Refined Sugar: Not So “Refined”

Refined Sugar

We’re starting to notice a developing trend away from refined sugar and towards natural sweeteners. There is a growing awareness that refined sugar has virtually no nutritional value, while excess consumption may have serious negative consequences to our health. Fortunately, food manufacturers (and consumers!) can leverage this growing trend and incorporate natural sweeteners in their applications as an alternative to refined sugar. An array of natural sweeteners are now available such as agave and yacon syrups, coconut sugars and other palm sugars. The appropriate sweetener probably depends on the specific application.

For example, here is how search volume has been trending for palm sugar, a natural sweetener, over the past few years:

palm sugar search volume

Refined sugar comes almost exlcusively from sugar cane and sugar beets. These plants contain juices from which sugar crystals, syrups and molasses are made. It’s worth noting that raw sugar cane juice is actually fairly good for you and has a relatively low glycemic index. Refinement is the process of extracting the sucrose from these plant materials while removing unwanted materials from the raw sugar, such as plant fibers and soil.

Refinement consists of a repeated process of washing, boiling, centrifuging, filtering and drying. More Than Sugar describes the process:

After harvesting the sugar cane, machines are used to wash, cut, and press the juice out of the cane stalks. This liquid is then heated to boiling and treated with chemical solvents to remove impurities. Then it is moved to huge tanks and heated again to evaporate the water content. This leaves a thick syrup that is placed in a centrifuge machine to form the syrup into crystals…These crystals are then transported to a sugar refinery where they are heated to boiling again, treated with bleach and other chemicals and then filtered through bone char, which is a powder made from cow or pig bones. After filtering, the syrup is then centrifuged again to produce refined white sugar. Brown sugar is created by adding molasses before putting it in the centrifuge.

Table sugar is sucrose in its completely refined stage. “Pure” sugar refers to chemical purity, not to a nutritionally beneficial quality. In fact, pure sugar is virtually void of all nutritional elements such as vitamins, minerals, proteins or fibers.

It is felt that the consumption of excess sugar is linked to the improper functioning of the liver. Some simply call refined sugar dangerous. According to the Refined Sugar blog:

In addition, most people consume far more sugar than their bodies can possibly use for energy. When this happens, the liver converts the extra sugar into molecules called triglycerides and stores it as fat, or else produces cholesterol from the by-products of sugar and deposits it in veins and arteries. Sugar is thus a major factor in obesity and arteriosclerosis…It also negatively effects behavior. Refined sugar consumption has been linked to violent behavior, hypertension, and learning impediments.

If you are a food or nutraceutical manfacturer and you’d like to talk about the use of natural sweeteners in your applications, please contact us. We’d be happy to discuss any specific application you have in mind. Consumers can purchase natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, yacon syrup and agave syrup from many online retailers, and a growing number of traditional food stores.

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Photo Credit: Lauri Andler. Licensed under the GFDL.

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