which sugars are okay to eat?

We all know sugar is not good for us. I mean, come on, we’ve known that since we were 6 and we hid fizzy pops under our least favourite teddy so mum wouldn’t find them. The thing we’re dealing with today is that there are many types of sugars available in many things, much of it hidden. And so it’s wise to get our heads around which sugars are worse than others. 

by cakespy

It’s wise to:

  • know how much sugar you’re eating. Like I said, it is often hidden in foods you wouldn’t expect it to make an appearance in.
  • quit sugar, so you can overcome any addiction to it and be in control when you’re eating it.
  • know which sugars are okay to eat, and which you should avoid like a kiss from a wiry alpaca.

I’ve written about hidden sugars in detail before here. And I’ve written about quitting sugar in much detail before here
, here and here (for my entire series click here). Today, a bit of a 101 on the types of sugars we see today and what to do with them.

Before we get into it though, I must say this. Fructose has been highlighted as the culprit in terms of the ill-effects of sugar. This is totally true – our bodies can’t process large amounts of fructose (unless it’s in fruit – up to 2 pieces a day please) and this leads to accumulation of internal fat and associated health problems. But even sugars with no fructose, and therefore only variously bonded chains of glucose, should be treated with care. Sugars are sugars are sugars and whilst some are better for you than others, they are something to indulge in small little tiny amounts only.

Ones to Avoid
White sugar (aka sucrose)
White sugar is highly refined cane or beet sugar. It’s 50:50 glucose and fructose and is a simple carbohydrate, meaning it produces spikes in your blood glucose levels and gives you the sugar high and corresponding low we hate. The fructose part gives you a plethora of health problems too, which I’ve covered off before here.  Not to mention it is HIGHLY addictive. It has diddly squat vitamins or minerals and is loaded with calories.

Brown sugar Don’t be fooled folks, brown sugar is just white sugar with the molasses put back into it (molasses is extracted during the refining process that produces white sugar). Brown sugar is no healthier than white sugar and creates the same health problems and sugar highs and lows.

Demerara sugar, Rapadura, Muscovado and all that jazz These are made by extracting the juice from sugar cane and then heating or dehydrating it until it is turned into crystals. They are better in terms of vitamin and mineral content than regular brown sugar, but still contain 50:50 glucose and fructose and thus come with all the same problems. Muscovado, evaporated cane sugar or rapadura undergo less processing than demerara but contain just as much fructose.

Fruit juice concentrate  This is fruit juice that’s been refined and stripped of flavour and nutritional value. It’s high in fructose and therefore comes with the same truckload of problems as white sugar and should be avoided.

Agave nectar Agave nectar is the juice extracted from agave, which is the same plant they make tequila from. It is sweeter than cane sugar and is absorbed more slowly, but many brands can contain up to 90% fructose so you need to be very careful if you’re going down that path.

I’m cautious of...

Sugar alcohols

These are sugars like Erythritol, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol and Xylitol. These are found everywhere these days, in chewing gum (which is basically plastic and should be avoided anyway), mints, diet soft drinks... Many people think they are OK. But I don’t like ‘em. They are not whole foods. They’ve been extracted from an extract of a plant once upon a time, very far removed from their original forms. When they are eaten in large-ish amounts they cause gastro problems like bloating and DIARROHEA. They do this because they draw water into the large intenstines. They can also cause weight gain and can increase blood sugars.

Coconut sugar 
Coconut sugar is the boiled-down sap of the coconut palm tree. It's been touted as the more sustainable sugar. It is more nutritious than cane sugar. It contains inulin (fibre) so the glucose and fructose in it are absorbed more slowly than cane sugar. But it contains pretty much just as much fructose, so, you know.

Palm sugar  Palm sugar is extracted from the sap of date palm trees and sometimes coconut palm trees. It’s very similar to coconut sugar in that it is also absorbed more slowly than cane sugar but it’s also high in fructose so best avoided when possible, in large amounts anyway.

Maple syrup  Maple syrup is made by boiling the sap of sugar maple trees. It’s less refined than white sugar and although it is slightly more nutritious it is around 65% sucrose, so still high in fructose and should be used in moderation only.

I use a combo of these - but they're still sugar, so in moderation only!

Honey  I’m a big fan of raw honey. Processed honey, the kind you buy in squiggey tubes at the supermarket is an absolute no-go but unprocessed, unheated raw honey is tops, in moderation. I’ve written about why in detail before, here. I  use it raw mostly.

Date sugar  Date sugar is just ground dehydrated dates and so contains all the vitamins, minerals and fibre found in the fruit. It’s rich in nutrients and is metabolised more slowly than cane sugar. You can read what nutritionist Angela Gioffre thinks about it here. It still contains much fructose though. So it’s best we don’t get carried away with it. It has all the pitfalls of dried fruit – yes they are full of fibre but their sugar content is highly concentrated so you can easily go overboard. It's a good option for baking.

Brown rice (malt) syrup Brown rice syrup is made by boiling cooked brown rice, which has been fermented by adding enzymes to turn the starches in the rice into sugars. The sugar in brown rice syrup is complex, mainly maltose (two molecules of glucose bound together) not simple like in cane sugar, so it takes longer to digest and does not create the sugar high that simple sugars do. However, it’s still a sugar and needs to be treated like one, so best used only in moderation. Good for baking and raw.

Stevia Stevia comes from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana, because I know you were wondering. It’s a natural sugar alternative that is claimed to actually help regulate blood glucose levels and lower blood pressure. It’s been around for centuries, used originally by the Paraguayan Indians before colonisation by those darn Spaniards. It’s super super sweet, much sweeter than cane sugar – 300 times sweeter in fact – and so only a tiny amount needs to be used. I like the powdered stevia leaf variety best, or you can buy a seedling and grow some at home, drying the leaf or extracting it as a liquid instead, like this. And so you know, it’s not recommended during pregnancy and if you have diabetes you need to monitor you blood glucose levels as it could affect medication. Click here for more details on that. Good for baking and raw.


  1. Hi Maria,
    Love your blog. I've noticed lately that a lot of healthy options for baking are using medjool dates and processing them. Is this better, or in the end is it still a lot of sugar, just disguised? some recipes will use 2 cups of dates for example.

    1. Hi Judy, 2 cups is overboard! Dates are dried fruit and dried fruit contain a lot of sugar. They are nutritious but need to be treated like a sugar. Blended dates are basically like using date sugar (which is not really a 'sugar', but blended dates!). I use them but only use a few, as in 2 or 3, in cooking. They are so sweet anyway!

  2. Hi! What's your opinion on molasses (like unrefined blackstrap molasses)?
    Thank you!

    1. Molasses is actually lower in fructose than regular sugar and is said to contain some minerals, but it's not a whole food like the other safe sweeteners so in large amounts would affect your body like sugar does. In reality it'd be okay in small amounts but I wouldn't make it a regular cooking sweetener.

  3. Great article. I try to avoid any form of processed sugar and when I do eat it I use extreme moderation. Fruit puree has been my go to sweetener for baked goods these days. It can certainly be hard though, sugar is addictive!


  4. Do you categorise raw sugar in with the rapadura and others category?

  5. Sugar Industry - Sugar Technology International Texas USA. Sugar industry, incredibly, insists that once you look at the research, no expert says that sugar leads to any disease

    sugar industry



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