Is Brown Sugar Healthier Than White Sugar?

Brown bread has way more fiber than white bread. Brown rice is more nutritious than white. Based on these rules of thumb, you might let your brain slip into the assumption that with sugar, it's the same deal. But is brown sugar really any healthier than plain white?

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To put it shortly: no. Brown sugar and white sugar are (nutritionally) nearly identical. A teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of white sugar both have approximately 15 calories. Both contain approximately 4 grams of sugar. Finally, virtually all of the calories in brown and white sugar come from simple carbohydrates.

"Most added sugars are essentially the same, and should always be looked at as sugar," says Dana Harrison, MS, a nutritionist and educator who operates Eats 2 Know, LLC. "The body doesn't discriminate much here when digesting white versus brown sugar. Instead of focusing on which sugars are 'healthier' than others, it's more important to understand how they fit within your diet and lifestyle and how they impact our health."

So what is the difference between white sugar and brown sugar? It's all chemical. White sugar is sugar that's been refined into white crystals of 99.9 percent sucrose. Brown sugar, Harrison explains, is basically just white sugar with the addition of molasses to provide a deeper flavor profile. As a result, brown sugar does contain nutrients from molasses such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium, while plain white sugar does not. But these nutrients exist in such trace amounts that the difference is basically negligible.

There may also be some misunderstanding about light brown sugar versus dark brown sugar. "Light" here does not refer to "light on calories" or "light" in any dietary sense of the word. The distinction comes from the amount of molasses each sugar contains. Light brown sugar contains around 3.5 percent molasses and dark brown sugar contains 6.5 percent. Regardless, the body processes these sugars the same.

While these two sugars are nutritionally almost identical, their tastes can vary quite a bit. A cookie made with brown sugar is going to have a deeper, more syrupy flavor than a cookie made with white. That, alongside these other tips and tricks, is one of the things every amateur baker should know.