Exploring Sugar Types: A Comprehensive Guide to Sweeteners and Their Impact on Health

Author: Yean Toh | Published date: January 13, 2024 | Category: Nutrition

Types of sugar

Sugar is commonly used as a sweetener to flavour food and beverages However, it is often favoured and eaten as sweets. We now take a look at the more common forms of sugar that are available today.

White sugar

white sugar is the most highly refined and harmful form of sugar, has been refined becomes a pure chemical. It is pure sucrose, which is made up of two sugar molecules glucose and fructose. has zero vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The nutrients are found in molasses, the substance removed during the sugar refining process.

Even though it is produced from rural foods live sugar cane or sugar bort, white sugar is highly artificial because pure foods do not exist in nature. White sugar is easily digested and has a relatively high glycemic Index (GI) of 70.

  • Chinese rock sugars also white, refeed sugar, except that the crystallisation process is more natural. Rock sugar has some uses in traditional Chinese medicine. But this does not make it a "healthy” sugar for regular consumption.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

HFCS is even more artificial than refined white sugar Due to is low cost, it has become the most widely used form of sugar in food manufacturing, especially in the United States
Many health writers believe that HFCS contributes more to obesity, diabetes and other diseases of metabolic syndrome than even refined white sugar Defenders of HFCS claim that the two products are similar. But there are good reasons in believe that HFCS causes greater harm to the body.

Raw sugar

Raw sugar is also sucrose. It comes in many forms. Some are almost as refined as white sugar-they are just white sugar with a bit of molasses added back. Others are minimally processed. Genuine raw, unrefined sugar is very dark brown in colour. It is lumpy and slightly moist. It is also more flavoursome- and contains more nutrients-than white sugar.

  • Demerara and turbinado sugar are highly processed and close to white sugar;
  • Moscavado and Chinese black sugar are minimally processed;
  • Sucanat and rapadura are dried sugar cane juice with almost zero processing,

There is some controversy over the Gl of the various types of raw sugar. Same lists place their Gl at over 60, which is nearly as high as that of white sugar (GI 70). Other lats tank them much lower, with the Gl of sucanat and rapadura as low as 40.

Palm sugar

Palm sugar is unrefined raw sugar derived from the nectar of coconut, sago and other palm flowers. It is produced and consumed throughout South and Southeast Asia. It consists mainly, but not entirely, of sucrose. Palm sugar is also rich in nutrients and has a rich flavour comparable to that of caramel The best part is that palm sugar has a very low glycemic index of only 35, so its impact on blood glucose is minimal. Again, the genuine version is dark brown, soft and moist. Those that are medium brown, hard and dry have been adulterated with white sugar.


Honey is widely touted as a "health food". Yet the main health benefit is its ability to destroy harmful bacteria when applied externally on wounds. How many people use honey this way?

When consumed, some of this anti-bacterial property is still present and so honey has long been used as a traditional medicine for cough, sore throat and other ailments. Pollen found in unfiltered honey may help people suffering from hay fever allergies. Honey also contains antioxidants that can help prevent degenerative diseases. So yes, honey does have some medicinal properties. But not a lot. 

Unlike regular sugar, honey has a more complex chemical composition. Typically, honey comprises about 38 percent fructose, 31 percent glucose, 7 percent maltose, 1.3 percent sucrose, other complex sugars, plus small amounts of various other substances. Depending on the type, the Gl of honey ranges from 30 to 78. 

The quality, taste and price of honey vary greatly too. In some cases, cheap honey is merely white sugar syrup mixed with honey for flavour. Others may have been heated, filtered and processed in ways that destroy most of the beneficial properties. In general, raw (unheated). unfiltered wild honey is best.

  • Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand and Australia by bees that feed on the nectar of the manuka or tea tree flower. This honey is widely marketed as a health product, with high price tags. However, the main health claim for Manuka honey is again its anti-bacterial property and not much else. The New Zealand-based Waikato Honey Research Unit of the University of Waikato grades Manuka honey according to its anti-bacterial activity and only those with a rating of 10 or higher can be labelled as "active" Manuka honey. However, fake Manuka honey is common.

Honey is, at best, a luxury sweetener valued for its special flavour and for some medicinal use. It is not a "health food" for regular consumption and there are no compelling reasons to pay a high price for honey.

Honey danger: Honey should never be given to young infants below one year old. This is because honey may contain endospores or "seeds" of botulinum, a type of bacteria that produces several toxins. The more developed digestive systems of adults and older children will destroy these endospores, but for young infants, honey may prove toxic.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is a gourmet natural sweetener derived from the sap of maple trees and valued for its special flavour. It consists of mainly sucrose and water, so it is not much different than regular sugar. However, also contains significant amounts of zinc and manganese, along with phytonutrients that could possibly prevent diabetes. Studies are still underway.

Cheap brands of maple syrup are mostly fakes, made from regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup with maple flavouring Pure maple syrup is very costly as it takes between 20 and so litres of maple sap just to produce one litre of maple syrup.

Malt syrup

Malt sugar is sugar derived from sprouted or "malted" grains such as barley and rice. This is traditionally popular among the Chinese but malt syrup is now widely sold in health stores across the world, under names like barley malt or brown rice syrup.
Malt syrup typically contains about 65 percent maltose, which is a disaccharide consisting of two glucose molecules. The rest is made up of complex carbohydrates. Unlike sugar and honey, malt syrup does not contain fructose. In view of the problems associated with fructose, this is an important health advantage.

Maltose itself has a very high GI index of 105- higher than glucose. But because of the presence of other complex carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals, the overall Gl of malt syrup is much lower, usually rated at 40+ or even as low as 25. There is thus some disagreement about whether malt syrup is suitable for people with diabetes. Those who look at the 65 percent content of maltose say diabetics should avoid malt syrup. Those who focus on the overall Gl will recommend it as one of the better sweeteners that will not have a strong impact on blood glucose. 

Malt syrup is only about half as sweet as regular sugar. So a potential danger is that users might add more of it in order to obtain their desired level of sweetness. If used consciously, however, malt syrup can help you get accustomed to a less intense sweet taste.

This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.



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