The one job that all sugars do, irrespective of the processing they have undergone, is to provide the body with glucose, which the body converts to energy. Having said that, there is one essential difference between natural sugars and processed sugars—natural sugars, derived without chemical processing, retain other nutrients such as trace minerals and vitamins whereas processed sugar does not have any nutritional value. Therefore, the manner in which the body derives glucose from the sugars we consume is what distinguishes the bad sugar from the not-so-bad sugars.
Here’s a look at some of unprocessed, natural sugars and how they can make a difference in our everyday diets:
- Sugarcane Jaggery: Organic sugarcane jaggery is manufactured by simply reducing freshly squeezed sugarcane juice until it forms a thick mass. The procedure does not involve the addition of any chemicals (beware of adulterated jaggery, which contains bleaches to give it a lighter hue) and therefore, retains the potassium, iron, and magnesium that the sugarcane contains. Consumption of jaggery is known to regularize body temperature and purify the blood. Use sugarcane jaggery to make home-style chikkis and brittles or to sweeten your kheers in place of sugar.
- Liquid jaggery: Liquid jaggery is made from sugarcane juice in the same way the sugarcane jaggery is made, but is in liquid form because it has not been reduced as much, in comparison. This helps preserve the minerals in the sugarcane juice and makes it easier for the body to absorb the fructose, making it an ideal choice for young children or convalescents. Use liquid jaggery much like you would use maple surup—to flavor smoothies, drizzle over pancakes or in baking.
- Palm jaggery: Palm jaggery is made by reducing the sap of any palm tree such as coconut or date until it becomes a solid mass. In India, the most common kind of palm jaggery is found in Bengal, where the nolen gur is prized for its deep, chocolate-like flavor. It is used extensively in the preparation of traditional desserts.
- Coconut sugar: Like palm jaggery, coconut sugar is derived from the cap of cut flowers of the coconut palm. The procedure is similar, but coconut sugar is most commonly available in crystalline form. There has been some debate on the glycemic index of coconut sugar, with some claiming that is diabetic-friendly, but there is new evidence suggesting that this may not be the case. Having said that, the fact that a naturally derived sugar such as coconut sugar is free from chemicals and retains the vitamins and minerals naturally present in the source, still holds true. Coconut sugar imparts a beautiful, nutty aroma to baked goods—try using it in cookies with sweet spices such as cinnamon and cardamom or stir it in a cup of strong filter coffee!