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Do Sugarcane Drinks Have Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 01, 2021

Sodas and other sweet drinks get their taste from added sugars. Many brands have started advertising “natural” sugars in their products. But so-called natural sugars aren’t much healthier than table sugar.

Still, sugarcane juice, drunk alone or in fruit juices, mixed drinks, and other beverages, is believed to have health benefits. Some people in some tropical countries would say it's nutritional. But how can a drink full of sugar be healthy? 

What Are Sugarcane Drinks?

How sugarcane juice is made. Sugar originates from a grass called sugarcane. The cane stalks are harvested, mashed together, juiced, purified, cooled, and broken down into table sugar. 

Sugarcane juice comes from the middle of the sugar-production process. Once the sugarcane is juiced and filtered, it cools to a syrupy texture. At that point, you can call it sugarcane juice. Sugarcane drinks contain sugarcane juice and water as their base. Add some flavor, such as ginger or lime, and you have a tasty beverage!  

You can also use sugarcane juice in alcoholic beverages and can make your own sugarcane soda. 

How Sugarcane Juice May Improve Your Health

Throughout time and around the world, people have thought that sugarcane juice is good for them. Traditionally, it's most often been residents of rural communities who believe that sugarcane juice: 

  • Promotes healthy urination and kidney health
  • Can be used as a laxative
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Helps against overheating
  • Acts as an antiseptic
  • Protects against jaundice by helping the liver
  • Is good as an all-around medicinal tonic

With all of those possible benefits, sugarcane juice is starting to sound like snake oil. There’s no way an easily produced, sweet juice can be that good for you, right? 

The sweet truth. Several modern studies have been done on sugarcane juice, and they back up the traditional wisdom. It’s been proven that sugarcane juice is: 

  • Anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling, redness, and pain)
  • Analgesic (relieves pain)
  • Antihyperglycemic (lowers blood glucose levels)
  • Diuretic (improves urination)
  • Hepatoprotective (protects the liver)

It’s not all for drinking. But some of the benefits of sugarcane juice don't necessarily come from drinking it. For example, to use sugarcane juice on a wound, you would apply the juice with some kind of swab.

Good for athletes. Sugarcane juice has become a strong contender against the varieties of sports drinks on the market. One study aimed to see the effects of sugarcane juice on how athletes perform and burn fuel. 

The study concluded that sugarcane juice was mostly as effective as sports drinks during exercise and more effective for rehydration afterward. Sports drinks and sugarcane juice equally restored fluids in the participants, but those who drank sugarcane juice felt more full. 

Pros and Cons of Sugarcane Beverages

Sugarcane juice has proven to be an effective source of nutrients. However, not all sugarcane drinks are created equal. That’s why it’s important to read their nutrition labels

Some sugarcane drinks have a simple list of ingredients: sugarcane juice, water, and natural flavors. Other sugarcane drinks that you can buy in your grocery store will contain not only sugarcane juice but also preservatives, added flavors, and added sugar. 

When sugarcane drinks trade natural sugarcane juice for added sugars, they also remove the nutrients that provide health benefits, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Sugarcane juice in a more natural state will be healthier than sugary alternatives, so read ingredients carefully. 

Sugarcane soda. You may come across sodas called sugarcane sodas because they contain natural cane sugar. Keep in mind that cane sugar is not sugarcane juice. Basically table sugar, cane sugar lacks the nutrients of cane juice. 

It would be healthier to buy sugarcane juice and carbonate it yourself.

What about evaporated sugarcane juice? Prior to 2016, companies were labeling certain products with an ingredient called “evaporated cane juice.” The name implies a healthier, more natural sweetener derived directly from sugarcane. 

The FDA ruled that this was misleading. Evaporated cane juice is a pretty name for sugar. 

Sugarcane juice is a whole, sweet product. Anything produced from sugarcane juice is simply sugar. 

Sugarcane drinks and diabetes. Even though sugarcane juice has health benefits, it can be a no-go for someone with diabetes. Sugarcane is high in a type of natural sugar called sucrose. Sugarcane is largely water with around 15% sucrose and 15% fiber. 

No one is likely to advise you to add more sugar to your diet. But when you must satisfy that sweet tooth — and your doctor wouldn't object — seek out pure sugarcane juice for your beverage base. At least, the additional nutrients in natural sugarcane juice make it more healthful than drinks with added refined sugar. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:
American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture: “Where does sugar come from?”
Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: “The Effects of Ingestion of Sugarcane Juice and Commercial Sports Drinks on Cycling Performance of Athletes in Comparison to Plain Water.”
Fundação Joaquim Nabuco: “Sugarcane Juice (caldo de cana)."

Harvard Health Publishing: “Are certain types of sugars healthier than others?”
Pharmacognosy Review: “Phytochemical profile of sugarcane and its potential health aspects.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture: “PREMIUM SUGARCANE SODA,” “Sugar cane beverage,” “TAISUN, SUGARCANE JUICE.”
U.S. Food & Drug Administration: “FDA Releases Final Guidance Regarding the Food Labeling Term ‘Evaporated Cane Juice.’” 

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