What Are the Benefits of Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar?

You may associate brown sugar with more health benefits than its white counterpart. Unfortunately, brown sugar, whether raw or refined, has little to elevate it over white sugar in the health department. Brown sugar's main differentiating factors include its appearance, a molasses flavor and slightly more minerals.

Is brown sugar actually any healthier than white sugar? (Image: Ruggiero_S/iStock/Getty Images)

What's the Difference Between Brown and White Sugar?

Brown sugar and raw sugar are often confused, as they are both tan or brown in color. However, the manufacturing process for the two is different. Raw sugar undergoes less processing than white sugar or brown sugar, according to the American Sugar Alliance. In fact, raw sugar isn't actually sold to consumers, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared it unfit for direct use because of its impurities. When companies label their product as "raw" sugar, it's often actually turbinado sugar, which is also light tan in color.

The initial stages of sugar manufacturing are similar across the different types of sugars. After manufacturers grind juice from sugar cane, the juice is boiled until it forms a syrup and crystallizes. Spinning the crystals in a centrifuge produces raw sugar crystals, which are then shipped to a refinery.

The end of the manufacturing process differs slightly based on the type of sugar the refinery wishes to produce. In order to make brown sugar, many manufacturers blend white sugar crystals with molasses (a viscous, brown liquid extracted from raw sugar during the refining process), giving the sugar its color and warmer flavor. On the other hand, white or table sugar undergoes further processing and granulation to make the crystals finer, which removes the naturally occurring molasses.

The molasses in brown and raw sugar gives it a slightly different taste, which might be a perk to you if you prefer the taste of molasses. If you like a stronger molasses flavor, choose dark brown sugar as it contains more of the liquid extract.

The (Minor) Health Benefits of Brown Sugar

Brown sugar contains slightly more minerals than refined white sugar, but only due to the molasses content, according to the USDA. Per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), white sugar contains 387 calories, no magnesium, 2 milligrams of potassium and 1 milligram of calcium. On the other hand, brown sugar contains 380 calories, 9 milligrams of magnesium, 133 milligrams of potassium and 83 milligrams of calcium for the same amount. However, don't expect to see much in terms of tangible health benefits, since these differences are pretty much negligible — and we're still talking about sugar, after all.

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