boiling pure maple syrup to approximately 270° Fahrenheit to concentrate the sugars; most of the water from the sap has evaporated, and it is stirred as it cools turning from a liquid solution into pure maple granulated sugar.  About 30-40 gallons of sap is needed to make about a gallon of maple syrup. This, in turn, will be further boiled to make around three quarts of sugar.

It is a healthier alternative.  Since maple sugar is made from pure sugar maple sap, nothing is added to create its sweet flavor. Apart from being rich in calcium, potassium, and iron, it is also a hundred percent fat free. Its nutritional values and antioxidant components have not been lost in processing the food, this making maple sugar a healthier way for everyone to use without worrying about the extra calories!

Maple sugar can be used in every way one uses white sugar. It is usually sold wholesale in pressed blocks, and it was the preferred form used by the Native Americans because sugar blocks can be easily transported and can be stored and last for a long period of time.  Native Americans call maple sugar ‘sinzibukwud’.   It was their staple and only condiment they used to add flavor to almost all of their food.

Pure maple granulated sugar is the perfect natural substitute for sugar in any recipe. It is sweeter then cane sugar, so you really only need to use half as much!


Agave nectar has claimed that this sweetener is a healthier choice for diabetics than sugar or honey because of its relatively low glycemic index value. The glycemic index, or GI, measures the effects of foods that contain carbohydrates on your blood glucose levels. Because agave nectar has a high concentration of fructose, which does not exert a strong effect on blood sugar levels, the GI value of agave is low compared to other sweeteners. It contains approximately the same number of carbohydrates as sugar — about 4 grams per teaspoon. To control your intake of carbohydrates and keep your blood sugar within a healthy range, limit your use of agave nectar as you would sugar or honey.

honey comb

Raw honey is honey (nectar from flowers) that is pure, unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed. It preserves all the natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other nutritional elements. It is better health wise to consume honey from our local area because it is beneficial for boosting the immune system, being a cough suppressant, decreasing allergies to pollen, aiding blood sugar regulation, aiding cholesterol regulation, healing ulcers, and treating various bacterial infections, as well as helping with asthma, and being most beneficial for your immune system’s particular environment needs. Raw honey does not ferment in the stomach and can actually be used in aiding stomach upset and nausea. Unlike most sugars, raw honey is not known to aggravate things like indigestion or acid reflux. It has also been linked to helping with Candida problems. True raw honey is quite different from processed.  Raw honey is alkaline forming unlike processed honey which is acid forming. For best natural health, our daily food supply should be higher in alkaline forming foods, rather than acid forming foods. 

It is always best to source out raw, organic honey, but whether your raw honey will be organic or not will greatly vary depending on its source as well. Some experts believe that there is no such thing as truly organic honey; however organic honey certification is available. Beekeepers have to meet stringent production standards and conditions to be certified organic. Raw, organic honey cannot contain any pesticide residues or environmental pollutants. Organic hives also cannot use non-organic honey, sugar, or any antibiotics or pesticides for their bees.

Depending on your source, it is normal for raw honey to contain particles of bee pollen, honeycomb bits and propolis. These in themselves have health benefits which make raw honey sought out for even more health reasons.

bee with pollen

Bee pollen contains all the nutrients required by the human body. It is a source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, beneficial fatty acids, carotenoids and bioflavonoids which are antiviral, antibacterial and helpful to cardiovascular health.

 Propolis also has antibacterial and antiviral qualities, as well as antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The health benefits and uses—both internal and external—of propolis are too numerous to list here.

The phytonutrients found both in raw honey and propolis have been shown to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties.

 Drawbacks to Raw Honey

  1. Extra Calories –1 tablespoon on average yields 60 calories..
  2. High Sugar Content – Honey is about 40% fructose and 30% glucose, with the remaining carbohydrates including maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates.
  3. Bacterial Contamination – Due to the fact that honey is very low in water content and very high in sugar content, this makes it undesirable for microbial growth. In rare cases endospores of Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that can cause botulism) have been found. This is normally never a problem for an adult digestive system, but the reason why honey should not be given to infants.
  4. Animal Welfare – Depending on how the honey bees are housed and maintained, beekeeping can become a controversial animal welfare issue. Buying honey from local beekeepers that you know is key when purchasing raw honey.
  5. Disappearing Bees – The bee numbers are on a sharp decline and this is bad for our future food forecasts. We must remember that bees are responsible for the pollination of most of our plant food crops and without them, we have a serious problem. Lowering a demand for honey has been proposed as a way to let bees thrive in their own natural habitat. Various chemicals, climate change and electromagnetic radiation are also being investigated in the issue of declining bee numbers.

Well, that is a lot to digest!  There is some thinking and evaluating that need to go on.  We know that we eat too many sweets and that most of our foods have added sugars when there is no need for those sugars.   High fructose corn syrup and table sugars are definitely not good for us.  Some other forms of natural sweeteners are a little better for us but it all comes down to the amounts we consume.  I think, for me, I will cut down on the amount of sweets I eat (pastries, sugary drinks, read labels for added sugars) and eat more fruits to sooth that sweet tooth.  That sounds like a good way for me to continue enjoying my way of…

Good Eating.

Sandi Sabel

Terra Verde Foods

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