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Refined or Unrefined Sugar–which is best?

Blog Forums Raising Metabolism Refined or Unrefined Sugar–which is best?

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    I exclusively bake with sucanat, unrefined sugar, and because I eat muffins with it daily, I’m wondering if there may be a chance I’m getting too much of the ‘bad’ stuff, like the molasses part which supposedly can be toxic in large amounts due to the hydrocyanic content. There’s another ‘healthy’ sugar out there called ‘Himalayan something’, and it’s treated with herbs to remove bitter impurities. The color is golden, so looks like half-refined. I haven’t tried it yet, but after reading their claims, it made me wonder if refined sugar, much like refined wheat flour, is refined for a good reason.

    What do you all think?

    Here’s the article where I read about the hydrocyanic acid content (at the end):

    It’s also a great introduction to the many medicinal qualities of sugarcane! Quite surprising. If only I knew when the kiddos had the whooping cough!


    I wouldn’t worry and just keep on using that sugar. I almost use molasses daily in my cooking and experience no bad things from it.

    In my own experience white/refined table sugar is not something I handle well on a fairly daily basis…..besides the fact that I think some other natural sugars are tastier anyway.


    I generally prefer plain white sugar, but that’s not for any health reasons. It’s just cheaper and has a simple sweet taste that I prefer over unrefined sugar.

    But then, I’m one of those rare birds who thinks that HFCS is perfectly wholesome. I don’t see a need to split hairs when it comes to different varieties of sugar cane.


    Well, my thinking behind this was that cane sugar has been used as medicine, and as is the case with herbals, it’s usually the toxic elements that work medicinally when taken in small quantities.

    David, I’d love to know what you think of HFCS, and how you consider it a wholesome sweetener.


    Most sweeteners are comprised of some mixture of glucose and fructose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is an easily broken disaccharide evenly split between the two sugars. Honey is basically the same ratio, but the bond is already broken (though this hardly matters, unless you have a sucrase deficiency and can’t break the bond yourself). Juices vary in their ratios, but as an example, apple juice is about 70% fructose. Malt sugars and other grain-derived sugars, like brown rice syrup, consist mainly of glucose. Dextrose, derived from corn, is 100% glucose. Agave can sometimes have about 80% fructose. HFCS can also vary a great deal, but the most commonly consumed form is about 55% fructose, which is pretty similar to plain old table sugar, except that the sugars aren’t bound in HFCS, just like in honey and most fruits.

    My point: If you believe that fruit and table sugar can be healthy, then HFCS should be no different. It only makes sense to avoid HFCS is you also believe that you shouldn’t drink fruit juice or have any sucrose in your diet. I think that both glucose and fructose can play a role in a nourishing diet, and HFCS is a good source of both.

    I have never heard a convincing argument for why HFCS should be looked at any differently from sugar, honey, or fruit juice. Most arguments are, in my opinion, complete sophistry, but I am happy to discuss them if anyone cares to.


    Fructose is an isomer of glucose meaning that it has the same molecular formula as glucose. The atoms are just in a different configuration.

    There are also two separate isomers of fructose – D-Fructose and L-Fructose. Some people claim that most of the fructose in fruit is D-Fructose and most of the fructose in HFCS is L-Fructose. Some people also claim that the liver processes both isomers of fructose differently. I was never able to figure out if is true or not.

    I don’t know if the fructose part of sucrose is D-Fructose or L-Fructose. If anyone knows for sure, please chime in.

    Glucose comes in two isomers as well. Dextrose is another name for D-Glucose which is the type of glucose found in nature.

    Personally through experimentation I have found that fructose leads to belly fat so I stopped using sugar all together. But if I was going to buy sugar I would definitely buy dextrose which is only 1/3 as sweet as sucrose.

    There has also been a study that implies that HFCS makes rats fatter than sucrose does. I don’t know what to make of this since I have not read the study in detail.


    Thanks for this response. As you said, glucose and fructose are isomers of each other, and this is why the branching of the sugar molecule is so significant, but I can’t find any information about additional isomers. I think all fructose is chemically the same, regardless of its source, but I’m open to being corrected if someone has a source. If the claim is true, it’s surprisingly hard to verify, which makes me suspicious.

    Your study is worth looking at, but I think there are caveats too. First, rats may just be more sensitive to fructose than humans, which would make sense since fruit wouldn’t have been as important a part of their ancestral diet. I don’t think controlled human studies have found the same problems with fructose and weight gain. Second, in the first part of the study, the abstract notes that “Rats with 12-h access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than animals given equal access to 10% sucrose, even though they consumed the same number of total calories, but fewer calories from HFCS than sucrose.” For some reason, they gave the rats an 8% solution of HFCS, but 10% of sucrose, and the rats that gained weight ate fewer calories from the sweetened solution (and more of some other unnamed food source). It seems the controls were a little off balance.

    That said, I don’t want to dismiss the study, and I think many people have shared your experience of gaining weight while eating fructose. On the other hand, I’ve met plenty of skinny sugar freaks too. My own feeling is that it can be easier to over-consume calories when we eat a lot of sugar, but the sugar itself may not be the problem. It’s the overeating and/or lack of exercise.

    There has also been research done on the athletic benefits of fructose, and it does seem to more rapidly facilitate glycogen recovery. For athletes who burn a lot of calories (or just everyday gym rats) a post work-out glucose/fructose drink (i.e., a soda) could actually be nutritionally superior to pure glucose. That said, it doesn’t make sense for sedentary people to eat like they’re athletes!


    Some random facts and opinions:

    1. HFCS is the devil’s sweetener.
    2. Beet sugar is nearly all GMO.
    3. Cane sugar is yummy.
    4. Molasses is awesome on every level.
    5. Honey is my personal favorite sweetener.


    :D Thanks.

    The one thing I disagree with is molasses. Way back in my au naturel days, I did some molasses (I forget for what, laxative maybe) and it always gave me a weird feeling. Just the taste would trigger it. Whatever is in there must not agree with me.
    Honey is probably my favorite too, along with maple syrup. I can’t believe maple syrup didn’t make it to your list ;).


    Molasses needs to be organic blackstrap…I can’t vouch for any other type. But if it makes you feel weird, then it makes you feel weird. Nobody can take that away from you. ;-)

    I lurvs maple syrup too, especially with pancakes. I also like to mix it in with raw milk for a real treat.


    Maple syrup is a great sweetener for yogurt. For breakfast I often have a scrambled egg cooked with a slice of bread in it, topped with maple-flavored yogurt. Yum!

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