As discussed, there are many types of sugar, but what I will outline now are some of the forms that sugar (glucose/fructose) can take. Most of the sugars discussed are derived from sugar cane but some are from other plants. I hear many people say that raw sugar or brown sugar is healthier than white sugar and that honey is healthier than any of them. This really depends on how you define healthy.
While the body needs glucose for energy to run the brain and muscles, it does not need to obtain the glucose from any sugars. It can actually break down proteins and fats into glucose to supply its demand. In addition, fructose is totally foreign to the human body and cannot be used at all so fructose is processed through the liver and deposited as fat cells in our adipose tissue (fat bits) so would not be considered one of the weight loss foods!
So, following this line of argument then sugar is neither necessary nor will be on anyone’s healthy food list. However it is good to know what each of the types of sugar contains so you can make your own decisions about adjusting your intake.
White sugar is packaged as granulated sugar, caster sugar or pure icing sugar. Each of these types of sugar is identical in their chemical composition – 50:50 glucose:fructose but have been processed so their crystals are different sizes and they contain no minerals or vitamins. From a nutritional perspective they offer no nutritional benefit. Icing sugar mixture is pure icing sugar mixed with cornflour or similar.
Types of brown and raw sugar currently abound our supermarket shelves and include organic, light brown, dark brown, low GI, molasses, rapadura, panela, muscovado, Demerara and the list goes on ad nauseum. There is a microscopic element of truth about the white sugar/brown sugar health claims. Raw and brown sugar have trace elements of a few vitamins and minerals but in concentrations that would not offer any more benefit than a couple of extra spinach leaves might give! So cross those off as being better for you. Their packaging is evocative of nature with natural browns and muted greens being used in the marketing of these products. Don’t be fooled – they are still just types of sugar!
Dextrose is another name for glucose. It is used in making beer
and can also be used as an alternative for sugar in all baking. It has
gone through a process where the glucose and fructose are separated and
the glucose retained. It has a fine powdery consistency and has a less
sweeter taste than sugar – around 60%. This is the healthy alternative
for cooking sweet treats as our bodies can use the glucose for energy –
however it still is wise to use in moderation as it can add extra
calories where they are not needed.
Sugar cane juice is obtained by squeezing the sugar cane stems and collecting the juice. It can be served as a refreshing drink with lime juice or can be evaporated to form crystals which are marketed as evaporated cane juice. The true form of this kind of sugar is called panela, or rapadura but it is still sucrose.
Golden syrup and treacle are made directly from sugar cane so its composition will be the same as sugar. It does however contain a higher percentage of fructose - 44:56.
Molasses has been discussed here and can offer some nutritional benefits. It is however a good idea to have a look at the nutritional label to check out the breakdown of the glucose and fructose as there is a wide variation. The blackstrap molasses by Melrose, for instance, has only 54% sugar.
Coconut sugar or palm sugar is derived from the sap of the palm or the nectar of the flowers on the palm. It is heated until it crystallised. It has a caramel taste but still contains similar quantities of glucose and fructose as normal cane sugar. Coconut nectar or syrup, is derived from the blossom of the coconut palm.
Stevia is a herb that was used in ancient times and is native to Paraguay. Now it is cultivated in many other countries and can be bought at your local nursery even! It has 300 times the sweetness of sugar so very little is needed.
The Agave plant is a succulent that is related to the Yukka with long spiky leaves that grow in a rosette formation with a flower emerging from the middle of the stem. There are three plant species that are used to create agave nectar, agave tequilana, agave salmiana and agave americana. The nectar is derived from the sap at the base of the flower stem and is used as a sweetener and a binding agent in food preparation. It is very high in fructose with samples measuring between 59 and 90%.
Glucose syrup is pure glucose made from the hydrolysis of starch and is used in candy making. In the United States this is called corn syrup and is derived from maize. Other sources of starch to make this syrup include potatoes, wheat, tapioca, barley, rice and cassava. It is gluten free (gluten is removed in the processing) and fructose free so is a good baking alternative.
Rice malt syrup is derived from brown rice and contains no fructose so is a good alternative for those with fructose intolerance.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is glucose syrup that has been converted to fructose through a method of processing. It is a cheap alternative to sugar so soft drink companies in the United States use this as their sweetener to maximise profits. It is currently not allowed for use in Australia and is being touted in some nutritional circles as being the reason for such a burgeoning obese population in the States – however this doesn’t explain similar statistics in Australia where HFCS is banned.
Honey on the other hand does have some benefits in its composition but it needs to be raw and unheated for these nutrients to be retained. However, honey is still sugar (about 82%) and the ratio of glucose to fructose is still fairly high – about 55:45 so it is still sugar and still contains fructose.
Maple syrup is a sweet syrup obtained from the sap of the maple tree found mostly in Canada. Its sugar content is around 60% and has some excellent minerals such as calcium and manganese. The glucose:fructose ratio is similar to sucrose – 50:50 so be wary of using it to excess.