Which Sugar Is Best

  • Misha SiddiquiMaster's degree, Integrated immunology, University of Oxford, England

What is sugar

Sugar is the generic term for a variety of sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. Glucose, fructose, and galactose are examples of simple sugars, also known as monosaccharides. 

Compound sugars consist of two bonded monosaccharides, with sucrose (glucose + fructose), lactose (glucose + galactose), and maltose (two glucose molecules) being common examples. Sucrose is refined into white sugar. 

Compound sugars are hydrolyzed into simple sugars in the body. Longer chains of monosaccharides (>2) are not considered sugars and are instead referred to as oligosaccharides or polysaccharides. 

Starch, present in plants, serves as the predominant source of energy in the human diet and constitutes a polymer of glucose. While glycerol and sugar alcohols may impart a sweet taste, they are not categorized as sugar. 

Sugars can be found in most plant tissues. Honey and fruit are rich in natural simple sugars. Sugarcane and sugar beet are particularly suitable for efficient commercial extraction to produce refined sugar due to their high concentration of sucrose.

Nutrients found in sugar

Sugar is a carbohydrate and energy source. It has 4 calories per gramme and 16 calories per level teaspoon (4 g). This is in comparison to 36 calories for the same amount of fat or oil (4 g) (e.g., butter, margarine, canola oil). Sugar contains no other nutrients on its own.

Types of sugar

White refined sugar

Refined sugars are highly refined and purified sweeteners made from raw sugar. Sucrose is the primary component of all refined sugars, accounting for 91 to 99.96% when solid and 50 to 80% when liquid (syrup, molasses). 

Refined sugars, unlike the sweeteners listed previously, are not produced directly from cane juice. They are instead obtained from crude raw sugar, which is not the same raw sugar described above. 

Both raw sugars are produced by sugar mills; however, the crude version contains a high level of impurities and is only sold to refineries. A refinery is frequently located near a waterway to receive raw sugar shipped by ship from sugar mills around the world.

The removal of raw sugar impurities is accomplished through remelting, filtering, evaporation, and centrifugation. The basic process for both raw and refined sugars is the same: concentration, crystallisation, and centrifugation. The difference is that raw sugars are produced by only one cycle. Refined sugars, on the other hand, are purified through a series of cycles.

Raw sugar 

Raw sugar does not imply that it is unrefined, unprocessed, or organic. Instead, it refers to a single crystallisation sugar, as it is only crystallised once.

 After sugar crystals form, almost all of the original cane molasses is washed away. Raw sugar is made from freshly harvested cane and is highly refined. 

In a sugar mill near cane fields, raw sugars are produced directly from cane juice. The juice is single-crystallized after it has been extracted and clarified. 

After that, the crystals are centrifuged to remove the majority of the cane molasses. Raw cane sugars typically contain less than 2% molasses, giving them a delicate flavour and a colour that ranges from blond to light brown.

They contain 97 to 99% sucrose and are slightly less refined but more processed than the unrefined sweeteners listed first in this post. Turbinado, demerara, evaporated cane juice, dried cane syrup, dehydrated cane juice, less processed cane sugar, washed sugar, natural cane sugar, and single-crystallization sugar are all names for raw sugar.

Unrefined sugar

All cane sugars go through a refining process to remove impurities. Unrefined sweeteners are the least refined because they retain the majority of the original cane molasses.

It includes both traditional brown sugars like muscovado, panela, jaggery, and piloncillo, as well as those made using a more sophisticated drying method like Sucanat.

Unrefined sugars are extracted from freshly harvested cane and refined as follows:

Three steps are involved: Simply put, the manufacturing process begins with collecting and clarifying cane juice, which is then concentrated. As the juice's water evaporates, a sticky dark syrup known as molasses forms around the pure sucrose crystals.

They are typically not centrifuged and retain the molasses around the sucrose crystals. A centrifuge [imagine a salad spinner] is used to separate sugar crystals from the molasses. 

Centrifuging raw and refined sugar crystals removes most or all of the original cane molasses, but unrefined sugars do not.

The majority of unrefined sweeteners are "traditional artisan sugars," which are made in small batches with little capital in sugar mills around the world in sugarcane growing regions using hundreds of years of know-how. Unrefined sugars derived from organic sugarcane may bear the certified organic seal. Unrefined sugar crystals have a strong flavour and a dark brown colour because they contain 8 to 14% molasses. The sugar content is approximately 90% sucrose and 5% invert sugar (glucose plus fructose).


Bees collect sugar-rich nectar from a wide variety of flowers to make honey. The main sugar found in honey is fructose, which is followed by glucose and sucrose. Honey's sweet flavour is due to its higher fructose content, and fructose is known to be sweeter than glucose or sucrose. Honey contains approximately 17% water.


Syrups can be made from a variety of plant sources, including sap and fruits. Agave (a desert succulent), corn, date, grape, maple, and pomegranate syrup are a few examples.

Because agave and corn are more complex carbohydrates, they are first broken down into sugar before being concentrated into syrup during food processing. 

Corn syrup is frequently processed further to produce the sweeter version, high fructose corn syrup.

Fruit syrup 

Fruit sugar can be made by drying and grinding fruits like dates. The sugar produced by this process has a similar nutrient composition to fruit (such as fibre and minerals), but it contains less water.

Which sugar is best for our health

Sweetness and sugar content

Some sugars, such as honey and agave syrup, contain more fructose than others. Because fructose is sweeter than glucose and sucrose, a smaller amount may be required to achieve the same level of sweetness as white sugar. Honey and syrups have a higher water content as well. As a result, the sugar content is lower than that of white sugar.

Antioxidant capacity

Sugars with lower levels of processing and refining have higher levels of minerals and compounds that give plants their colour. These compounds have been discovered to boost antioxidant capacity, which reduces cell damage in the body which causes a variety of chronic diseases.

Although date sugar and molasses have many times the antioxidant capacity of white sugar and corn syrup, they are still relatively low when compared to antioxidant-rich foods. To get the same amount of antioxidant as a cup (145g) of blueberries, for example, more than 500g of date sugar or molasses must be consumed.

Glycemic Index

Different sugars raise the amount of sugar in our blood at different rates after consumption. The glycemic index (GI) concept compares the ability of various carbohydrate-containing foods to raise blood sugar levels over a two-hour period. GI of common sugars:

White sugar 

  • White sugar 68
  • Corn syrup 90
  • Agave nectar 10
  • Honey 55
  • Maple syrup 54
  • Molasses 55

The reference carbohydrate is pure glucose, which is assigned a value of 100. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) possess a heightened capacity to elevate blood sugar levels, which can contribute to the development of diseases. Additionally, high GI foods tend to be less satiating.

Corn syrup has the highest GI due to its high glucose content. The glycemic index of white sugar is slightly lower due to its composition, which consists of an equal combination of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. According to the GI database, agave syrup has the lowest GI value. As a result, it is a better option for blood sugar management than other sugars.

Antimicrobial activity

Because of the presence of several naturally occurring compounds, honey has been reported to have several germ-killing properties. However, it is still unknown how honey acquires its antimicrobial properties.

Finally, sugar in our bodies is still sugar. While honey, raw sugar, date sugar, and molasses are "better" than white sugar and other types of sugar, everyone should try to limit their sugar consumption.

How much sugar is enough

How much sugar should we consume?

The World Health Organization suggests that both adults and children should aim to keep their consumption of free sugars to below 10% of their total energy intake, ideally less than 5%. Monosaccharides and disaccharides incorporated into food products, along with sugars present in fruit juice, concentrates, honey, and syrups, are instances of "free sugars."

These recommendations were based on the totality of available evidence reviewed regarding the relationship between free sugars intake and body weight (low and moderate quality evidence) and dental caries (very low and moderate quality evidence)," according to the WHO. 

Daily values for vitamins and minerals are used to indicate how much should be consumed. The 100% daily value for added sugars should not be exceeded, according to the advice. 100% DV is defined as 50 grammes. 

Consuming 50 grams equates to 200 calories, constituting 10% of the daily calorie intake for an individual consuming 2000 calories per day—the same as the World Health Organization's recommendation. In comparison, most 355 mL (12 US fl oz) soda cans contain 39 grammes of sugar. 

A government food consumption survey conducted in the United States in 2013-2014 discovered that the average total sugar intake (naturally occurring in foods and added) for men and women aged 20 and older was 125 and 99 g/day, respectively.


Consistently consuming high amounts of sugar can eventually result in elevated blood glucose levels, potentially leading to diabetes. Maintaining good health requires a controlled sugar intake and an active lifestyle.


  1. Campos A. The difference between unrefined, raw, and refined sugars. WhatSugar Blog [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Nov 28]. Available from: https://www.whatsugar.com/post/unrefined-vs-raw-vs-refined-cane-sugar.
  2. Which Type of Sugar Is Healthiest for you: Brown, White, Raw, or Honey? Inverse [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Nov 28]. Available from: https://www.inverse.com/article/54806-which-type-of-sugar-is-healthiest-white-brown-raw-honey-syrup.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Misha Siddiqui

Master's degree, Integrated immunology, University of Oxford, England

2nd year PhD candidate at institute of cancer research and AstraZeneca applying deep learning to understanding immunometabolism using multi-omics. I have a masters in integrated immunology from the university of oxford and undergraduate in applied medical sciences from UCL.

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