Alternatives to sugar

The Refining Process…

Sugar is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. When the sugar cane plant is pressed it produces cane juice which contains water, sucrose, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and impurities such as dirt. This juice is filtered to clean out the impurities and then boiled to form syrup. The syrup is then boiled a second time to remove excess water at which point crystals precipitate out of the “mother liquor”. To separate the crystals from the “mother liquor” the mixture is spun at high speeds. The “mother liquor” what we refer to as molasses, is drained off and the raw sugar stays inside the spinner. The raw sugar is then dried. However, Raw sugar cannot be sold as such, because it may contain mould, bacteria, and other impurities, therefore it goes through further refinement in order to be processed into many different types of sugar (eg. table sugar is decolorized to give it a nice “pure” appearance).

What is a Sugar?

Sugars are referred to as simple carbohydrates because they are composed of monosaccharides, the simplest form of carbohydrate which can not be broken down into smaller units. They proved quick energy to the body in a readily digestible form. The most abundant monosaccharide in nature and the most important nutritionally, is glucose. Sucrose, maltose and lactose are considered disaccharides, which are two monosaccharide units joined together. Disaccharides are the most common forms of sugar in our food and the major energy supplying molecules. Polysaccharides are long chains of monosaccharide units that may number in the hundreds or thousands. These sugar chain links provide a sustained and consistent release of energy. Foods that are rich in polysaccharides are referred to as complex carbohydrates (eg. whole grains, bans, vegetables, starches, fruits).

In what form should I eat sugar?

A healthy diet should consist of approx. 60% complex carbohydrates and no more than 10% of simple carbohydrates. However, in today’s world many commercial products contain large amounts of sugar, which is usually refined. Refined sugar is devoid of vitamins and minerals (eg. table sugar) therefore providing “empty calories”. Therefore, check your labels on the foods that you purchase for the % of sugar per serving and also for the form of sugar used, is it refined or not? Please refer to table for a list of alternative sweeteners.


Foods labels that read “low in sugar” contain no more than 2g of sugar per serving. “No added sugar” or “unsweetened” has no sugar added, although it may contain naturally present sugar. “Sugar-free” products contain no more than 0.25g of sugar per 100g and no more than one calorie per 100g.


Sweetener Comments Nutritional Qualities
Amasake Popular Japanese sweetener/beverage, thick liquid made from sweet brown rice
Barbados Molasses Initial “mother liquor” after sugar cane refining process, not a refined as blackstrap molasses Good source of iron, calcium and chromium, small amounts of B vitamins, 40-70% sucrose, lighter and sweeter than blackstrap molasses because it contains more sucrose
Barley Malt Syrup Unrefined, available in liquid or powder High potassium with small amounts of calcium, 77% maltose 15% glucose 7% sucrose
Blackstrap Molasses Final product from sugar refining process No sucrose, rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron (3mg iron/tbsp)
Brown Rice Syrup Unrefined polished brown rice cultured with enzymes to break down the starch, liquid formed is strained off and cooked to form the syrup, useful for those with allergies High potassium with small amounts of calcium, 35% maltose, enters bloodstream slowly
Brown Sugar Less refined than white sugar, no animal products used to refine, color comes from spraying white sugar with molasses or caramel colour Very poor, pure carbohydrate, 96% sucrose
Concentrated Fruit Juices Highly refined fruit becomes concentrated fruit juice therefore lacks nutrients that original fruit had, better to use whole fruit juice Vitamin & mineral content depends on type of fruit used, 31% sucrose 31% fructose 31% glucose,
Corn Syrup Cornstarch chemically purified, remove everything except the starch therefore highly refined Half as sweet as white sugar, therefore more sugar is added to it
Date Sugar Powdered or dried ground dates, does not dissolve well Contains fiber, some B vitamins, still a simple sugar therefore enters bloodstream very quickly
Demerara Whole cane sugar sprayed with molasses Good source of minerals, esp. calcium and potassium
Fructose Naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, however, it is often highly refined from cornstarch, maximum sweetness in cold & acidic food enters bloodstream at a slower rate than white sugar
FruitSource available in liquid or granular form Blend of brown rice and grape juice, enters bloodstream slowly
Honey Raw is unrefined, darker honey has more nutrients Raw honey contains B vitamins, vitamin C, D, and E, trace minerals, pollen, propolis, and small amounts of beeswax, 50% fructose 50% glucose
Maple Syrup Less sweet than sugar or honey, formaldehyde often used in obtaining sap Good source of calcium and magnesium, 66% sucrose with trace minerals, contains complex carbohydrates, grades B & C are higher in nutrients but less sweet
Maple Sugar Crystallized maple syrup
Stevia Native to Paraguay, a small green plant bearing leaves; 30 times sweeter than sugar; regulates blood sugar, therefore good for diabetes and hypoglycemia; inhibits the growth and reproduction of some bacteria and other infectious organisms, including the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease Contain proteins, fibers, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, rutin (a flavionoid), vitamin A, and vitamin C
Sucanat/Whole Cane Sugar Unrefined whole cane sugar, water is removed Good source of minerals, esp. calcium and potassium
Sugar Alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol) Used mostly in low calories, low sugar candies and sweets Absorbed into bloodstream slower than glucose or sucrose, may cause diarrhea if eaten in excess, no nutritional value
Turbinado Less refined than white/brown sugar, no animal products used to refine. Trace of minerals, roughly equivalent to white sugar
Unrefined Cane Juice/Evaporated Cane Juice/Rapadura Dark-brown colour, made by boiling pure cane juice to remove water, in Brazil known as Rapadura, in South & Central America known as Panela, in India known as Gur/Jaggery High in sucrose, contains chromium, enters bloodstream slower than white sugar
White Sugar Highly refined sugar cane, may not be vegetarian (beef bone is used in some refineries) Very poor, pure carbohydrate, 99% sucrose


Sweetener Equivalent to 1 cup sugar (brown or white)


Sweetener Amount Liquid Reduction
Barley malt syrup 1-1 ¼ cup ¼ cup
Brown rice syrup 1-1 1/3 cup ¼ cup
Concentrated fruit juice 1 cup 1/3 cup
Date sugar 2/3 cup None
Dried fruit chopped ½ cup chopped and simmered in 2/3 – 1 cup water, use fruit only , if recipe does not call for liquid use fruit water
Fructose ½ -2/3 cup None
Honey ½-2/3 cup ¼ cup
Maple sugar ½-1/3 cup none
Maple syrup ½-3/4 cup ¼ cup
Molasses ½ cup ¼ cup
Stevia 1 tsp/cup of water 1 cup



Handout on Alternatives to Refined Sugar from Choices Market, Vancouver BC

McLaren, Tannis. Simply Healthy Cookbook. UofT Press Inc. Toronto. 2002.