A Better Kind Of Sugar?

I’ve noticed more and more health food brands using evaporated cane juice as a sweetener. How does this rank with other sweeteners? Is it healthier than sugar?

– June 14, 2002

Updated 4/01/2005

Evaporated cane juice is a type of raw sugar made from fresh sugar cane juice that is evaporated and then crystallized. It is straw-colored with a rich, robust flavor that I prefer in many dishes to the taste of white sugar. However, other than some trace minerals, which aren’t found in white sugar, there is no real difference between the two products. The only advantage I can see to eating foods sweetened with evaporated cane juice is that because of its stronger taste you might consume less than you would of foods made with the white stuff.

The problem with all types of sugar is not that they are “bad” for you, but that we eat far too much of them. Sugary foods and drinks contribute to obesity and tooth decay. They also can raise the glycemic index of meals, putting a burden on the pancreas and raising the risk of insulin resistance, which in turn can increase your risks of obesity, diabetes, unhealthy blood levels of fat and cholesterol and high blood pressure. And, although there’s no scientific proof of a connection, many parents notice that their children tend to become hyperactive after eating sweets.

That said, there isn’t much difference between white table sugar and other natural sugars including honey, maple syrup (my personal favorite), molasses and sorghum. To the body they are all sugar to be converted to glucose for metabolic fuel.

My feeling is that while sugar does have a place – in moderation – in a healthy diet, we all should pay attention to the amount we eat in desserts, snacks, fruit juices, fruits, prepared foods and beverages. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey Americans consume about 64 pounds of sugar per person per year.

If you’re concerned about the effect of sugar on your health, try doing without all types for a few days to see how you feel as a result. If you’re prone to depression, fluctuating energy levels or mood swings, cutting out sugar may make a big difference.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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