Sugar is not just sugar. Because the sweetener comes in different colors and shapes. But what is the difference between cane sugar and coconut blossom sugar? And are some types of sugar healthier than others? We clarify the most important questions.
Germans consumed a whopping 34.6 kilograms of sugar per capita in 2017/18. This is the result of a survey by Statista. Every German citizen consumes around 95 grams of sugar every day, which is well above the recommended daily dose. According to the recommendations of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), this is just under 50 grams per day.
The daily overdose of sugar carries risks. “A high and frequent sugar intake promotes the development of overweight and obesity as well as numerous diseases associated with overweight, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases and the development of tooth decay,” warns the DGE, among others.
In order to save calories or eat healthier, many people rely on supposedly healthier alternatives to white household sugar. But whether agave syrup or coconut sugar are really healthier is controversial. We present the most well-known types of sugar.
White or brown: which type of sugar is better?
1. White Sugar
The most well-known type of sugar is white sugar, also known as household or granulated sugar. It consists of the simple sugars grape sugar (glucose) and fruit sugar (fructose) and is usually obtained from sugar beets or sugar cane.
The sugar gets its white color from a complex production process in which the mass obtained from the sugar cane or sugar beet is dissolved, filtered, crystallized and finally centrifuged – also known as refined. At the end of these processes is the white granulated sugar as we know it.
White sugar is available in a variety of forms, for example as cube, powdered, pearl or granulated sugar. It is found in many different foods, from fruit yoghurt to baked goods and sweet drinks. However, it does not offer any advantages for our diet. With 400 kilocalories per 100 grams, white sugar is quite a calorie bomb.
2. Brown Sugar
The rumor persists that brown sugar is healthier than white sugar. But this is not the case. Rather, brown sugar is unrefined white sugar. In contrast to white sugar, brown sugar still contains residues of the dark sugar syrup (molasses). This contains small amounts of minerals and vitamins, which have no effect on the nutrient supply.
A total of three types are grouped under the umbrella term brown sugar: whole sugar, whole cane sugar and brown sugar. Whole sugar is unrefined sugar made from sugar beets. Whole cane sugar is made from sugar cane and brown sugar is caramelized sugar colored brown with syrup.
Exotic type of sugar: Sugar from coconut flower nectar
3. Coconut Blossom Sugar
Coconut blossom sugar is obtained from the nectar of the coconut palm. This nectar is boiled down until a crumbly mass is formed, from which the finished coconut blossom sugar is obtained after drying. It is brown in color and tastes like caramel. Coconut blossom sugar is produced in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand and Indonesia.
There are also many rumors about coconut blossom sugar. It should only allow the blood sugar level to rise slowly and therefore theoretically not lead to cravings. So far, however, there are hardly any studies that have researched this sufficiently. The claim that coconut blossom sugar has fewer calories than white sugar has also been disproved. For comparison: 100 grams of coconut blossom sugar contain about 380 kilocalories, white sugar contains about 400 kilocalories for the same amount.
On the other hand, it is true that coconut blossom sugar, like brown sugar, contains more nutrients than white sugar because it is less processed. But the same applies here: The vitamins and minerals contained in coconut blossom sugar are negligible for a healthy diet, as the amounts contained are too small.
The oldest type of sugar: honey
Honey sweetens hot drinks such as milk and tea and tastes just as good as a spread on butter rolls. Incidentally, the beekeeping craft was already known in ancient Egypt. Depending on the variety, the liquid is light gold to amber in color and consists of various sugars, including glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose. In addition, honey contains valuable minerals, proteins, enzymes, amino acids and vitamins as well as natural colors and flavors.
But honey is not really healthy. The product is said to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which are said to help with sore throats, for example. However, the sugar content is similar to that of classic white household sugar. Honey is also not suitable for infants, vegans voluntarily do without this type of sugar.
Are plant-based sugar syrups the healthier alternative?
5. Agave syrup
Agave syrup is made in Mexico from different agave plants. The sweetness of the syrup comes from a mixture of fruit sugar (fructose) and dextrose (glucose). As a result, agave syrup has a relatively low glycemic index, which at times earned it the label of a “healthy sugar substitute.”
However, its relatively high fructose content makes agave syrup not a good choice, especially for people with fructose intolerance. And even for people who tolerate fructose well, the increased consumption has health disadvantages, for example in the form of diabetes. In addition, agave syrup has a relatively high ecological footprint due to the long transport routes.
6. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree. The product traditionally comes from Canada, but China has also increasingly established itself as a producer on the market. Maple syrup is available in different grades, from AA to D. The lightest maple syrup is grade A, the darkest is grade D. The darker this type of sugar, the more intense the flavor.
Maple syrup also contains small amounts of minerals, trace elements, and secondary plant substances, but these do not affect the amounts that we consume. The contained glucose and fructose are responsible for the sweetness. However, compared to agave syrup, maple syrup contains less fructose.
Since the type of sugar is filled with water, maple syrup also contains significantly fewer calories compared to sugar and honey. In order to achieve a similar degree of sweetness in food, however, one is quickly inclined to use more maple syrup than one would have used honey, for example. Similar to agave syrup, maple syrup also has a worse ecological balance because it has to be shipped halfway around the world before it lands on our shelves.