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Find the Best Type of Sugar for Your Health
By Cheryl Ng, Harry McKenny December 27, 2022
By Joseph Mercola December 27, 2022
More people are becoming aware of the harmful effects of white sugar on the body—including the risk of obesity and high blood sugar. As an alternative many are turning to artificial sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners offer a sweet taste with low or no calories, their effects on our health are controversial.
A study published in Obesity has found a positive association between consuming beverages with artificial sweeteners and long-term weight gain. Another study published in Stroke has also indicated that more intake of drinks with artificial sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of stroke.
Are there healthier sugar options, and what are the health benefits of sugar?
Indians Discovered How To Crystallize Sugar During the Gupta Dynasty, Around 350 AD
Let us first discuss sucrose, which has a history spanning thousands of years. India is one of the birthplaces of sugar from sugarcane, and the first country to invent sucrose processing technology. At that time, sucrose was a treasure in Western Regions that only emperors and nobles could obtain.
The method of making sucrose in India improved over the years. Later, sugarcane was squeezed to obtain the sugarcane juice, then smelted with fire. Lime milk was added to the process, and the impurities in the syrup condensed, creating a lighter color. After repeated impurity removal processes, light yellow granulated sugar was finally obtained. Indian sugar-making technology was then introduced to China and other parts of the world through the Silk Road.
Sugar Can Nourish the Spleen and Stomach
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), food can be classified into five flavors: spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, and salty. The five flavors enter their corresponding five internal organs (lungs, liver, spleen, heart, and kidneys), which can nourish the internal organs—but excessive consumption of certain flavors will affect the balance among the five internal organs.
In TCM, it’s believed that “sweetness enters the spleen.” In other words, sweet food can nourish the spleen and stomach, and can help improve ailments such as constipation and stomach pain. Chinese medicine also adds sugar to medicinal recipes to achieve health preservation or therapeutic outcome.
Different Types of Sugar Achieve Different Benefits
Different types of sugar brewed by traditional methods achieve different benefits for the body.
There are a few well-regarded high-quality sugars, as listed below.
Slab sugar is made by boiling sugarcane juice into concentrated cane syrup and cooling it. With its strong cane flavor, slab-sugar is used in Chinese-style sugar-water drinks, especially the sugar-water base for making glutinous rice balls.
Cane molasses contained in slab sugar is rich in antioxidants and exhibits potent protective effects in cells.
A study published in International Wound Journal found that cane sugar can promote the healing of skin wounds, increase one’s immunity response, and reduce the risk of infection.
There is also a popular folklore therapy involving slab sugar—dissolving slab sugar in water and bathing in it has proved to be effective in moisturizing the skin.
Brown sugar is the first-pressed sugar from sugarcane. As it is not as highly processed as the other sugar types, it retains much of the original flavor and nutrients of sugarcane. It is mainly in dark red brick or powder form.
Brown sugar contains not only carbohydrates that can provide heat energy but also nutrients such as vitamin B2, vitamin B3, carotene, and trace elements like manganese, zinc, and chromium.
According to TCM, brown sugar has the benefits of invigorating the spleen and warming the stomach, nourishing blood, and dispersing internal coldness. It is especially suitable for women in childbirth, children, and people with anemia. It is also used to treat women’s menstrual cramps.
From the perspective of TCM, different types of food have different attributes and are counted as either cold or warm in nature. As humans are different in their constitutions, the way of applying tonics is individualized.
Brown sugar is warm in nature, suitable for people with a weak constitution, that is, people who are sensitive to cold, have a pale complexion, and often have cold hands and feet. People with internal body heat, such as those who are sensative to warmth, sweat easily and frequently, have constipation, have yellow urine, are prone to acne, and breathe heavily, should avoid eating brown sugar.
3. Muscovado sugar
Muscovado sugar (raw sugar or whole cane sugar in the U.S.) is usually in the form of dark brown bricks or powder. It is distilled longer than brown sugar but still retains some molasses. It has a strong burnt flavor and can be eaten as candy. Muscovado sugar is produced in many tropical or semi-topical countries around the world, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Japan. Japan’s Okinawa prefecture is known for producing superior-quality muscovado sugar.
A tablespoonful of muscovado sugar, about 15 grams (0.53 ounces), contains 0.15 grams of calcium and 90 mg of iron. It also contains phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and other elements, which can strengthen bones and relieve iron deficiency anemia.
Making muscovado sugar milk at home is simple and healthy, and you can control the sweetness by yourself. If you want to reduce the calories, you can switch to skim milk. Making muscovado sugar milk
- Dry fry the muscovado sugar in a non-stick frying pan until the sugar granules become fine.
- Add water and stir until it turns thick and sticky.
- Pour the cooked muscovado sugar syrup into a cup, then add milk.
A cup of delicious muscovado sugar milk drink is ready!
4. Rock sugar
Rock sugar is made from white granulated sugar that is dissolved, filtered, boiled, and recrystallized with high purity. The yellow rock sugar has skipped the decolorization process and retains more of the original sugar cane ingredients. Chinese medicine believes that rock sugar is mild in nature and is helpful for dry throat and dry cough with little phlegm.
Rock sugar is sweet and difficult to melt, so it is suitable to go with foods that require longer cooking time, such as stewed Chuanbei (Fritillariae Cirrhosae) and pears with rock sugar or snow fungus with rock sugar. Adding rock sugar into stewing meat can help the meat soften and give the sauce more flavor.
Although all these sugars have their own benefits, it is advisable not to consume too much of any sugar. In addition to the processed sugars and the sugars found in natural foods such as fruits—brown sugar, rock sugar, glucose syrup, and others, all contain certain ingredients called “free sugars.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults and children should reduce the intake of free sugars by reducing the general daily free sugar intake to less than 10 percent of the daily total energy intake. And if possible, one should further reduce the daily total energy intake to within 5 percent, or about 25 grams (6 teaspoons). Achieving these standards is helpful in reducing the risk of tooth decay and obesity, and other common health impairments.
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