Do You Know Nutrition: All sugar is not created equal

I am a bit confused about the difference between refined sugar and evaporated cane juice. Am I really eating healthier if I purchase a product sweetened with cane juice as opposed to refined sugar? Please help me clear the air and the confusion.

Both sugar and evaporated cane juice are made from sugar cane and contain glucose, fructose and sucrose. The difference is that refined sugar, almost exclusively, contains sucrose, which is overprocessed and therefore devoid of most of its nutrients.

When you eat any type of sugar that has been refined, your body has to pull stored nutrients from itself to be able to properly digest the sugar. Refined sugar is pressed from the sugar cane and boiled at extremely high temperatures. The boiling process destroys the nutrients and any minerals remaining. To further refine sugar, phosphoric acid, formic acid, sulfur dioxide, preservatives, flocculants, surfactants, bleaching agents and viscosity modifiers are used to complete the process.

Cane juice, however, contains a balance of glucose, fructose and sucrose, and retains its vitamins, including riboflavinoids and B vitamins as well as amino acids.

There is a variety of cane sugars, including milled cane, which has a flavor similar to light molasses. Then there is Demerara, a cane sugar that has a bit more pungent molasses flavor and is more coarsely granulated. And lastly, there is muscovado cane juice, which is the most powerful of them all.

However, the best form of sugar, made from raw, unadulterated dried evaporated sugarcane juice is Rapadura. Rapadura is dehydrated at very low heat, is not separated from the the molasses, and retains the vitamins and minerals including polyphenols.

Rapadura is also sold in the United States under the name of sucanat, which actually stands for sugar cane natural. Just as a footnote, I would sit by the sugar cane fields in Trinidad for what seemed like for hours on end watching as workers burned the grasses out of the sugar cane fields in order to begin harvesting the cane stalks.

I was amazed that throughout the days, all of the workers gnawed on a small piece of sugar cane, only to have absolutely beautiful teeth and no cavities. Further research led me to findings of a Master of Dental Science paper from the University of Sydney, that concluded that consuming raw cane sugar actually has a protective effect against tooth decay. This was truly sugar in its purest state.

Thought for the week: Happy Thanksgiving - you have 86,400 seconds during the day to say thank you.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.