Is Brown Sugar Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Organic unrefined brown cane sugar.

Is Brown Sugar Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Brown sugar is a popular glucose sugar used in various recipes. Its unique brown color looks similar to that of molasses. Traditionally, brown sugar is an unprocessed sugar with small amounts of natural brown sugar added. Today, it is made by mixing molasses with refined white sugar. Both sugars come from the same beet plant, or sugarcane, and have similar nutritional profiles. However, over the past few years, there has been a debate about whether brown sugar is healthy. In this article, we will discuss the history of brown sugar and whether it is healthy. We will also investigate what science says and take a peek at the nutritional values of brown sugar and how you can incorporate it into your diet.

brown granulated sugar in the wooden bowl, isolated on pure white background
Brown sugar is made by mixing molasses with refined white sugar.


The History of Brown Sugar

Over the past few years, the concept of brown sugar has altered. There used to be two varieties of raw sugar. During the 19th century, processing brown sugar was a common practice; however, the process of making brown sugar needed to contain 70% more white sugar than brown sugar. The first regular brown sugar was called muscovado; today, it is referred to as sticky brown sugar because it contains more molasses than regular brown sugar. This sugar was first milled by refineries in Britain. The second type of brown sugar was known as clayed sugar and was used for family purposes.

To add to that, during the 19th century, the white sugar industry did not have control over brown sugar production. The white sugar industry then created a slanderous attack campaign designed to discredit brown sugar. They used photos of harmless, though unappetizing in appearance, bacteria that naturally occur in brown sugar. By 1900, it was believed by the public that brown sugar contained tiny insects. This led to the false public opinion that brown was unhealthy.

Thankfully, by the 20th century, health food stores were able to sell brown sugar that had been mechanically separated to a purity of 97 percent. Alternatively, brown sugar could also refer to white sugar with added molasses.

Is Brown Sugar Healthy?

According to science, there are no real benefits between white and brown sugar. Brown sugar is a blend of white sugar with added molasses. The only notable consideration is that brown sugar contains slightly higher amounts of minerals such as potassium, calcium, and iron than white sugar because of the added molasses. According to the New York Times even though brown sugar contains these minerals, as mentioned earlier, there is no actual evidence that brown sugar is healthier.

The body needs calcium to sustain strong bones; calcium is stored in the teeth and bones, which gives them hardness and strength. Iron is needed for our bodies to make hemoglobin, which is a protein in the red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to parts of the body. It also helps the body create myoglobin, which runs oxygen to the muscles. Furthermore, iron is needed so the body can produce hormones.

Potassium is found in many foods. It is also known as an electrolyte and contains tiny electric currents that trigger the nerve and different cell functions within the body. All tissues in the body need potassium to function, and bananas are a high source of potassium. A 100g banana contains 358mg of potassium, which is 11% of the daily recommended allowance.

Homemade Thanksgiving Candied Yams with Brown Sugar
Yams with a brown sugar glaze is a perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Different Types of Brown Sugar and How To Use Each One

Did you know that there are four different types of brown sugar? These sugars can be used in different ways to suit your culinary needs. Let's take a look at the different types of brown sugars and how to utilize them in your kitchen.

Dark and Light Brown Sugars

  • Brown sugar causes lumping because it contains more moisture than white sugar, allowing baked foods to hold more moisture and give them a chewy, sugary effect.
  • Brown sugar can be made by combining white sugar with molasses.
  • Light brown sugar is most commonly used when making sauces and baked foods.
  • Dark brown sugar is perfect for making sauces, caramel apple cake, champagne vinaigrette, and peanut butter blossoms.
  • Keep in mind that a recipe that calls for brown sugar typically refers to using light brown sugar. This is because there is a moisture difference between the two, and dark brown sugar will have a rich caramel flavor.
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Variety of homemade sauces and salad dressings in jars including vinaigrette, ranch and honey mustard

Champagne and Brown Sugar Vinaigrette

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  • Author: Kay Keene
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 3/4 cup 1x


This light brown sugar dressing is perfect for salads and veggies.


  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


  1. Whisk all the ingredients together until well combined, except for the olive oil.
  2. Next, slowly whisk in the olive oil until well-mixed.
  3. Drizzle over grilled vegetables or a fresh green salad.

Turbinado Sugar

  • Turbinado sugar is known as raw cane sugar or demerara sugar. Turbinado sugar is processed just enough to make it safe for consumption.
  • The crystals are larger in size and lighter in color when compared to brown sugars that are often used in baking.
  • Turbinado sugar is perfect for orange cranberry scones, green chili ribs, and bacon peanut butter cookies.
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Grilled spare ribs on plate over black stone background. Tasty bbq meat. Top view, flat lay

Green Chili Ribs

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  • Author: Kay Keene
  • Total Time: 7 hours
  • Yield: 10 1x


Green chili ribs are the perfect dish for any occasion, and your guests will want to come back for more. Try roasting them on your Traeger grill or green egg. 


  • 1/2 bunch of washed cilantro
  • 4 racks of peeled St. Louis-style ribs
  • 16 oz of chopped hatch green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon achiote powder
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño
  • 1 small finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coffee
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powdered pepper


  1. First, remove the membrane from the ribs and place them on a cutting board. Rub the meat generously with a dry rub.
  2. Set your smoker to 225–230°F and smoke the ribs bone side down for 6-7 hours or until your desired tenderness.
  3. In a saucepan, add the oil, garlic, onion, and jalapeño and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the cumin and cook for another 5 minutes. Put all of the ingredients except the cilantro in a blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Once cooled, add the cilantro and blend for a further 3 minutes
  5. During the last hour, brush the ribs with green chili sauce on both sides.
  6. Allow the ribs to rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve and enjoy!!
  • Cook Time: 7 hours


  • Calories: 100

Muscovado Sugar

  • Muscovado sugar is a type of sugar also known as Barbados sugar and still contains molasses.
  • It is somewhat stickier and a little bit rougher than regular brown sugar and has a stronger molasses flavor.

Free-Flowing Brown Sugar

  • Free-flowing brown sugar is not as clammy as regular brown sugar thus giving it a free-flowing texture like white sugar.
  • This type of sugar goes through a unique process that reduces the moisture allowing it to be a perfect topping for oatmeal.

Nutritional Values of Brown Sugar

In our next section, we will take a look at the nutritional values of 1 teaspoon (3g) of each type of brown sugar according to Nutritionix. These nutritional values are based on a 2000-calorie-per-day diet. As you can see in the chart below Turbinado sugar contains the most calories, carbohydrates, and sugars. Other the other hand dark and light brown sugar contain the most calcium.

Nutritional InformationDark Brown SugarLight Brown SugarTurbinado SugarMuscovado SugarFree-Flowing Brown Sugar
Total Fat0g0g0g0g0g
Saturated Fat 0g0g0g0g0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g0g0g0g0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g0g0g0g0g
Cholesterol 0g0g0g0g0g
Sodium 0.8mg0.8mg0.1mg4mg0mg
Total Carbohydrates 2.9g2.9g4.6g4g4g
Dietary Fiber 0g0g0g0g0g
Sugars 2.9g2.9g4.6g4g4g
Vitamin D 0mcg0mcg0mcg0mcg0mcg
Calcium 2.5mg2.5mg0.6mg0mg0mg
Iron 0mg0mg0mg0mg0mg
Potassium 4mg4mg1.3mg0mg0mg


Finally, brown sugar is dark in color due to the added molasses it offers a few more minerals than white sugar and is also high in calories. However, brown sugar can still be enjoyed when consumed in moderation. It is important to remember that large amounts of any type of sugar can contribute to weight gain and tooth decay.  Where possible opt for healthier sugar alternatives like dates, honey, or stevia.

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