Know the BITTER truth about Sugars

Kids sprinkling decorating cakes with white sugar powder

Do you replace your white sugar with brown sugar or switched from sugar to honey?

Do you consume jaggery over sugar and feel proud that you made a healthier choice today?

Can we be healthier making these swaps?

A heightened awareness of the drawbacks of a sugary diet has led many people to turn toward more NATURAL-seeming sweeteners such as honey, jaggery and brown sugar and several others.

At first, it is important to know if we actually need SUGAR in our diet?

Our body would cease to function properly without sugar intake. Naturally occurring sugars are of great significance in our diet like, sugars found in fruits, lactose, milk sugar, etc.

However, the sugars called as “added sugars”, viz., sugars added during processing of food, beverages and other preparations are harmful to our body while the “essential sugars” are the carbohydrates required by the body in up-taking nutrients from its source. Fruit sugars does not harm our body, as besides fructose it also contains fibers and some other nutrients. Sugars in dairy foods are also beneficial as they provide us with other nutrients too. Certain complex carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy vegetables also contain some healthy sugars and other nutrient fibers.

There are innumerable ill-effects of excessive sugar consumption that are well-known such as cancer, obesity, tooth decay or dental caries, arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, gout and osteoarthritis), cardiovascular diseases, association with memory loss and brain functioning, atherosclerosis, cataract and myopia and many more. So, one should be careful while consuming excess.1

Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What about Brown Sugar- Is it better than white sugar?

Brown sugar is white sugar and Molasses (by-product of sugar production). So, in most cases, the brown-sugar you consume as a replacement for ‘refined’ white sugar, is actually that same white sugar — with just one extra step of processing!

There is literally no difference between the two- neither nutritionally nor calorie-wise. 100gm of white sugar provides 370 kcal and brown sugar provides 382 Kcal- the difference becomes negligible when it comes to amount per serve, i.e. for 10gm, brown and white sugar provides 37 Kcal and 38 Kcal respectively. The only difference is color and taste.

But Jaggery and Honey- Are these nutritionally better?

JAGGERY is a natural sweetener obtained by concentrating the juices of sugarcane. The good quality Gur contain more than 70% sucrose, less than 10% of glucose and fructose and 5% minerals, 3% moisture. ²

Jaggery is known for its health benefits such as it improves digestion, helps in cleansing the liver, relieves constipation, boosts energy, purifies the blood, anti-toxic and anti-carcinogenic properties, relives tension, treatment of bronchial or lung infections and pre-menstrual syndrome(PMS).3

Jaggery is often considered as better alternative over white/brown sugar because, it is not chemically processed like refined sugar and contains small amount of B vitamin and minerals, including calcium, Iron (10-13 mg/100 gm), little amount of potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium but not in great quantities.4 It has higher iron and copper contents than refined sugar. Jaggery also gathers a considerable amount of ferrous salts (iron) when prepared in iron vessels. ²

So nutritionally, it is superior to other types of sugars. However, if weight loss is the goal, which requires calorie deficit, one needs to be careful of the amounts consumed. 10 gm jaggery provides 35 Kcal (ALMOST SIMILAR TO SUGARS).

HONEY is often seen as ‘less bad’ than sugar. It is only purified before distribution. Due to higher fructose content, honey tastes sweeter than sugar and its small quantity gives same taste as 1 teaspoon sugar.5 While refined sugar is made from 100 percent sucrose (glucose + fructose), honey is made from 75 percent sucrose. The other 25 percent is made up of mostly water.8

It is well accepted that honey has a potential therapeutic role in the treatment of disease by phytochemical, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.8 It has protective effects for the treatment of various disease conditions such as diabetes mellitus, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, even it is useful in cancer treatment because many types of antioxidant are present in honey6But in amounts typically consumed (let’s say about 1 tablespoon), honey merely provides any of these nutrients.

Honey is a healthier choice compared to other sweeteners, as it is less processed with a low glycemic index (GI) which is a measure of how big a spike in blood-sugar is caused by a particular food. Lower the GI, lower the spike, better that food is for people with diabetes. Honey has a lower GI (58) compared to sugars(64 for white sugar and 65 for brown sugar) and jaggery (87).7

Key Takeaways

  • Jaggery is not superior alternative for people with diabetes and weight watchers.
  • All three- Sugar (brown and white), jaggery and honey can cause weight gain and associated diseases if consumed in excess. WHO recommends no more than 10% of total energy intake from added sugars to avoid the ill-effects from excessive sugar consumption.
  • Moderation is the key. Indulge occasionally and avoid excessive amounts.

So, don’t let anyone fool you into having more sugar than you need to, saying that jaggery or honey are lower-calorie alternatives.


  1. Misra, Varucha & Shrivastava, A.K. & Shukla, S & Ansari, Mohammad Israil. (2016). Effect of sugar intake towards human health. 10.21276/sjm.2016.1.2.2.
  2. Hirpara, Parth & Thakare, Nitin & Kele, Vijay & Patel, Dhruvin. (2020). Jaggery: A natural sweetener. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 9. 3145-3148.
  3. Kumar, Abhai & Singh, Smita. (2020). The benefit of Indian jaggery over sugar on human health. 10.1016/B978-0-12-816918-6.00016-0.
  4. Jahan, Afifa. (2019). Jaggery: A traditional, Nutritional and medicinal sweetner. 32. 20.
  5. Arawwawala, Menuka & Hewageegana, Sujatha. (2017). Health Benefits and Traditional Uses of Honey: A Review. Journal of Apitherapy. 2. 9. 10.5455/ja.20170208043727.
  6. Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and Health. (2017): A Review of Recent Clinical Research. Pharmacognosy Res.;9(2):121-127. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.204647
  7. Iqbal, A., H. Kamran, S. Khalid, Shaista Jabeen and M. Aslam. (2020). “Glycemic Response of Natural Sweeteners like Sugarcane Juice, Honey and Jaggery in Healthy Individuals.”
  8. Alvarez-Suarez, J.M., Tulipani, S., Romandini, S. et al.Contribution of honey in nutrition and human health: a review. Mediterr J Nutr Metab 3, 15–23 (2010).
Our Director
Purva Gulyani

Purva Gulyani – an Accredited Practising Dietitian and lifelong member of the Indian Dietitian Association. Currently pursuing PhD at Latrobe University. Purva brings over 16+ years of clinical dietitian experience to the table.

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