Unrefined is better?

When I opened the blog, one of the aims was addressing a few hoaxes on scientific topics. Among the top rated ones, we find those related to nutrition. Sadly, I find articles leveraging people’s fear to sell something or, simply, to make a news sensational.

I want to be clear: I believe any adult has the right to feed him/herself in the best way he/she believes. But this choice should be done consciously and not by following the fad diets of the moment or fake myths.

This post might generate some disappointments among few of my readers, as I might reveal something you don’t want to hear ;) Anyway, as many people asked me about that, let’s face this widely debated topic: refined sugar. Are there really nutritional advantages in selecting unrefined sugar over the white one?


A little introduction: sucrose, the common table sugar, is naturally white and crystalline. Sucrose is a dimer, namely is formed by two molecules: glucose and fructose. As many of you might know, sucrose is extracted from sugar canes or sugar beets. In the refining process, sucrose is separated from the molasses. In unrefined sugars, as the muscovado, the molasses is not completely removed, and the final product is brown, sticky and with a distinct aromatic bouquet.

Molasses is the part containing compounds of a certain nutritional interest, as vitamins and minerals. This fact has generated the belief that unrefined sugar has higher nutritional properties, since it retains part of the molasses. By reading a review article from 2015, I learnt that the amount of vitamins and minerals in unrefined sugars is quite insignificant considering the quantity of sucrose we use daily.

Just to give you an example, the mean level of niacin, or vitamin B3, (I took the highest value) are about 2.14 mg per 100 g of unrefined sugar. Given that the recommended daily intake of B3 are 16 mg for an adult male, we should eat at least 600 g of unrefined sugar per day in order to reach the recommended intake!!! Honestly, I really hope no one is going to eat so much sugar. Actually, we must limit our sugar intake as, it is now demonstrated, we eat too much of that!

Let’s use some common sense: selecting unrefined flours or cereals is reasonable, given the level of consumption of these products (think about your portion of pasta, bread or crackers). But how much sugar do we add in our coffee/tea? A few grams (I hope :)), therefore, the contribution is insignificant.

In conclusion, select the type of sugar you like, and let’s rather think about getting our vitamins from other sources (fruits, vegetables).

Did you like the article? Let me know in the comments :)

p.s. if you want to learn more about this topic, Bressanini has posted a great video about that (in Italian only, sorry!)


R.W. Jaffé, Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 43, 2015, 194–202

Health Canada, Dietary Reference Intakes Tables