The Raw Facts on Sugar

ByABC News
February 24, 2006, 12:44 PM

Feb. 24, 2006 — -- What's the real deal on sugar? We all know it's not great for us. It adds empty calories to our diet. Some people claim brown sugar is better for you than white sugar. It's more "natural," they say.

"Natural" is such a good selling point. So is "raw." One woman said, "When I see 'in the raw' [on a sugar package], I assume it's less processed than white sugar. The same thing with rice."

She makes a good point about rice. Brown rice is higher in fiber, because it still has some of the bran attached, explained Cathy Nonas, director of obesity and diabetes programs at New York City's North General Hospital.

Brown rice has much more fiber and significantly more minerals than white rice. But it's not the same story with brown sugar.

"People who are grabbing that brown sugar because they think it's healthier are basically deluding themselves," Nonas said.

Sugar begins as sap in sugarcane plants, which are crushed to release what is called sugar juice. The juice is heated, which creates a thick dark molasses containing sugar crystals. They spin that in a centrifuge to remove the molasses. What's left is white granulated sugar. Brown sugar is brown because it has some of the molasses added back to the white sugar.

It's true that molasses tastes a little sweeter and contains a little iron and calcium, but only a little.

To get as much iron as I'd get from one slice of whole-wheat bread, I'd have to eat nine teaspoons of brown sugar.

"Brown sugar is not any better than white sugar. People should still reduce their intake of all sugars because they're basically empty calories," Nonas said.

And "raw " sugar is no better, Nonas added. "People are very susceptible to marketing. And just because something is natural doesn't mean it's particularly healthy for you," she said.

Raw sugar isn't even really raw. It's just slightly less refined, so it retains some of the molasses. But there's no real health real benefit from it. "There's no more nutritional value in raw sugar than there is in white sugar or brown sugar," Nonas said.