Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar: Which One Is Better for You?

Both are super if you have a sweet tooth...but which one is better for your health?

Cane and white sugar in a porcelain bowl, top view, selective focus5PH/Shutterstock

Keeping yourself healthy means asking questions and making good choices: Is coffee better for you than tea? Are carbs good for you? And most importantly…is brown sugar better than white sugar? Some people seem to have it in their heads that brown sugar is better for your health. “People tell me all the time they put four teaspoons of brown sugar in their coffee instead of white sugar, so it’s OK,” says Brooklyn-based dietitian Shira Sussi MS, RDN, CDN. The reality is that practice… is not OK. In fact, it’s no different than putting four teaspoons of white sugar in your coffee.

There are two types of brown sugar, according to Sussi: factory or natural brown sugar, which maintains the natural cane juice, or refinery brown sugar, which is white sugar coated with a thin film of syrup or molasses. All have different percentages of sucrose, glucose, fructose, minerals, and water. Their flavors and textures may be slightly different. Sussi says the darker the sugar is, the stronger the flavor. But they’re all practically the same when it comes to how they affect your health—just take a look at all of these things that sugar does to your body.

“When it comes to comparing white and brown sugar, the two are almost identical nutrition-wise,” says Alida Iacobellis, MHSc, RD, owner, of ALIVE Nutrition Solutions.White sugar is slightly more processed seeing as it has the molasses completely stripped out of it, whereas brown sugar is the result of stopping the production process a bit early while a tiny amount of molasses remains. What you end up with is a deeper flavor and color with brown sugar.”

Iacobellis says less processing means brown sugar does contain trace amounts of minerals like calcium and potassium whereas white sugar is pure sucrose with no vitamins or minerals. The natural juice retained in natural brown sugar also means it’s more flavorful, allowing you to maybe use less says Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDE, CSOWM, dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Hailey Crean Nutrition. But that doesn’t mean you should be bulking up on brown sugar –– Crean recommends sticking with the U.S. Dietary Guideline’s recommendation of no more than 50 grams of sugar a day, no matter what kind you use. Need some help curbing your sugar intake? Make some of these easy, healthy food swaps to cut down on the amount of sugar you’re consuming.

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Erin Kayata joined Reader’s Digest as an assistant staff writer in March 2019, coming from the Stamford Advocate where she covered education. Prior to this, she was part of a two-year Hearst fellowship program where she covered crime and education in suburban Connecticut. She graduated from Emerson College and spent part of her undergraduate career writing for the Boston Globe. When she’s not writing articles about useful facts and pop culture, you can find Erin enjoying the local theater scene and working toward her goal of reading 50 books a year.