Have you ever wondered why there are so many different types of sugar in your grocery store? Last week, consumers responded, some in outrage, to the latest announcement from the Corn Refiner’s Association that high-fructose corn syrup is changing its name to “corn sugar.” While sweet-tooth beholders across America struggle to understand what kind of impact the allegedly nefarious “corn sugar” has on our bodies, we tend to overlook another important distinction: what is real sugar?
According to TLC’s How Stuff Works, there are numerous types of sugar, the most ubiquitous being the basic white table sugar that many of us use in baking, to sweeten our coffee and liven up our morning oatmeal. While white sugar is very common, it is certainly not the only kid on the block with supermarket shelves becoming crowded with labels like organic cane sugar, brown sugar, packed brown sugar and a less-processed raw or “turbinado” sugar.
“From a nutritional perspective, all [of the aforementioned types of sugar] are created equal,” said Christen Cooper, MS, RD, founder of Cooper Nutrition. “There are no nutritional benefits from eating organic sugar, brown sugar or turbinado sugar versus regular white.”
Cooper said that all sugars contain four calories per gram. So how do you know what kind of sugar to select when you’re facing the baking aisle?
White Sugar: Also known as cane sugar, white sugar is derived from the sugarcane or sugarbeet. It’s the most common type of sugar and frequently used in baking, canning/preserving and for flavoring food. You may find organic cane sugar at some stores, however while organic sugar has equally limited nutritional value to its traditional counterpart, organic sugar contains far fewer, if any, pesticides.
Light Brown Sugar: Light brown sugar is a mixture of granulated sugar and molasses that has been dried, extracted and added to the sugar. It has a warm, delicate flavor and helps keep baked goods moist. Light brown sugar is typically sold in two forms: packed and granulated.
Packed Brown Sugar: Packed brown sugar has a stronger, more intense molasses flavor than its lighter counterpart. Dark brown sugar holds the most moisture, which is perfect for baked goods when you don’t want to add excess fat.
Raw (Turbinado) Sugar: Known for its larger crystals and light brown color, raw sugar is obtained or crystallized from the initial pressing of sugar cane. Because it’s less processed than white sugar, many believe that it may be healthier- or the less of the evils.
Registered dietitian Rebecca Subbiah, R.D. of Chow & Chatter, agrees that most sugars are created equal. “White and raw sugar have the same amount of calories and neither has any real nutritional value,” she said. “But of course, it is fine in moderation.”
VIDEO: Understanding Sugar, with Rebecca Scritchfield, RD