Cane Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?

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

Sugar is typically associated with adverse health effects. But in moderation, cane sugar offers some notable health benefits.

Nutrition Information

On its own, cane sugar is not rich in 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

Potential Health Benefits of Cane Sugar

Many people believe that alternative sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, or molasses are healthier than cane sugar. However, that’s not necessarily true. Sugar is a type of simple carbohydrate that your body uses for energy.

Honey, brown sugar, and other sugars have no nutritional advantages over cane sugar.

Cane sugar can help you:

Have more energy. Your body’s primary source of energy is a simple sugar called “glucose,” which comes from the breakdown of sugars. You'll usually find sugars in fruits, dairy products, and grains. But your body processes cane sugar the same way it processes sugar found in any other kind of food. It splits both into two simple sugars— fructose and glucose. The glucose molecules are then carried to the cells to be converted into energy.

Store energy as healthy fats. Much has been said about fats, but as much as we try to cut them, we need them. When you take in more glucose than your body needs for energy, the excess gets stored as glycogen in fat cells and the liver. This process helps your body’s blood glucose level return to normal

As long as you don’t take in more calories than you use, this storage of energy is healthy — like having a big gas tank in your car so you don’t have to fill it up as often. It allows your body to keep functioning without needing to eat constantly.

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Keep a good mood. Cane sugar triggers the body to create serotonin, a feel-good hormone that raises your mood. Dips in your body’s serotonin levels are why you crave sugar, especially when you’re tired or unhappy. You get a mood boost from serotonin when you eat sugary treats.

You also help your body manage your stress levels. Under stress, your brain needs about 12% more energy, and the glucose from cane sugar can help provide the fuel you need. 

Potential Risks of Cane Sugar

Sugar currently makes up about 13% of the calories that the average American has each day. However, sugar should be less than 10%. Although it provides a quick boost of energy and helps increase blood sugar levels, be careful not to consume too much. That can lead to things including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and fatty liver.

While it can help your mood, there can be a rebound effect when you eat too much sugar. This rebound effect might be why there is a high correlation between countries that take in a lot of sugar and countries with high rates of depression.

Like most foods, cane sugar only causes problems when it’s eaten in excessive quantities. If you constantly crave sugar even if you eat it regularly, try to find new ways to regulate your mood or reduce stress. Your doctor can help you find some.

Healthy Alternatives

While cutting sweeteners entirely probably isn't a realistic goal, there's no doubt that fruit (fresh or frozen) can help lessen dependency on sugar. Things like applesauce, bananas or berries don't have empty calories, but can make your foods plenty sweet.

Ask your doctor or a nutritionist for other ideas on how to use fruit as an effective sweetener.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 03, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Canadian Sugar Institute: “Nutritional Value of Sugar.”

Depression and Anxiety: “A cross-national relationship between sugar consumption and major depression?”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Kaiser Permanente: “How our bodies turn food into energy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Added sugars: Don’t get sabotaged by sweeteners.”

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Dietary Guidelines 2015–2020.”

Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Effects of sugar rich diet on brain serotonin, hyperphagia and anxiety in animal model of both genders.”

Scientific American: “Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed?”

The Sugar Association: “Types of Sugar.”

University of Michigan Health: “Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Blood Sugar.”

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

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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