Looking to cut back on sugar: Should you switch to jaggery?

Jaggery is an unrefined sugar product popularly known as ‘Gur’ in India. It is becoming popular as a healthy replacement for refined sugar and often referred to as a superfood sweetener. Although both sugar and jaggery are obtained from sugarcane juice, they differ in terms of their properties and benefits. Though many people believe jaggery is better when compared with sugar, is it worth replacing refined white sugar with jaggery? Even before switching your sweetener, get aware about your HbA1c values and take charge of your blood sugar levels. Book HbA1c test here.

There is always a sugar vs jaggery war going on that often tends to confuse us. Should you switch to jaggery? Let’s explore the health benefits of jaggery first to reach the conclusion.

Greater nutritional value

According to one source, 100 grams of jaggery may contain 383 Calories, 65–85 grams sucrose, 10-15 grams fructose and glucose, 0.4 grams protein, 0.1 grams fat, 11 mg iron, 70-90 mg magnesium, 1050 mg potassium, 0.2–0.5 mg manganese.

Jaggery may also contain small amounts of vitamin B and minerals, including zinc, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and copper. These micronutrients have many nutritional and medicinal aspects.

Keeps your gut healthy

In India, eating a piece of jaggery daily after meals is common. Some people claim jaggery helps with digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes. It can stimulate bowel movements, making it a good choice for preventing constipation and flatulence.

Prevents anemia

Jaggery is quite rich in iron and folate and it helps in the prevention of anemia. Some studies suggest that the body can use iron in non-centrifugal sugars more easily than iron from other plant sources.

Boosts immunity

Minerals like zinc and selenium present in jaggery can help prevent cell damage caused by free-radicals. The phenol in jaggery can fight off oxidative stress and relax your body, hence building stronger immunity. Jaggery can even help alleviate the symptoms of common cold and flu.

Tackles water retention

The potassium in jaggery can help manage electrolyte balance in the body. This can further reduce water retention in the body tissues.

Detox the liver

Jaggery acts as a detox as it helps in cleansing the liver by flushing out nasty toxins from the body.

Eases menstrual pain

Jaggery can help as a natural remedy for menstrual problems. The sweetness of jaggery releases endorphins, which offer relief in cramps, premenstrual syndrome, depression, and anxiety. So it is advised to eat a small piece of jaggery daily to avoid sudden mood swings just before your period. It also helps reduce associated bloating and water retention.

Relieves joint pain

Eating jaggery can provide you with much-needed relief from aches and pain in your joints. It is claimed that drinking a glass of milk with jaggery daily can help strengthen the bones, thus preventing joint and bone problems such as arthritis.

Controls blood pressure

Since jaggery is rich in minerals like potassium and sodium, it plays an important role in the maintenance of acid levels in the body. It helps in maintaining a normal level of blood pressure.

Prevents respiratory problems

Although it is not clear how, jaggery also has known to show anti-asthmatic properties, eliminating the toxins and any mucus out of the respiratory system and easing breathing difficulties.

People claim that it can prevent many respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, cough, and chest congestion by cleansing the passage, etc. Experts recommend eating jaggery with sesame seeds for wonderful benefits for the respiratory system.

In a nutshell, jaggery is said to help support immune,  digestive, bones, liver, lungs and menstrual health, as well as help, prevent asthma and anemia. However, there is no good evidence available that can support these claims.

A word of caution

Although sugar and jaggery differ in their nutritional profile, you must know that both the sweeteners have nearly the same calorific value. A 100 grams of sugar releases approximately 398 kcal of energy, while the same amount of jaggery delivers 383 kcal.  So, the true danger of these sweeteners, be it sugar or jaggery lies in its excessive consumption. Eating too much sugar from any source can increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Moderation is the key. Do keep in mind that overindulgence of anything is detrimental to your health. It is important to note that jaggery must be consumed in a limited quantity to avail of its complete health benefits. On average, one should not eat more than two teaspoons of jaggery per day.

Jaggery for diabetics?

A common misconception about jaggery is that it could be safely consumed by diabetic patients. Interestingly, a study showed that jaggery and sugar when consumed, both raise blood glucose levels by approximately equal values. So, frequent use of jaggery is certainly not recommended for a diabetic person. Diabetic patients are strongly advised to consult a healthcare provider before including jaggery in their daily diet.

Take home message

You’ll get in a few extra nutrients as jaggery contains more nutrients than refined sugar. Refined white sugar contains only empty calories, i.e., calories without any vitamins or minerals.

It is safe to say that swapping sugar with jaggery is a healthier option- as long as you don’t overdo it. Remember, jaggery is essentially still sugar and any extra nutrients you get to come with a lot of calories. So, one should use it very sparingly.  In order to cut down on sugar, it is very important to lower sugar intake gradually. You can opt for natural sugars, such as the ones found in fruits to satisfy your sweet cravings. Other substitutes for white sugar can be stevia, date, or palm sugar. Artificial sweeteners can be attractive substitutes for sugar because they add virtually no calories to your diet.

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