Saturday, August 16, 2008

Evaporated Cane Juice vs. Sugar, Part II

As I noted in this post, I was skeptical about the differences between Evaporated Cane Juice and regular table sugar. As I found, the difference is negligible, and the price would not seem to justify the small amount of nutrients that might be found in Cane Juice. I found an article that examines the issue a bit more, this time examining the health ramifications of simple carbohydrates.

First, the author lists the plethora of alternate names that "sugar" has picked up in the health food aisle:

Perhaps because it sounds like it fits in with a New Age mentality, a lot of manufacturers are using the word "crystals" in describing their sweetening agents nowadays. But sugar they are. To list just a few, there are: cane juice crystals, dehydrated cane juice crystals, unrefined cane juice crystals, raw cane crystals, washed cane juice crystals, Florida crystals (a trademarked name), unbleached evaporated sugar cane juice crystals, crystallized cane juice, and unbleached crystallized evaporated cane juice. There are also products with such names as organic dehydrated cane juice, unbleached sugar cane, evaporated cane juice, and evaporated cane juice sugar.
There are many supposed benefits to these products that have been processed less; and organic products are most likely better for the environment. But since these products are chemically equivalent to sugar, how will they affect your health? The first expert to weigh in, a nutritionist, laments that folks should not think these products are a healthy substitute for sugar:

VanDien's assessment of sweeteners is pretty rigorous. She thinks virtually every commonly used sweetener is as bad as sugar when it makes up a significant part of the diet, as it does for too many Americans.

"Whether you're talking about cane sugar, honey, barley malt or Sucanat (a tradenamed product), they're all primarily simple sugars, simple carbohydrates," VanDien explains. "People should be concerned that, if they're eating 150 pounds of sugar a year and you change that to 150 pounds of barley malt, you'll have the same problems with your immune system and blood sugar levels you would have if you are eating the sugar."

The second expert, with a PhD in nutrition, agrees:
"It's a question of economics," says Fuchs. "Health food stores and manufacturers are capturing dollars from products that are not necessarily the best quality or the healthiest. Some of the companies that use things such as evaporated cane juice say they've studied it and find that people metabolize their sugars more slowly than refined sugar. But I find people who have the same problems with evaporated cane juice as they do with regular sugar. And I deal with people all over the country. I find that people who react to sucrose, or refined sugar, are reacting in the same way to evaporated cane juice," says Fuchs.
She does feel that some sweeteners are superior to sugar, however:
Fuchs does feel that some alternative sweeteners are clearly better than sugar, or the so-called lesser refined sugars. "Sugar is 93 percent sucrose. That's different than barley malt, which is maltose and glucose, and different than maple syrup, or fruit juice concentrate. You can't say those are the same things as sugar when their chemical compositions are different."
The main point I gleaned from the article, is that while there is no really 'healthy' substitute for simple sweeteners, a little will not kill you.
But while VanDien faults sugar for not being "nutrient dense," she also says that "almost anything, in moderation, is not bad. I think balance and moderation are the key words.
However, since most Americans eat very large quantities, they could kill you. In the words of St. Augustine, "To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation."

Other Sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part I
Where to Buy
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
Alternative Sugar Names
A Look at Agave


Lonely Paul said...


Chief said...

Hello, paul

My Year Without said...

wow, i really appreciate your research. as someone who has been researching sugar and sugar alternatives since the new year's, i find your information interesting and informative. i've had to pass over many so called "healthy" products at the health food stores, because i'm convinced that all those fancy words for sugar does not equal a healthier product. having abstained from white refined sugar (and ALL forms of sucrose, including corn syrups) i have been experimenting with what i have thought were healthier alternatives, at least more natural alternatives....but now i question the honeys, the molasses, the brown rice syrups that i am still using. it seems like they may not be "healthy" alternatives after all......? i am still in research about this, but the one thing in my research that i find the most interesting, is that white refined sugar has almost the exact same molecular make-up as cocaine!!
anyway, awesome research, and i look forward to perusing more of your blog. :)

Winston Smith said...

"[W]hite refined sugar has almost the exact same molecular make-up as cocaine!!"

...This explains the ups and downs of my life. :-D

Chief said...

Thanks for the comment 'my year without'. I cannot take credit for too much 'real' research, but I do like to look for answers to questions that come up.

Re: The similarites of the chemical compositions of sucrose and cocaine.

I am not a chemist, but a small change in a chemical formula greatly changes the chemical properties of said substance. As an example, adding just one Hydrogen atom to water makes Hydrogen Peroxide.

Sucrose: C12H22O11
Cocaine: C17H21NO4

Perhaps someone with a background in chemistry can shed some light on the issue.

Thanks again for the visit...

Dave said...

@my year without, Most of our world is made of C, H, O and N and other atoms - cocaine, sugar, DNA, RNA, etc. You shouldn't fear something until you understand it.

Chief said...

Dave thanks for the comment. I totally agree. And I'd like to amend my more oxygen atom will make Hydrogen Peroxide, H2O2.

Gregory Scott said...

I can't speak to the glycemic affect of these sugar alternatives, as I have no health issues in that department.

What I *can* say is that my lady, who gets terrible acne if she eats even a small bit of something made with refined white sugar, suffers no such skin problems if she eats a generous hunk of food made with evaporated cane juice. Clearly, for her body, the two substances are not remotely the same.

As for me, I feel no intense cravings for the alternatives the way I do for sugar. They do not have the same addictive qualities, and I'm grateful for that.

IMO, this article contains little in the way of substance. The two referenced people say "I think" and "I feel" but there is no science behind their words, simply gut intuitions and personal experiences.

I'm all in favor of making choices using those as benchmarks, and I encourage everyone reading this article to do the same. IOW, try these foods for yourself, and pay close attention to how your body reacts, to how you feel and think and look. Your body will let you know what is likes and what it doesn't.

Chief said...

Good point Gregory. As highlighted in Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, current scientific knowledge is far from complete in the arena of nutrition and food science. As a rule of thumb it is probably best to eat less processed food, if possible. There are many complex interactions between our bodies and the food we eat...and everyone is a bit different. It is good advice to do what is best for your own body.

Connie S said...

In saying
"The main point I gleaned from the article, is that while there is no really 'healthy' substitute for simple sweeteners"
you really missed an important point. Nutritionist VanDien did make the statement
"Stevia might be a good substitute. It's non-caloric."
Being the article was from 1997 and there wasnt as much stevia product available then, they didnt dwell on it. However, in 2008 thats unacceptable. There are various versions of stevia-derived sweeteners right on the regular grocery shelf, in the sugar aisle even, as various companies have declared that is GRAS-stats, since the FDA has been unwilling to do so (obviously influenced by monetary reasons.) Stevia is a natural product- a plant, and some preparations of the sweetening agents in the leaves are less refined than others, but it is not only calorie free, but does not affect blood sugar level, and in fact has no negative nutritional effects whatsoever, and is even heat stable. Its is literally, the world's perfect sweetener.

Any commentary debating sugar alternatives is grossly lacking when stevia is not mentioned and even recommended, since it has all pros and no cons.
That does your readers a great disservice.

Chief said...

Thanks for the comment Connie, you seem to be a real proponent of stevia. I admit I have little knowledge of it. It certainly appears to have many good qualities, and I would recommend my readers research it as well. Saying it is perfect when the FDA and EU have found it unsafe, however, sounds like a bit of a stretch.

Barb D. said...

I just tried Stevia and found it very bitter. I can't use it, unfortunately, if it really isn't sweet. I'm disappointed. And all the other sugar substitutes give me headaches, diarrhea, heart palpitations, etc. I will probably just stick to regular sugar, but only use very little of it.

Chief said...

Thanks for the comment, Barb. I just saw a commercial the other night for Truvia, which is Rebiana (Reb-A), a product derived from stevia. It is produced by Coca-cola and there is a competitor from Pepsi (PureVia, I believe). I have no desire to try it, but it seems that stevia products are becoming available in the US.

Connie S said...

Shortly after I posted that, (see ) the FDA finally decided to declare that at least, the Rebaudioside A extract of stevia is safe to use. That's why you're seeing all these new stevia products/packets available. The thing you need to know about stevia is that it can be whole leaf, or made from one or more extracts from the leaves. The RebA is the extract that people usually note the aftertaste with. The Coca-cola/Cargill product Truvia uses a "natural flavor" to cover that aftertaste, which some experts believe is lemon. (I have added lemon myself to pure stevia extracts and it does work). They also use erythritol (a sugar alcohol) as a filler.

You can't say you've tried "stevia" based on trying one version alone- because they just aren't all alike. It's like saying you've tried tea or coffee based on one cup alone. Those can be flavored, unflavored, sweetened or unsweetened or made with different beans or leaves, caffeine or decaf or naturally decaf. There isn't just one "coffee" or "tea" any more than there's just one "stevia"- the closest would be grinding up the whole plant/leaves, which is available, but very few people use. If you dislike the flavor of one stevia product, try another- there are many different blends available of the different "steviosides" (extracts) which impart different flavors, and which use different processing techniques (I am not thrilled with the processing Truvia goes through for example) and which use different fillers for bulk (if any). I've seen some versions of stevia packets on the shelves with dextrose as a filler!

It's not a hard conclusion to draw that the real slow down for the FDA regarding stevia has nothing to do with safety- it's that a plant isn't patent-able, so there wasn't enough money to be made. Nothing changed in the science that the FDA suddenly found it "safe"- it was never unsafe to begin with (research the history of its use in other countries)- it's that big companies like Coca Cola got involved with patented processes.
Having said that, no one food is a "magic bullet", (except perhaps water!) and everything is less perfect when you start taking extracts from things rather than using them whole. However, I do think stevia is a safe natural sweetener, and can be quite neutral tasting, and helpful to a healthier lifestyle of eating. My fiance and I have lost a lot of weight since cutting out refined sugars and most processed foods, without ever consciously trying to "diet". Stevia has been invaluable to us in this lifestyle.
Connie S

Justin Van Kleeck said...

Sorry to come to this conversation so late, but I did want to add one little thing: Evaporated cane juice is always going to be vegan (for those of us who care), but "sugar" may not be. Come to find out, refined white sugar is frequently processed with bone char, which would make it not vegan. Whatever health benefits may or may not come from using ECJ, at least vegans can be confident knowing no animal products were involved in preparing it.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Orange, Carrot & Ginger Juice Totally delicious and no gagging involved!!
Have a nice day!

Anonymous said...

Stevia is NOT safe for everyone! It depends on the individual. For me, just one teaspoon of stevia triggers anxiety symptoms that leave me jittery and unable to sleep or concentrate for two days. Not good. I'm concerned about its introduction to soft drinks without any warnings, because most people aren't aware of this or other potential side effects. has more info.

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