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Is brown sugar healthy? Know 6 healthier brown sugar substitutes

Brown sugar is only slightly lower calories than white sugar and can cause your blood sugar to rise as well.
A spoon of brown sugar
Brown sugar has many disadvantages such as aiding weight gain and increase blood sugar levels. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 25 Feb 2024, 12:00 pm IST
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It is time to demystify the belief that brown sugar is a healthier alternative to white sugar. Brown sugar contains some minerals and nutrients, but these are not in the amounts that they can significantly contribute to your nutrition. Additionally, brown sugar is also high in calories, like refined sugar, and can raise blood sugar levels as well. There are many brown sugar substitutes that are healthier and less fattening.

Health Shots got in touch with nutritionist Veena V to understand the disadvantages of eating brown sugar and what you should substitute it with.

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar product. It gets its distinct brown colour due to the presence of molasses. “Molasses also lends to the distinct flavour apart from colour and makes it moist. The process of making it involves adding the molasses into the refined white sugar to give it the distinct characteristics,” says Veena.
Among the many types and styles of brown sugar, the two main are:

• Sticky brown sugar: It contains a heavier concentration of molasses that make it denser and sticker
• Free-flowing brown sugar: This consists of finely granulated sugars that do not stick together and therefore ‘flow’ like white sugar

A woman measuring her waist
Brown sugar is heavy in calories and can lead to weight gain. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is the nutritional value of brown sugar?

The nutritional value of brown sugar can vary slightly based on factors depending on the additive of the molasses content. “However, brown sugar provides about 15 calories per teaspoon and contains small amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium,” says Veena.
Nutritional value of brown sugar per 100g, according to the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 25 is:
• Energy – 377 kcal
• Carbohydrates – 97.33 g
• Sugars – 96.21 g
• Dietary fibre – 0 g
• Fat – 0 g
• Protein – 0 g
• Water – 1.77 g
• Thiamine (Vit. B1) – 0.008 mg
• Riboflavin (Vit. B2) – 0.007 mg
• Niacin (Vit. B3) – 0.082 mg
• Vitamin B6 – 0.026 mg
• Folate (Vit. B9) – 1 microgram (μg)
• Calcium – 85 mg
• Iron – 1.91 mg
• Magnesium – 29 mg
• Phosphorus – 22 mg
• Potassium – 346 mg
• Sodium – 39 mg
• Zinc – 0.18 mg

Also Read: No sugar diet: What to eat and what to avoid

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Is brown sugar unhealthy?

Brown sugar, like any other type of sugar, can be unhealthy if consumed in excess. Here are some reasons why it can be considered unhealthy:

1. Brown sugar is high on calories

Brown sugar is calorie-dense, providing empty calories with little to no nutritional value. The calorie content is only slightly lower than white sugar. One teaspoon of white sugar is 16.3 calories, and that of brown sugar is 15 calories.

2. May raise blood sugar levels

Brown sugar is a source of carbohydrates, which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels when consumed in large amounts. This can be particularly problematic for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing diabetes.

3. Brown sugar may contribute to tooth decay

Like other sugars, brown sugar can promote tooth decay when consumed frequently. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar, producing acids that can erode tooth enamel and lead to cavities.

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4. May increase risk of chronic diseases

Excessive consumption of sugar, including brown sugar, has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Also Read: I replaced sugar with khand in my tea for a month, and here’s how it felt

A blood drop to check sugar levels.
Brown sugar is a source of carbohydrates and can increase blood sugar. Image courtesy: Freepik

6 substitutes of brown sugar

There are several substitutes for brown sugar that may be considered healthier options:

1. Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut palm trees. It contains small amounts of nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, as well as antioxidants. It has a lower glycemic index compared to brown sugar, meaning it may have less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

2. Maple syrup

Maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees. It contains minerals like calcium, potassium, and manganese, as well as antioxidants. While it is still a source of sugar, it has a lower glycemic index than brown sugar and can be used in moderation as a natural sweetener.

3. Honey

Honey is a natural sweetener produced by bees from flower nectar. It has small amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. While it is still a form of sugar and should be consumed in moderation, it may offer some health benefits compared to brown sugar.

4. Stevia

Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It does not raise blood sugar levels and is suitable for individuals looking to reduce their sugar intake or manage diabetes.

5. Monk fruit sweetener

Monk fruit sweetener is derived from the extract of monk fruit, a small green gourd native to southern China. It is calorie-free and does not raise blood sugar levels, making it a suitable alternative for those seeking to reduce their sugar intake.

6. Date sugar

Date sugar is made from dried, ground dates and retains some of the nutrients found in whole dates, including fiber, potassium, and antioxidants. It has a lower glycemic index compared to brown sugar and can be used as a natural sweetener in baking and cooking.

Each of these substitutes provides sweetness with varying levels of impact on blood sugar levels and additional nutritional benefits, making them potentially healthier options compared to brown sugar when used in moderation.


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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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