Cane Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 23, 2023
5 min read

White granulated sugar can be made either from sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) or sugar beets. Cane sugar is the type made from sugarcane. The sucrose molecules in both types of sugar are identical, so scientifically there isn't much difference.

Like all types of added sugars, cane sugar is usually linked with negative health effects like weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Unlike the sugars found naturally in foods like fruit, it offers calories with few nutrients or health benefits. But as long as you consume it in moderation, cane sugar can be part of a healthy diet.

Sugarcane is a tropical grass that’s cultivated around the world to produce refined sugar, sugarcane juice, and medicinal products. Many types of sugar products are made from sugarcane, including:

  • Refined white sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Molasses
  • Jaggery

Sugarcane juice is one of the purest forms of sugarcane other than the plant stalks themselves. It has very few nutriaents but maintains more of the plant’s natural vitamins and minerals than more highly processed products. But it’s still considered to be an added sugar.

Sugarcane has been cultivated in India and other parts of Southeast Asia for millennia. The Ayurveda and Unani systems of medicine use it to treat various ailments. But we need more research into the potential health benefits of natural sugarcane


Cane sugar is not a good source of vitamins or minerals. One teaspoon of unrefined cane sugar provides:

  • 16 calories
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 0 grams of protein
  • 0 milligrams of sodium
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of cholesterol
  • 4 grams of carbohydrates

Many people believe that sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, or molasses are healthier than cane sugar. But that’s not true. While some contain tiny amounts of minerals, they’re all simple carbohydrates that your body uses for energy. The fact is that your body doesn’t need any added sugars.

You may have heard that sugar can help you:

Get a quick energy boost. Your body’s primary source of energy is a simple sugar called glucose, which comes from the breakdown of sugars. Your body processes cane sugar by splitting it into two simple sugars, fructose and glucose. The glucose molecules are then carried to your cells to be converted into energy.

But unlike foods that contain natural sugars, like fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy products, added sugars aren’t a good source of nutrients. Also, you digest added sugars quickly, so the energy doesn’t last. In fact, you’re likely to notice a sudden drop in energy levels after you consume lots of sugar or other types of simple carbohydrates.

Store energy. When you take in more glucose than your body needs right away for energy, the extra is stored as glycogen in muscle cells and in your liver. Later on, when your blood sugar goes down, your liver helps send glucose back into your bloodstream. But when you end up with more glucose than you need, the extra is stored as fat. And excess weight is linked to many health problems.

Have a temporary mood boost. Like other carbohydrates, cane sugar triggers your body to create serotonin, a hormone that raises your mood. Dips in serotonin levels can cause you to crave sugar, especially when you’re tired or unhappy. But in the case of added sugars, this mood boost is quickly followed by a drop in blood sugar – which can result in fatigue and other symptoms like irritability. A healthier tactic is to eat complex carbs, like those found in produce and grains. 

Added sugars make up about 13% of the calories that the average American takes in each day. But the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that figure should be less than 10%. (That means if you take in 2,000 calories a day, no more than 200 of them should come from added sugars.) That’s because excess sugar can lead to health problems such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and fatty liver.

While you might find that sugar helps your mood in the short term, there can be a rebound effect when you eat too much of it. Some researchers have theorized that this might be one reason depression rates tend to be higher in countries where people have high sugar intakes. If you often crave sugar, try to find new ways to regulate your mood and reduce stress – like exercise or spending time outdoors. 

Like other added sugars, cane sugar also helps bacteria to grow in your mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities. 

We need more studies into what health benefits sugarcane may have. Traditional Southeast Asian medicine uses sugarcane juice to treat: 

  • Hemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Inflammation
  • Jaundice (liver problems that result in skin and whites of eyes turning yellow)
  • Urinary tract problems 

Natural sugarcane also contains substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants help combat free radicals (molecules that cause damage to cells) that can worsen several medical problems like diabetes, malaria, myocardial infarction, and skin cancer.

Some research has indicated that there might be health benefits in choosing sugarcane over refined sugars. One small, preliminary study found that people with diabetes who consumed sugarcane juice instead of refined sugar had higher levels of chromium in their bodies. Chromium is a mineral that’s thought to play a role in blood sugar regulation.

As with other kinds of added sugar, consuming too much sugarcane regularly could raise your risk for chronic diseases like: 

  • Heart disease. According to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who got an average of 20% of their calories from sugar were 38% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who got 8% of their calories from sugar.
  • High blood pressure. A diet high in sugars has also been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure.

Excessive sugar consumption has also been linked to diabetes, high cholesterol levels, fatty liver disease, and weight gain.

One serving (28.35 grams) of sugarcane juice contains:

  • Calories: 113.43
  • Protein: 0.20 grams
  • Fat: 0.66 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 25.40 grams

Sugarcane has more vitamins and minerals than refined sugar, including very small amounts of:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Riboflavin

While cutting out sweeteners entirely may not be realistic, fruit (fresh or frozen) can help ease your cravings for sugar. Fruits like applesauce, bananas, or berries offer fiber and other nutrients, and you can also use them to sweeten dishes like cereals or baked goods.

Ask your doctor or a nutritionist for other ideas on how to cut down on added sugar.