How much sugar is good for health?

Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you love having chocolates, cold drinks, pastries and sweets very often? If yes, then this article is especially for you. Are the sugars that we consume daily harming us? Or is it ok to have them? Let’s find out.

When it comes to the effects of sugar on our health, there are two different issues that need our attention- the effect of chemicals used for manufacturing sugar and the effect of sugar itself on our health.

Let’s first know about the basic steps used to manufacture sugar & jaggery. Sugarcane is first crushed to obtain its juice, which is then heated in three different containers at different temperatures. In the first container, the juice is treated with lime (Calcium Carbonate) in order to remove impurities like soil, parts of cane, etc. This is called as the clarification process. Traditionally, stems of lady finger are used for this process.

Consecutive heating makes the water from the juice evaporate leaving behind a thick brown substance- a mixture of sugar and molasses. The molasses contains naturally occurring minerals like potassium, iron, calcium and vitamins. It gives jaggery its characteristic brown colour. If this mixture is cooled, our jaggery is ready! However, if this mixture is rotated in a centrifuge, then the molasses & sugar crystals get separated. What we get here is unrefined sugar i.e. sugar with ‘impurities’ from molasses.

Till this point, all sounds good. However, in most of the manufacturing processes, chemicals like sulphates and sulphur dioxide are used to remove impurities and as bleaching agents. Sulphur is known to cause bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the air pathways in the lungs) and foods with sulphur are not recommended to asthmatics.

There have also been reports of bone ash being used for bleaching & clarifying processes in some manufacturing processes. Hence, it would be good to know the source of your sugar and jaggery.

We will look at the different types of sugars available & differences in between them-

Table Sugar – This is the white sugar which is widely used in Indian kitchens. This sugar contains sulphur up to recommended Indian food safety standards.

Sulphur free white sugar – This is white sugar where suphur is substituted with phosphates for clarification process. This sugar should be preferred over sugar with sulphur.

Brown sugar/ raw sugar- There are two variants in brown sugar. The first one contains white sugar fortified with molasses. This variant may contain sulphur.

The second one is the one that was not completely refined during the manufacturing process and hence it retains the cane nutrients and the naural brown colour. This is also known as raw sugar. This is a safer alternative. While buying brown sugar, it’s wise to inquire about the manufacturing process used.

Rock sugar (misri/ khadi sakhar)-  Rock sugar is manufactured by dissolving raw sugar in water and boiling it until the water evaporates and a syrup of desired concentration is formed. This syrup is then crystallized.

Rock sugar retains the natural goodness of sugarcane and it also has therapeutic applications. It is widely used as a mouth freshener (remember the servings of fennel & rock sugar after meals?). It has also been traditionally used as a medicine for cough.

Rock sugar has a very interesting history. The technique of extracting sugar crystals from cane was discovered in India around 5 CE. This knowledge spread to the western countries through the Indian sailors who supplied sugar & clarified butter (ghee). The techniques also reached China through the Buddhist monks. The sugar was then called as ‘khanda’, the original word from where, the word ‘candy’ is derived.


Is brown sugar better than white sugar?

The molasses contain natural nutrients from sugar cane which are missing in white sugar. The molasses also give brown sugar a distinct flavour which is absent in white sugar. However, while purchasing brown sugar, do ensure that it is not the one which was fortified externally with molasses.

Are jaggery/ honey/ fruits better than sugar?

Sugar in any form contains sucrose which eventually gets released in the blood stream upon consumption. If you are a diabetic or otherwise too, sugar in any form should be consumed in limited quantities.

Jaggery has a high glycemic index on par with that of sugar which means that it too shoots up the blood sugar levels at a similar rate.  Compared to jaggery, honey has a moderate glycemic index.

When sugar is consumed along with ghee and with pulses, millets and dairy products, the overall glycemic index becomes moderate. This means that unlike foods like cakes & chocolates, the Indian sweets like laddoos and barfis keep the blood sugar levels moderate upon consumption. 

Certain fruits with lower glycemic index like apple, citrus fruits and guava can also be safely consumed by diabetics in moderate quantities.

And last but not the least, organic sugar should be preferred over non organic one as it ensures that the sugarcane is grown in an organic, chemical free and pesticide free way.

Disclaimer: This article contains generic information about foods and should not be construed as specific advice on diet. Please refer to certified medical professional for diagnosis and consultation.