The smart girl's guide to sugar

The smart girl’s guide to sugar

guide to sugar

How well do you know your sugar varieties?

Not all sugars are created equal. If you’ve managed to cut out sugar completely or never had much of a sweet tooth to start with – show us your ways! We still struggle with the odd sweet treat and hot chocolate, and with all the different varieties of sugar available today it can be quite hard to keep up. For example, not all sugars add sweetness to a dish. Sometimes sugar is used to add a beautiful golden-brown colour to baked goods.

From white sugar to honey, grab a cup of coffee (with or without sugar!) and familiarise yourself with our smart girl’s guide.

White sugar

This is the most common sugar used in cooking and baking. White sugar (or sucrose) is a disaccharide sugar comprising fructose and glucose. Most of today’s white sugars come from cane or beets. White sugar is also known as granulated sugar, refined sugar or table sugar. When people talk about ‘sugar’, this is usually it.

A healthier swap would be coconut sugar as it contains more micronutrients.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar that’s brown in colour. Brown sugar is often added to baked goods to make them golden brown. To get this colour, molasses is added to it. So brown sugar is basically white sugar with added molasses – yet so many people reach for it as a healthier option. The healthiest option will always be to lower your sugar intake, regardless of whether you prefer white or brown.

Again, coconut sugar would be a better alternative to brown sugar.

Coconut Sugar

Proclaimed as the healthier new sugar alternative, coconut sugar is made mostly of sucrose (just like white and brown sugar) but it’s also loaded with potassium, magnesium and vitamin C – although you’d need to consume large amounts to benefit from nutrients through sugar (not a good idea). The good thing here is coconut sugar registers much lower on the GI scale than white sugar, making it a good substitute when baking.

Castor sugar

This is superfine granulated white sugar. Because the crystals are so fine, they dissolve much quicker, making it perfect for meringues and cocktails.


And the alternatives?

Honey is made up of almost equal parts fructose and glucose, but unlike other sugar-dense sweeteners, it’s pretty beneficial for your health. These benefits include antibacterial and antiviral properties as well as enzymes, proteins, trace minerals, flavonoids and other polyphenols.

If you’re looking for something to sweeten your tea or acai bowls, then honey is a good option.

Maple Syrup

Made from the refined sap of maple trees, maple syrup ranks high on the GI scale but is pretty low in free fructose. It also contains iron and calcium. As a natural sugar this is a good option, but always remember – everything in moderation.


The stevia plant is a safe calorie-free sweetener that can be used by diabetics. It’s much stronger than sugar, so only use a little bit as a little goes a long way.

Always make sure your stevia is 100% organic and not loaded with extra chemicals.


Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can be found in lots of fruits and vegetables. It’s extracted from corn or birch wood to make a sweetener that tastes very much like sugar but has way fewer calories. Although it’s a natural product, it then goes through quite a process to become the white substance packaged for shop shelves. It doesn’t impact blood sugar levels the way sugar does, making this a better alternative. Just remember xylitol is dangerous for dogs!


Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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