Sorry, Raw Sugar Is No Better for You Than Refined

We spoke with the experts and crunched the numbers.

It looks healthier, doesn't it??<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-80524660/stock-photo-healthy-cane-sugar-on-old-wooden-spoon.html?src=12C7MOXdZc7l-VjPk2XbEA-1-1" target="_blank">Atelier_A</a>/Shutterstock

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Along with plain white refined sugar, most hip coffee shops now offer “raw” sugar. I usually go with raw: The golden crystals and brown paper packets somehow make me think it’s more wholesome than the conventional white stuff, which, as highlighted in a previous Mother Jones investigation, many scientists now believe is far worse for you than the industry would have us think.

Sugar in the Raw, a leading raw sugar brand, suggests on its Frequently Asked Questions page that its product is indeed more wholesome. “White sugar is obtained by refining the sugarcane crystals to remove the molasses (and with that, trace nutrients),” it states. “Some nutritionists believe that the small amount of micronutrients retained in Sugar In The Raw® provides advantages over refined white sugar.” Raw sugar is also more expensive: On Amazon, a four-pound bag of Sugar in the Raw retails for $12.99, versus $3.25 for regular. 

So is the raw stuff really more virtuous? Sugar in the Raw could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the Wholesome Sweeteners brand of raw sugar explained to me that, like refined sugar, raw—technically called Turbinado—sugar comes from sugarcane (refined sugar can also be derived from beets). The main difference between the two is in the boiling of the cane juice: The juice for refined sugar is boiled several times to remove all the molasses, whereas Turbinado sugar is boiled only once.

The residual molasses gives Turbinado sugar “some flavor and texture other than just sweetness,” says Katherine Zeratski, a registered dietitian with Mayo Clinic. But it doesn’t provide any significant nutrition. Refined and raw sugar are “calorically identical,” Zeratski notes. And while Turbinado sugar does contain calcium, iron, and potassium, it contains them in trace amounts. We used the USDA’s National Nutrient Database to calculate a few comparisons:

By Katie Rose Quandt

While one 2012 study found that molasses from sugar cane acted as an antioxidant in laboratory cell cultures, Kimber Stanhope, a University of California-Davis microbiologist who focuses on sugars, said she was unable to find any research suggesting the same effect for cells in the body. She emails: “Given the lack of scientific evidence that consumption of molasses has any health benefits in humans, and the fact that the molasses content of Turbinado sugar is very low, it is certainly a stretch to suggest that Turbinado sugar is healthier than refined sugar.”  

There goes my virtuous latte.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate