With refined sugar offering little beyond empty calories, many people are seeking healthier ways to sweeten their menu.
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Sugar in the Raw, a brand of turbinado cane sugar, is one option that — per its name — might seem like a natural and nutritious alternative. However, the differences between sugar and Sugar in the Raw are minor, and their effects on your health are largely the same.
For most of their journey from field to table, refined sugar and Sugar in the Raw undergo similar processing methods. Both sweeteners begin as sugar cane, which is first harvested and then crushed to separate the cane juice from the fiber of the plant.
To strain out the moisture and dark, flavorful molasses, the juice is purified through several stages of of filtration, evaporation, boiling and centrifuging. The resulting sugar crystals are considered turbinado or "raw" sugar — the form sold as Sugar in the Raw.
To transform raw sugar into refined table sugar, the product undergoes additional washing, filtering, processing and drying to remove impurities and strip away any remaining molasses color or taste.
From a nutritional standpoint, both regular sugar and Sugar in the Raw provide negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 1 teaspoon of granulated white table sugar provides 16 calories and contains only trace amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, zinc and riboflavin.
The same quantity of Sugar in the Raw contains 18 calories and slightly higher, though still trivial, levels of nutrients: 1 milligram of calcium, 0.02 milligram of iron, 1 milligram of potassium and nearly undetectable amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and zinc, according to the Nutrient Database.
Neither regular sugar nor Sugar in the Raw adds much nutritional value to your diet other than carbohydrates and calories. It would take over 20 cups of Sugar in the Raw, for instance, to meet your recommended daily allowance for calcium.
Despite their similar nutrition content, sugar and Sugar in the Raw aren't necessarily interchangeable in the kitchen.
Because Sugar in the Raw undergoes fewer purification steps than regular white sugar, the two sweeteners vary slightly in taste: Sugar in the Raw maintains some of its original molasses undertones, similar to a very mild brown sugar, and can affect recipe flavor as a result.
In addition, Sugar in the Raw has a higher moisture content and larger granule size than regular sugar, influencing the way it combines with other ingredients. As pastry chef Nicole Weston explains on her blog, coarse sugars like Sugar in the Raw require more moisture to dissolve, resulting in drier doughs and more difficulty achieving a "creaming" effect in recipes.
To help raw sugar behave more like white table sugar, Weston recommends using a food processor to grind it down to a finer consistency or adding a few teaspoons of water to replace the lost moisture in recipes. If you're using it in coffee or tea, stir more thoroughly to allow the sugar to dissolve.
Effects on Health
Like all forms of refined sugar, both regular sugar and Sugar in the Raw can have detrimental health effects when consumed in large quantities.
According to an article published in the February 2012 issue of Nature, a high intake of refined sugar may contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, insulin resistance and premature aging, which in turn could increase your risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
In addition, both sugar and Sugar in the Raw may displace more nutritious foods, leading to a lower intake of vitamins and minerals and shortchanging the quality of your diet. You can keep your menu both tasty and healthy by opting for naturally sweet foods like fruit instead of isolated sugars.