Brown Sugar for Diabetes: A Blessing or Disguise?

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Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Proper regulation of blood sugar levels is crucial to managing this deadly disease. While most forms of sugar are usually off-limits for individuals with diabetes some like brown sugar, can be consumed in moderation.

Brown sugar is made by mixing white sugar with molasses, giving it a distinct flavour and colour. Unlike white sugar, brown sugar contains small amounts of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron, which may provide some health benefits. However, it is essential to note that brown sugar is still a form of sugar. Therefore, it should be consumed in moderation by individuals with diabetes.

Brown Sugar and Jaggery

People sometimes use these two interchangeably since both are types of unrefined sugar. Still, they are made from different sources and have distinct characteristics. Brown sugar is made by mixing white sugar with molasses. It is generally less sweet than white sugar and has a more subtle flavour. It is popular as a natural sweetener in baking and cooking.

On the other hand, jaggery comes from sugarcane, date or palm trees, sap or juice. It is made by boiling the sap or juice until it crystallises and cooling it to solidify. As a result, it has a dark brown colour and a distinct, earthy flavour that is different from white or brown sugar. It is commonly used as a natural sweetener in India and other parts of South Asia and is also used in Ayurvedic medicine.

The nutritional content of brown sugar and jaggery is similar, but jaggery contains slightly more minerals than brown sugar. However, both should be consumed in moderation by individuals with diabetes or other health conditions requiring sugar intake monitoring.

Brown Sugar vs White Sugar

Brown and white sugar are both prepared from sugar beets or sugar cane, so they are nutritionally similar. However, brown sugar is usually made by adding molasses to refined white sugar, giving it a darker colour and containing small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

The main difference between white sugar and brown sugar is the presence of molasses. Also, this gives brown sugar a unique flavour, colour, and moisture that sets it apart from regular white sugar. Per gram, brown sugar has slightly fewer calories and carbohydrates than white sugar.

Brown sugar has calcium, iron, and potassium. However, the amount of these nutrients in a regular serving is insignificant. Therefore, from a nutritional point of view, there is no benefit to using white sugar over brown sugar and vice versa. 

Both brown and white sugar is made up of sucrose, which can raise blood sugar levels.

Healthify PRO Tip

Brown sugar is not necessarily ‘good’ for diabetes. It is still a form of sugar and should be consumed moderately by individuals with diabetes. However, brown sugar does contain small amounts of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron. Additionally, brown sugar is often used in place of white sugar in recipes to add a richer flavour. Therefore, it can help reduce the overall amount of sugar needed. 

Nutritional Properties of Brown Sugar

According to USDA, the nutritional profile of 100 grams of Brown Sugar are:

Energy: 380 kcalProtein: 0.12 gCarbohydrate: 98.1 gSucrose: 94.6 gGlucose: 1.35 gFructose: 1.11 gCalcium: 83 mgPotassium: 133 mgSodium: 28 mgFolate: 1µg

Glycemic Index of Brown Sugar

According to the Glycemic Index Guide, the GI rating of Brown Sugar is 70; hence it is classified under high GI food. Furthermore, brown sugar’s glycemic load (GL) is also 68.6 and thus is a high-GL food.

The GI value of food ranges from 0 to 100. Those with a GI of 0-55 are considered low GI, those with a GI of 56-69 are medium GI, and those with a GI of 70 or higher are high GI. Low GI foods are less likely to raise blood sugar levels, while high GI foods are more likely to raise blood sugar levels. Many factors can affect the accuracy of GI scores, such as the food processing, the degree of ripeness, and the cooking or preparation method. 

Benefits of Brown Sugar

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is crucial for people with diabetes. Limiting your intake of carbohydrates and foods high in sugar can help control blood sugar levels and minimise the long-term risk of diabetes complications.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that brown sugar is beneficial for diabetes. Brown sugar is still a form of added sugar, and it can raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, focusing on a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, is crucial, rather than relying on any specific food or ingredient for health benefits.

Limited Benefits of Brown Sugar

Energy Booster

Brown sugar is a simple carbohydrate that breaks down into glucose. Therefore, brown sugar can be added to foods when you need a quick energy boost.

Relieves Menstrual Cramps 

Some cultures use brown sugar as a home remedy to relieve menstrual cramps. Adding crushed ginger to boiling water with a teaspoon of brown sugar and tea leaves eases the pain.

Exfoliation

Brown sugar is an excellent physical exfoliant if you want smooth skin. It removes dirt and minor imperfections on the skin.

Adverse Effects of Brown Sugar

Irregular Heartbeat 

Sweet meals increase your heart rate and make you restless. If your blood sugar gets mildly elevated, symptoms such as heart palpitations, increased thirst, and fatigue can be severe. Brown sugar can cause cardiac arrhythmias.

Raises Blood Sugar Levels 

Brown sugar is low in calories. But, it can affect blood sugar levels like white sugar. So, it is harmful to a person with diabetes as well. 

Inflammation 

A bad diet, such as excessive sugar intake, causes inflammation in the muscles and joints of the body. Also, excessive sugar intake stimulates the liver’s production of free fatty acids. When the body digests these fatty acids, it causes inflammation.

Weakening Bone 

Brown sugar increases the chance of osteoporosis and impairs bone formation by inhibiting osteoblast proliferation.

How can brown sugar keep diabetics out of trouble?

Brown sugar contains trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Still, these minerals do not eliminate the risk of illnesses and diseases caused by brown sugar. Therefore, regular consumption of brown sugar is not suitable for people with diabetes. 

You can limit your consumption to 1-2 teaspoons daily. However, people with type 2 diabetes must manage their blood sugar levels healthily. If possible, people with type 2 diabetes should stick to stevia. This natural sugar does not spike blood sugar or harm the body.

The HealthifyMe Note

A balanced diet is crucial to diabetes nutrition. The only time you need to consume sugar is during hypoglycemic episodes, when your body needs to consume calories to raise blood sugar levels.

Good Alternatives to Added Sugar

People diagnosed with diabetes must learn how to manage glucose in the body effectively. Also,  researchers suggest that to avoid the long-term risks and complications of diabetes, it is essential not to consume sugar in any form.

If you are craving sugar or something sweet, it is best to get the natural sugars found in fruits. Since they are not artificially manufactured or processed fruit sugar do not cause spikes and are not harmful. Natural sugars are easily digestible and absorbed slowly by the body, resulting in a low GI value. 

Conclusion

People with diabetes should avoid brown sugar because it is still a form of added sugar and contains a high amount of carbohydrates. Consuming too many carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Therefore, it can harm people with diabetes who must monitor their blood sugar closely. Additionally, brown sugar contains molasses, which may increase the risk of specific health problems for people with diabetes.

Excess sugar also affects insulin sensitivity. When insulin is damaged, it reduces its ability to transport sugar efficiently from the blood to the cells. Therefore, people with diabetes should pay particular attention to their sugar intake.

The Supporting Sources

1. The U S Department of Agriculture

https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168833/nutrients

2. Glycemic Index Guide

https://glycemic-index.net/brown-sugar/

3. National Institute of Health

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/4-steps

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