Should Diabetics Replace Their Regular Sugar With Jaggery?

By Shabana

Gud, bella, vellam or jaggery is something you have known for so long, but have you been using it as a healthier substitute for sugar after being diagnosed with diabetes? Well then, it's time for a wake-up call! Here's all that you need to understand and know about how jaggery is not a sugar substitute that could be used by diabetics.

For non-diabetics and health-conscious people, jaggery could still be a healthier option over sugar, but definitely not the best. Although a bit cliched, better late than never makes complete sense here. Read on to bust all the myths built around the sugar-craving saver jaggery, especially for diabetics.

Should Diabetics Eat Jaggery?

Origin Of Jaggery

The origin of jaggery traces back to sugar cane, or in some cases date palm. Cane juice on continuous boiling thickens to a paste, which is eventually moulded and cooled into jaggery. Since jaggery doesn't undergo several stages of refining, it holds back its nutritional value. Studies have shown that a high-quality sample of jaggery consists of about 70-80% sucrose, around 10% of glucose and fructose and less than 5% of minerals. The minerals include minute amounts of magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and manganese.

The iron content in jaggery can specifically be of benefit to individuals with anaemia. The other micronutrients give jaggery antitoxic and cleansing properties, thus making jaggery an effective remedy against allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues.

Jaggery also has some fibre content which aids in curing constipation and supporting digestion. With all these health benefits of jaggery coming in from less than 5% of its content, the minerals, it becomes important to not forget the fact that more than 70% of jaggery is still sucrose. This means high calories and high glycemic index, giving rise to a question as to if the health benefits are really worth it.

Jaggery Versus Sugar

Both jaggery and sugar originate from the same source, sugarcane juice. The way in which the cane juice is processed decides the fate of the sweetener. Sugar in its well-known form is crystallised, white and translucent. On the other hand, jaggery is not as solid as sugar and its colour can range anywhere from golden to brown. The aesthetics of the two throw a hint on the kind of processing they go through.

Jaggery, in other words, is an unrefined version of sugar, which is obtained by moulding and cooling the boiled cane sugar syrup. The same boiled cane sugar syrup, when treated further through different stages like absorption, condensation and crystallisation yields sugar.

Since sugar goes through these additional stages of processing, it tends to lose all its nutritional value. The end product when it reaches your table consists of only sucrose, as against jaggery that manages to retain few micronutrients from the source. So on a nutritional level, here, jaggery scores higher than sugar that is synonymous with empty calories.

However, an important point to note is that both jaggery and sugar score the same in terms of calories. The glycemic index of both sugar and jaggery are high in the range of 65-85 (highest score of 100 for glucose). There's no stark difference seen there. Both belong to the hyperglycaemic category. This is one major concern as a high glycemic index food item is neither good for diabetics nor for the health conscious non-diabetics.

On that note, is jaggery really scoring over sugar? Indeed not. For individuals with diabetes especially, despite the other health benefits of jaggery, it is simply not worth the calories and glycemic index. High glycemic index items are a strict 'no' to diabetics as they tend to raise blood sugar levels drastically, causing unnecessary pressure on the already disturbed insulin mechanism.

Understanding Diabetes

In layman's terms, diabetes is a disease characterised by consistently high blood sugar levels. This is mainly caused due to either of the following reasons: the pancreas don't secrete sufficient amount of the insulin hormone, or, the insulin produced isn't efficiently being utilised to catalyse the metabolic activities of converting the consumed sugars to energy (insulin resistance).

Either way, the sugars consumed through food don't get digested the way they are supposed to, leading to accumulation in the blood. As a result, the blood sugar levels increase and the cells don't get the required energy. This gives way to the many symptoms of diabetes including fatigue, excessive thirst and hunger and weight-related issues.

Depending on the cause of diabetes, there are three main types of diabetes:

1. Type 1 diabetes: This is a chronic condition caused due to insufficient insulin production in the body. The cells in the pancreas responsible for producing the insulin hormone are destroyed by the body itself mostly due to genetic factors.

2. Type 2 diabetes: This is the most prevalent form of diabetes (90-95%) and is caused due to insulin resistance. Here, the body fails to utilise the insulin efficiently giving rise to a vicious cycle of increased blood sugars followed by stress on the pancreas to produce more and more insulin. Ultimately, the pancreas also begins to fail. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle could be a few contributing factors in addition to genetics in this kind of diabetes.

3. Gestational diabetes: This is caused in some women during pregnancy, wherein the body starts producing insulin-blocking hormones.

Of late, a large population is also found to show prediabetes, a condition where blood sugars are higher than normal, but not yet in the diabetic range.

In all cases, dietary and lifestyle changes become key to preventing further complications that diabetes could cause, including kidney diseases, cardiac diseases, frequent infections and skin problems.

Sweet Tricks For Diabetics!

By now, we have established that jaggery is sure not a replacement for sugar amongst diabetics. The next question is, what is? Artificial sweeteners? That topic is again debatable. As of now, the safest, natural and most effective sugar replacements for diabetics are stevia and monk fruit, both of which aren't native to India. The next smart option is to understand the concept of the glycemic index (GI) and to follow a low GI diet.

Foods with a low GI are best for diabetics as they are gradually digested, leading to stable blood sugar levels. Whole grains, green vegetables, unsweetened yoghurt, nuts, legumes are a few items that have to be on every diabetic's list. In fact, fruits like apples and oranges can also be consumed due to their low GI, and even better they can satisfy those sudden sweet cravings as well.

Not just wise food choices, but crucial lifestyle choices have to also be made to effectively manage the excessive sweet in you! A disciplined routine comprising of exercise, shorter and more frequent meals, regular sleep patterns and a less-stressful environment can do wonders.

So put on your shoes, walk/cycle around, keep yourself active, meet those friends you've been wanting to meet for ages, chat up, laugh out loud, eat right, sleep well, dream, stay contented and manage your diabetes. It's that easy when you think about it.

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