Brown Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?

Almost everyone enjoys the taste of sweet things. So it’s no wonder why sugars are added to all kinds of foods and drinks, from sodas to baked goods. However, too much sugar in your diet can lead to things like obesity and type II diabetes. But in moderate amounts, sweeteners can be tasty and healthy, especially if they encourage you or your loved ones to eat nutrient-dense foods you would otherwise avoid. 

Brown sugar is a natural sweetener that you can use to make a variety of foods taste better. Like every natural sugar, brown sugar is made by taking sugar juice out of sugar beet or sugar cane plants. People make brown sugar by mixing white sugar with molasses, giving it a different flavor and distinct nutritional makeup. Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of brown sugar:

Nutrition Information

Brown sugar is relatively low in nutrients. It’s high in calories and meant to provide your body with carbohydrates to use as energy. One teaspoon of brown sugar contains: 

  • 17 calories
  • Zero grams of fat, cholesterol, and protein
  • 1 milligram of sodium
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates

Potential Health Benefits of Brown Sugar

There are limited studies showing the benefits of brown sugar by itself. However, as an additive, brown sugar offers several health benefits by providing people with energy and acting as a tasty flavor enhancer to encourage healthier eating. 

It can help kids stay nourished. “Failure to thrive” is a phrase used to describe children at the lowest end of the weight chart for their age and sex. Although there are a number of reasons for failure to thrive, including underlying medical conditions, one common cause of failure to thrive is malnourishment. A child might not be eating enough calories or getting enough vital nutrients. . 

One reason this may happen is that a child is picky about the foods they eat. Sometimes, children might have sensory processing disorders that make certain textures or flavors difficult to eat. Other times, children might simply refuse to eat, to the frustration of their parents.

Continued

Bridge foods can help children with limited palettes or who commonly refuse to eat become more adventurous and enthusiastic eaters. Brown sugar sweetens foods like oatmeal or vegetables that kids might avoid, allowing you to work more nutritious foods into their diets while preventing malnourishment and failure to thrive.

It can prevent low blood sugar. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, happens when your body's blood sugar levels drop below normal. Although this can happen to anyone, low blood sugar is especially common among people with diabetes.

When you have low blood sugar, you have a variety of symptoms that impair your quality of life — such as anxiety or decreased energy. If you have low blood sugar, it’s crucial to eat fast-acting glucose like brown sugar. 

Potential Risks of Brown Sugar

Although brown sugar can help you sweeten healthy foods you might not otherwise enjoy, keep in mind that a healthy serving of brown sugar is fairly small. While many recipes may call for half a cup or more of brown sugar, a serving of brown sugar is one teaspoon.

Too much sugar in your diet can raise your chances of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, so it’s important that you limit your portions.

Healthier Alternatives

If you're concerned about your blood sugar, an alternative to brown sugar is Stevia. It comes from a plant and you can get it in packets, or drops. Experts say it's preferable to real sugar for people with diabetes or prediabetes.

If your concerns are more about nutrition or weight gain, fruit, whether fresh or frozen, is also a very healthy sweetener. You can use things like fresh berries and melons, as well as applesauce and bananas.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Family Physician: "Failure to Thrive: a Practical Guide." 

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Mayo Clinic: "Added Sugars: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners," "Type I Diabetes." 

Paediatrics Child Health: “The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat.”

The Sugar Association: "Types of Sugar." 

Cleveland Clinic: "The 5 Best (And Worst) Sweeteners You Can Eat."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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