Refined Sugar vs Healthy Alternatives

Hi Friends!

As we all know by now, refined sugar is NOT a good and healthy ingredient, no matter what diet you follow or how healthy you are.

Luckily, sugar and its negative health consequences are receiving more and more attention as healthy foods become increasingly trendy. Sugar is naturally present in all carbohydrates-containing foods and is detected in almost every food that lies on the store shelves.

To make it worse, the unhealthiest option of sugar, which is refined or processed sugar – commonly known as white sugar – is the most used, both commercially and privately.

What’s wrong with refined sugar?

Refined sugar has been linked to an increased risk of a variety of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, several cancers, dementia, liver disease, and depression.

It is more detrimental to your health than natural sugar.

Refined sugar is an EMPTY CALORIE. Refined sugar has no nutrients of any kind, it’s pure glucose – and it makes you fat.

On the other hand, it increases the load and the glycemic index.

So let’s get to know all types of sugar and find out which ones have the best nutritional quality to compose our recipes:

Replacements for refined sugar 

Brown and dark brown sugars

Brown sugar is refined white sugar to which manufacturers have added molasses (more molasses in the case of dark brown sugar).

The taste is a bit sharp, similar to cane juice, and the glycemic index is still high, close to that of refined sugar. However, it is better than refined sugar in terms of preserving nutrients, because it goes through fewer stages of refinement, hence the dark color. 

Demerara sugar 

There is refined and unrefined demerara sugar. The refined one is of lower quality and therefore, I advise you using only unrefined demerara sugar. The unrefined is obtained after the first crystallization of sugar cane juice. Its flavor is stronger than white sugar and receives no chemical additives during processing. Therefore, it is a good option for baking, especially when you need to have a lighter colored product. 

Muscovado sugar

It is raw sugar. It’s stronger flavor, caramelized aspect, and darker color are obtained by cooking and crystallizing the sugar cane juice. Because it is unrefined, it retains nutrients such as calcium, iron, and mineral salts. In nutritional terms, dark brown sugar comes out ahead, because it is not a food of empty calories, like white sugars. It can be used in cakes, breads, and pies.

However, be careful not to use it in excess, as it may contain higher amounts of heavy metals because it is a raw product. 

Turbinado sugar

Turbinado sugar is less processed than brown sugar and is the immediate result of the first pressing of sugar cane. It’s also known as raw sugar. It has a much larger grain than light brown or dark brown sugar and is drier than both. Don’t substitute turbinado for light or dark brown sugar as its large grain size could throw off your recipe.

Rapadura sugar

Rapadura sugar is a solid form of unrefined cane sugar typically produced and consumed in Latin American and Asian countries. Rapadura sugar is made by evaporating sugar cane juice without removing its molasses. It has a caramel color and roasted flavor.

It provides about 4 calories per gram – the same as white sugar. However, it contains a higher mineral content than regular sugar, containing potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and iron. It also contains several antioxidants, which help fight harmful molecules called free radicals. 

Organic sugar

This sugar is differentiated from its plantation. The product needs to be free of agrochemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, and any other artificial ingredient to receive the certification. It has a larger granulation size and is found in lighter colors, either light golden or white, similar to demerara sugar. The advantage of this sugar is that its cultivation promotes respect for the soil and is part of a conscious trade.

Palm sugar

Palm sugar is extracted from sugar palm trees. The sap is collected from the flowers or a tap in the tree trunk, then boiled down to syrup or crystallized to form a block. Commonly used in India, Southeast Asia, and some African countries.

Jaggery is the darker, winey flavored variety used across India, whereas the lighter more caramel flavored palm sugar is most common in Southeast Asian cooking. If unavailable, substitute with light or dark brown sugar. 

Coconut sugar

This unrefined and 100% natural sugar has several nutrients and health benefits. It contains only 75% sucrose and it also contains a fiber called inulin, which helps slow the absorption of glucose, giving coconut sugar a lower glycemic index than found in regular refined sugar. It is composed of potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins. 

However, it is not low carb and should be used with caution. In relation to the amount of calories, it still has a similar level to refined sugar. It has a similar flavor and texture to brown sugar. Coconut sugar will deepen the color of your food, so make sure that is appropriate for your recipe.


Agave syrup comes from a Mexican plant and is very reminiscent of bee honey, but with a softer, lighter texture. It prevents crystallization of the sweets in the recipes. Agave is a great source of iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, but does not offer the structure that sugar gives recipes. 

Some people consider agave a healthy sweetener, because it has smaller amounts of glucose than table sugar and does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which makes it a better choice for individuals with diabetes. On the other hand, it does still contain high levels of fructose (70% to 90%) and, therefore, may cause liver damage if used excessively over time. 

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is produced from a tree of Canadian origin and offers benefits to users thanks to its high antioxidant potential and various nutrients. It is very suitable in heated up (cooked or baked) preparations, but, because it has a high caloric value, it should be consumed in small portions.


Molasses is considered much more nutritious than all other forms of sugar because it naturally contains minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. It is also an alkaline food. According to the nutritionist and presenter Bela Gil, the best option is the non-sulphurized cane molasses, which does not receive sulfuric acid in the process in which it is removed from sugar cane.


Honey is a natural food, known for its medicinal properties for thousands of years by various cultures. It has antioxidants and antibiotic action, promoting the health of the immune system. Raw, unfiltered honey contains the vitamins from bee pollen and propolis and is therefore much more nutritious than ordinary honey. Because it is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, it does not impact the liver as much as syrups do. It is not recommended that you heat it in order not to lose its medicinal properties. Therefore, in recipes that go to the oven, it’s preferred to use other products. Also very important is the danger of botulism. Honey is therefore not recommended to be given to children under 2 years old.

Cane Honey

Sugarcane syrup is a great source of iron and minerals. Unlike honey, its minerals are not lost by cooking. It has a very characteristic flavor and color.

Dates / Apricots / Dried Fruit / Fresh Fruit

These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Dates, apricots, and dried fruit can be processed into purées that help give texture to batters and replace sugar very well in many recipes. Remember to always soak them to soften them before processing.

Fresh fruits such as apples and bananas are also great to be used in recipes as sweeteners, and they also add flavor, binding, and texture. Other fruits can also be used in the toppings and fillings of cakes and pies, or in the preparation of syrups and jellies.

I hope this article helps you make the right choices when it comes to choosing the type of sugar or sweetener you want to use in your desserts. It is not wise to keep using refined/processed white sugar when you have healthier options to turn your desserts into nutritious foods!

I would love to hear the result of your sugar substitutions and your opinion about this topic! Please write your comment in our comment section!

Have a sweet and healthy week,

Your Leonor.

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