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Jaggery: Is It Good For You?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 24, 2020

Jaggery, also known as gur, is a sweetener famous throughout Southeast Asia and Africa. It is a type of sugar that is not heavily refined, so it still contains a significant amount of molasses.

Jaggery is often touted as being “healthier” than other forms of sugar. While science has supported some of these claims, studies are still being done on the overall health benefits and risks of jaggery.

Nutrition Information

A quarter-cup serving of jaggery contains:

Jaggery also contains:

Jaggery is an excellent source of iron for a plant product. A single serving may contain nearly ten percent of your required iron intake for the day. Iron is critical for supporting healthy blood cells. Getting enough iron in your diet can help you feel less tired and improve muscular function.

Potential Health Benefits of Jaggery

Jaggery contains more vitamins and minerals than many other sweeteners. Research has found a number of potential health benefits to eating jaggery:

Prevent Anemia

One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the U.S. is iron deficiency. Iron is essential for the formation of healthy blood and muscle cells. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, you can develop iron deficiency anemia, which makes it difficult to focus and can cause fatigue and muscle weakness.

Jaggery is an excellent source of plant-based iron. While a single serving of jaggery is not enough to meet your daily iron needs, replacing refined sugar with jaggery will add more iron to your diet and help reduce your risk of developing anemia. 

Some studies also suggest that the iron found in jaggery is more easily absorbed by the body than other types of plant-based iron. For people who choose plant-based diets, jaggery can help them increase their iron intake without having to take extra supplements.

Lower Risk of Certain Diseases

Compared to other sweeteners, jaggery is a good source of antioxidants. The molasses left in jaggery contains phenolic acids that help reduce oxidative stress on the body. Antioxidants in general are linked to a lower risk of certain forms of cancer, reduced signs of aging, and lower risk of dementia and macular degeneration. As a result, switching from white or brown sugar to jaggery may help reduce your risk of developing these conditions.

Potential Risks of Jaggery

Although it has more nutrients than many other types of sugars, these benefits may not outweigh the risks of consuming jaggery for people with certain health conditions. You should consult with your doctor before significantly increasing your jaggery consumption.

Consider the following health risks before eating large amounts of jaggery:

Raises Blood Sugar

Like all forms of sugar, jaggery is mostly sucrose. While it is less refined than other sweeteners, it still has a significant effect on blood sugar levels. For people who need to reduce sugar in their diet, jaggery is not a safer alternative. In particular, people with diabetes will notice nearly identical effects on their insulin levels after consuming jaggery as they experience after consuming white sugar. Overindulging in jaggery will raise fasting insulin levels just as effectively as other types of sugar, so people with diabetes should consult their physician before adding jaggery to their diet.

May Increase Risk of Obesity

Again, jaggery is a slightly more nutritious form of sugar, but it is still sugar. Consuming significant amounts of sugar has been linked to an increased risk of obesity. While sugar has not yet been proven to cause obesity, it is undeniable that consuming significant amounts of added sugar correlates with this medical condition.

Intestinal Discomfort

Jaggery is less processed than most forms of sugar. For most people, it is perfectly safe to eat. However, for some people, this lower processing threshold can cause intestinal problems. Some forms of jaggery—especially homemade jaggery—can carry bacteria and lead to food poisoning. To reduce this risk, the best course of action is to avoid homemade jaggery and only consume jaggery made by commercial manufacturers. 

Healthier Alternatives

If you are simply replacing refined, white sugar in your diet, and not looking to lower your overall sugar intake, then jaggery is a good alternative. However, if you are looking to reduce your overall sugar consumption, then natural, low-calorie sweeteners like stevia may be a better option.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

European Journal of Nutrition: “A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes.”

Food Chemistry: “Cytoprotective and antioxidant activity studies of jaggery sugar.”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Antioxidants.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Obesity, Sugar and Heart Health.”

Journal of Food Processing and Technology: “Review on Recent Advances in Value Addition of Jaggery based Products.”

National Institutes of Health: “Iron.”

Sugar Tech: “Health Effects of Non-Centrifugal Sugar (NCS): A Review.”

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