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Raw Sugar vs. Refined Sugar

Updated on September 10, 2010

Do you use Refined or Unrefined Sugar?

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Due to this nation's recent interest in personal health, it's important to understand the difference between brown sugar, refined white sugar, and unrefined (or "raw") sugar.  Many grocery stores these days sell all 3 variations and even though they're different, they are all very similar.

The Process

Raw Sugar

To begin with, it's important to note that "unrefined sugar" is actually a misleading term.  It is still refined, but only to put it in a crystallized form.  The sugar that is extracted from the sugar cain or the sugar beet must still be washed, boiled, filtered, and pressed for it to be crystalline and usable by consumers.  The product is still brown in color.

Refined sugar

This is the most common sugar you will see in stores.  The sugar is still derived from sugar canes or sugar beets, which won't change.  The refined sugar is achieved by removing the sucrose from the plant before it is cleaned and the impurities are removed from the product.  Things like mold, soil, bacteria, stalk fibers, and wax can all be left over until this point.  Carbon dioxide or phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide are then used to bleach the product and get it to the lusterous white that we are accustomed to.  In order to be considered table sugar, it has to be processed one more time.  It is filtered in a liquid state through "beef bone char".  From beginning to end, the product has changed considerably.  The sugar that was initially brown in color is now white.  Finally, many people refer to refined sugar as "empty calories", as there is absolutely no nutritional value to the product.  None.

Refined Brown Sugar

Our common brown sugar goes through the exact same process as refined sugar, but along the way, molasses is added to give it the brown color and a little additional sweetness.

From top left, clockwise: white sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, rapadura sugar. Photo by Romain Behar | Wikimedia.
From top left, clockwise: white sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, rapadura sugar. Photo by Romain Behar | Wikimedia.


It would be ridiculous to choose refined sugar over raw sugar given the option.  Raw sugar has a minimal 11 calories per teaspoon and remains the natural vitamins and minerals that are in the sugar cane juice.  Refined sugar lacks out on phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.  Also, during the process of refining table sugar, there are various chemicals that are used that could potentially be passed to person ingesting the food.

When you are in the store, be sure to check the labels of the sugar you are purchasing.  Although raw sugar and brown sugar both have molasses, the brown sugar was added during the refining process and is not the natural presence.  They are very similar in color, and it can be difficult to tell without looking at the label.

The use of sugar should be done sparingly.  There are too many studies noting that sugar is the cause of Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, and Tooth Decay.  Be sure to take an investment in your health and to use it sparingly. 


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    • profile image

      Tester 2 years ago

      Sugar cane, please fix that.

    • Mayashappyplace profile image

      Maya Marcotte 3 years ago from NY

      Good explanation on the differences between sugars! I'm a stevia user as well and find that sugar lowers my immune system and too much makes me very tired. Awesome hub.

    • profile image

      Lironah 5 years ago

      I have chronic fatigue, and raw cane sugar and raw honey are the only sweeteners which don't make me sick (though I haven't tried stevia yet). In fact, switching to raw sugar, organic corn, and cutting out refined grains and all GMO contaminated ingredients (soy, cottonseed, canola, corn) has improved my health greatly. Now if only I had a source for grass-fed dairy products, maybe I could get completely better...

    • Alessandria profile image

      Alessandria 5 years ago from California

      I enjoyed this hub as well! Just made a hub about the reasons I stopped eating refined sugar :)

    • profile image

      PWalker281 7 years ago

      Another informative hub! I always thought brown sugar was better than white sugar until I learned how it is made.

      I stopped using sugar altogether as an additive (what I call "main-lining" because white sugar, according to Andrew Weil, is as addictive as heroin) several years ago when I found out about stevia. I've used it in its original plant form as well as the processed form. Not only are there few to no calories, my understanding is the diabetics can use it because it's not sugar (although, diabetics, please don't take my word for it and check with your doctor first).

      Anyway, I enjoyed the hub.