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Is Raw Sugar Better for You?

A nutritionist weighs in on the 'healthiest' types

Sugar has long been maligned, but artificial substitutes also have their downsides. “Aspartame is on the EPA’s list of potential carcinogens and I would recommend avoiding it whenever possible,” says Brian St. Pierre, RD, a fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition. And for athletes wondering if the raw variety is any better, the short answer is not really. 

While raw cane sugar, also called turbinado sugar, retains traces of molasses (so it does contain potassium and iron) these minerals occur in such tiny amounts that wouldn’t provide any health benefit unless you consumed several cups of raw sugar (which isn’t a good strategy).

Because it’s processed in a more “natural” way, coconut sugar, or coconut palm sugar, is often also considered a raw sugar, too. It’s made from coconut palm sap that’s boiled or heated, and then stripped of moisture. One of its selling points is that it supposedly falls lower on the glycemic index, a relative ranking of how carbs impact blood sugar. But there’s little scientific evidence to back that up and it likely wouldn’t factor in unless you have diabetes, says St. Pierre.

From a health perspective, one type of sugar isn’t necessarily ‘better’ than another. It’s the amount of sugar you consume that matters rather than the type, St. Pierre says. In general, he recommends keeping it down to no more than 5 to 10 percent of your daily calories, but notes that other factors play a role such as your size, your goals, and your activity level. “If you want to be moderately fit (say 15 percent body fat for a man, 23 to 25 percent for a woman) then you can eat a little more sugar. If you want a six-pack, you’re going to need to consume less.”