19 Different Sugars but Which Are Healthy?

| September 22, 2009 | 20 Comments

I love sweets

There are lots of different sugars.

Can you pick out which ones are good?

I love sweet things. As a child I was addicted to white sugar and this caused many health problems. This is one reason  I am always talking about real foods: foods that are whole, live and are balancing to the body. I try to find sugars in this category.

In past articles I dealt with 7 Tips to Stop White Sugar Cravings and Reasons to Avoid Artificial Sweeteners. Now we deal with the more natural ones.

Not all sugars are equal. Some are very good for you in small quantities. Many are less healthy. Which ones on the following list would you consider real foods? Which do you use and why?


Common Sugars and Sweeteners

1. White sugar (aka sucrose)
White sugar is a pure chemical extract of sugar cane or sugar beet with no vitamins or minerals; these are stripped during the extraction process. Refined white sugar is a simple carbohydrate with lots of calories, no dietary fiber and is an isolate. Isolates never occur in whole foods. Vegetarians may note that it may be processed with bone char. Causes a “sugar high.”

2. Brown sugar
Brown sugar is white sugar coated in molasses which will add a few trace minerals but no healthier than white sugar and creates the same “sugar high.”

3. Fructose
Fructose is not from fruit; it is a commercial, refined sugar and it is no more nutritious than sucrose. It raises cholesterol, makes blood cells more prone to clotting, and it may also accelerate the aging process.

4. Sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols (Erythritol, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates) are neither sugars nor alcohols. They do have calories; Xylitol has more then half the calories of white sugar. The only problems I could find with them are that when they are eaten in excessive amounts they can cause gastrointestinal side effects (bloating and diarrhea), weight gain and increased blood sugars. Still they are not whole foods so caution must be used; the recommendation is to not use them on a regular basis.

5. Fruit juice concentrate
This is refined and has been stripped of flavor and nutritional value. It is rapidly assimilated in the bloodstream so not highly recommended.

6. Demerara sugar (natural brown sugar)
Also known as turbinado sugar, demerara sugar is made by extracting the juice from sugar cane and then heating it until it is turned into crystals. It does not preserve much of its original molasses content but does have lots of potassium and some minerals and vitamins.

sugar cane by Ktplant of flickr

7. Evaporated sugar cane juice
Evaporated sugar cane juice goes through less processing than refined sugar and has more nutrients found in sugar cane. It contains tiny amounts of vitamins and minerals. Remember it is still sugar.

8. Sugar cane juice
Sugar can juice is made from the same sugar cane stalks that are grown to make white sugar. Hand-powered presses or machine presses crush the sugarcane stalks and release the raw sugar cane juice. It is healthier than table sugar as it contains tiny amounts of vitamins and minerals and is raw if not processed at high temperatures.

9. Sucanat
Sucanat is made from sugar cane, usually organically grown, and minimally processed to obtain juice to make syrup (the molasses is not removed). The syrup is dehydrated and milled into a powder. It has potassium, vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium and small amounts of other vitamins and minerals.

10. Coconut sugar
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut flowers by boiling it down to dry sugar blocks or a soft paste or a granulated form. Coconut sugar contains higher amount of nutrients compared to brown sugar as it has some amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, chlorine, magnesium, sulfur, and micro nutrients. This sugar has a very low glycemic raising index and my diabetic friend Tricia Holder says it is the only sugar that works for her.

11. Palm sugar
Palm sugar is extracted from the sap of date palm trees and palmyra palms, which are said to be the best. It can also be extracted from sago and coconut palms. It is commonly used in Southeast Asia, where it is called jaggery or gur. It is high in amino acids, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron and has some vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6. It also has an absorption rate slower than that of white sugar.

12. Agave nectar
Agave nectar is juice extracted from agave (the same plant tequila is made from). It is not raw; it is produced much like maple syrup is; boiled at a high temperature till it is a syrup like the one you buy. It is 42 percent sweeter than white sugar but has the same caloric value and a low glycemic index — a measurement of the relative ability of a carbohydrate to raise blood glucose levels. Most agave syrup has a high fructose content ranging from 70 to 97 percent, depending on the brand. This is higher than most commercial sweeteners; even much higher than high fructose corn syrup which averages 55 percent. A recent report from The Weston A. Price Foundation basically says that it’s as bad for our bodies as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). There is much controversy about this sweetener and here is one place to read about it: Agave nectar

13. Date sugar
Date sugar is not really a sugar as it is made from ground, dehydrated dates containing all the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in the fruit. Date sugar is rich in nutrients and is metabolized more slowly than sugar.

maple syrup

14. Maple syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. Less refined than white sugar, but at roughly 65 percent sucrose, is basically a sugar equivalent. It has a tiny amount of minerals and a very tiny amount of vitamins.

15. Barley malt syrup
Barley malt syrup is made from barley that is sprouted using only the grain’s own enzymes, kiln roasted, and slowly cooked until a thick, dark brown syrup is formed. The sugars in barley malt syrup are complex, thus they are slowly broken down in the body. It has trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and protein. Barley malt syrup, like rice syrup, will not create a sugar high like the simple sugars do as it releases slowly.

16. Brown rice syrup
Brown rice syrup is made from cooked brown rice, which is fermented by adding enzymes to turn the starches in the rice into sugars. Brown rice syrup is absorbed easily into our system, leaving less for fat accumulation in contrast with regular sugar. It is a complex sugar thus takes longer to digest and does not create the sugar high that the simple sugars do.

17. Molasses
Molasses is a by-product of sugar cane or beet sugar refining. High in B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, chromium, manganese and zinc. The blackstrap variety is less refined and higher in nutrients. Buy unsulphured molasses, as sulphur can be toxic in high doses.

18. Honey
Honey is similar to table sugar. Pure raw honey (not heated above 100 degrees) contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, flavonoids and antioxidants. Some research suggests that honey helps in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Honey is as rapidly assimilated in the bloodstream as refined sugar, so is not highly recommended.

19. Stevia
Stevia is a natural sugar alternative that helps to regulate blood sugar and lower blood pressure. Stevia is a complex sugar extract from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana, grown originally in South America. It is an herb native to the Paraguayan Indians who used it before the colonization by the Spaniards in the 16th century. The Brazilian Journal of Medicine showed that Stevia Rebaudiana actually “increased glucose tolerance.”

Because stevia is very sweet, you only need to use a small amount and the best thing is that it virtually has no calories. Just think about it……a plant sweetening your food with virtually no calories…….how good is that?!!


  • Consuming too much sugar (simple carbohydrate) can suppress the immune system from doing its job. It reduces the ability of white blood cells to kill germs and begins immediately after ingestion it has this effect.
  • The problem with consuming any simple carbohydrate is that it creates an insulin response that can overwork the pancreas. Over time, the body’s ability to handle all sugars, simple and complex, begins to weaken.
  • Since all sugars will cause an elevation in blood sugar, diabetics and people with dietary issues should consult their doctor about alternatives to sugar that will be healthy for them.
  • Most sugars are strongly acid-forming in the body. They all also have calories.

My Choice:

I never use the first four (white sugar, brown sugar, fructose, sugar alcohols) in my cooking.
I mostly use stevia, coconut sugar and brown rice syrup, barley malt, honey and a little molasses.  Coconut sugar seems to be one of the healthiest of the sugars.

I almost never use any of the others.  When I do they are used sparingly.

I bought a liter of maple syrup seven years ago and still have half a cup left and the only reason there is so little left is because I spilled a cup of it two years ago….in the fridge — what a mess!

I bought a package of sucanat three years ago and still have a quarter of a cup left. At Christmas,
I make my Fancy Fruit & Macadamia Nut Cookies (dairy- & wheat-free) and use four tablespoons of sucanat for a big recipe.
When making desserts, I mostly use stevia for things like rice pudding.

As stevia is almost always in my recipes, I use less of the other “sugars.” To get the right texture and flavor a little of one of the healthier sugars is helpful and they actually add some nutrition……and of course fun.

Sugar Free Apple Sauce Contains absolutely NO added sugars
Berry Crumble Sweetened with minimal healthy sugars and stevia.

If you would like more information on Stevia; send your request to diana@realfoodforlife.com

Which ones do you use and why?    Post your comments below!

Copyright © Diana Herrington You are welcome to share this article with anyone who you think may benefit from this information as long as you give credit to Real Food for Life by including the link to the home page www.RealFoodforLife.com or the direct link to the post.

About Diana Herrington

I am the Founder and Author at Real Food For Life. Have been teaching cooking classes worldwide since 1982. Create original, healthy recipes and menus, which are gluten free and white sugar free. Also, the author of the GREEN means LEAN and Balance Your Body e-books. I turned a debilitating health crisis into a passion for helping others with healthy, sugar free, gluten free eating and cooking.



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Category: Nutrition

Comments (20)

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  1. Types of Sugar | December 5, 2009
  1. Tricia says:

    I only use organic whole food stevia that has been balanced with chrysanthemum flower. The other ones in the health food store are full of additives like alcohol and have no health benefits. As a Type 1 diabetic it’s really helped lower my insulin needs.

  2. Jean Pelletier says:

    Hi Randy and Diana,
    I use Stevia in the liquid form also. I agree with Tricia being a diabetic also it really helps with the blood sugar levels and you can sweeten so many things with it. That’s actually something I wanted to get from you Randy the night I was there for rhe Food Fair. Do you have any dark Stevia yet? I would absolutely love to get some from you. Pleas, Please, Please and Thank-You.

  3. Brilliant! The main point also is that in the other sugars is that the chromium is not refined out. Honey contains over 75 types of sugars some of which are extremely beneficial to health. Sucrose is not sugar despite all the marketing in the world. Has done so much damage and is the cause of lots of diabetes occurring.

  4. Shar says:

    I use Sunrider’s Suncare…or Honey. Only if I have to, will I use Brown Sugar or white.

  5. Diana says:

    I too am a consumer of Stevia; it is my favorite for the reasons I have said above.

    On occassion I will use a very ittle of any of these: Maple syrup, Rice syrup, Molasses, Coconut sugar, Palm sugar, Agave nectar, Date sugar. I do mean very little….I bought a litre of maple syrup 5 years ago ad still have half of it and that is only because I spilled a cup of it last month….in the fridge; wat a mess! I bought a pacakage of sucanat 3 years ago and still have half a cup left. At Christmas, I make my Fancy Fruit & Macadamia Nut Cookies (Dairy & Wheat Free); I use 4 tablespoons of sucanat for a big recipe.

    Mostly when I am making desserts I use stevia to make things like rice pudding.

  6. Kirti says:

    As far as possible, I use natural food sugars, Stevia is not that readily available as yet in India; prefer to use jaggery instead of sugar wherever possible, jaggery is made from fruit, basically the juice is cooked till it solidifies, for more, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaggery
    Jaggery does sometimes add a brownish tint to milk dishes, so sometimes it is so not so usable, but for most part, it is a healthier alternative. Also, jaggery is known to be a very rich source of iron.

  7. Diana says:

    Kirti, I love Jaggery. It is listed above as Palm sugar …it is tasty indeed and yes it does contain lots of nutrients. Still it is a sugar that will spike your blood sugar.  I would like to get you some stevia to try as I am sure you would like it.

  8. Diana says:

    I also, only use a whole food stevia. If you want more extensive information on Stevia email me and I will send it to you.

  9. Diana says:

    “Obesity is actually the second-largest carcinogen in the United States…if we don't stem these obesity rates, we're actually going to have a tsunami of chronic disease, to include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, even orthopedic injury.” - Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society

  10. D. Lamprecht says:

    What about xylitol –  This sugar seems to be an up and coming sugar subsitute. 

  11. Diana says:

    Hi D. Lamprecht,

    In the article above read under the topic:

    Sugar alcohols (Erythritol, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylito

  12. Hey Diana,
    Great list of info.Most people have no idea.I suggest we all print it and keep it close and share it on Facebook and Twitter.Thanks so much for the research.
    Pierre & Pierrette
    Thee Quest For Perfect Health

  13. Thank you Pierre; happy that you like the info! :)

  14. Jackie B. says:

    Hey Diana,

    I use Stevia and I like it alot, I sweeten my coffee and awhole lot more, I was wondering if it comes in liquid also, and is it available in Canada too?!
    Thank you!!

  15. Hi Jackie, I also, only use a whole food liquid stevia and I get it in Canada but do have to order it.. If you want more extensive information on Stevia email me and I will send it to you.

  16. Elizabeth Mitchell says:

    Hi Diana, I try to stay away from sugar, but my hubby thrives on chocolates or bars and other candy full of junk. I will have real dark chocolate, a small piece once a day if I have it on hand. I do not use sugar on my cereals except oatmeal and for that I use the light brown sugar (not so goo eh?).Is there now another sugar made from the stevia plant?. We grew up with white refined sugar on cereals, in baking, and ate white bread, this was in the 40’s – 50’s. We do buy good quality mixed grain bread with no sugar in it, and we try for soups with no sugar. It – white sugar- is addictive!! Thanks for the article, which I will save.

  17. Anna Crawford says:

    like to know if on can pick up some tinbinado sugar at your address as I have not tried it yet but am on a new diet and it asks for this. Since I am loosing I would like to keep going. Thank you for your time.

  18. Anna, I do not recommend using turbinado sugar. I never use it.

  19. Monika says:

    Hi there. I’d love to know which stevia you purchase. I am also in Canada and but h4 white powder sweetleaf brand but now think I’m doing more harm than good. I tried to email you for more info but can’t find your address. Thanks so much

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