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  • What Is Jaggery And Is It Better Than Sugar?

    What Is Jaggery And Is It Better Than Sugar?

    The Ayurveda Experience August 26, 2023

    In the world of culinary delights, jaggery, and sugar often find their place as primary sweeteners and they have been a part of our diets for centuries. Ayurveda, the ancient Indian holistic health system, sheds light on its distinct properties and their effects on our well-being. Let's delve into understanding how these sweet options impact your health, if one is better than the other.

    What is jaggery, and what is sugar? 

    Jaggery, popularly known as "gur" is a traditional non-centrifugal cane sugar made by boiling sugar cane juice in large vessels until it solidifies1. The process creates a dark, unrefined sweetener with a distinct molasses-like flavor. High-quality jaggery is rich in nutrients like iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium2. Jaggery is available primarily in three forms, solid, liquid, and granular.  

    Ayurveda gives much importance to guda (jaggery). It has various health benefits to help in the overall wellness of a person. It is not only used as an ingredient in sweet and savory dishes but is used in many herbal and traditional medicines3. 

    Sugar, on the other hand, was invented in India4. In its refined form, it is extracted either from sugar cane or sugar beet plants and is amongst the most popular sweeteners. There is reference to sugarcane cultivation and the preparation of sugar in an Indian religious text, the Atharva Veda5.  

    Regular sugar is simply referred to as sharkara (crystal form sugar) as per Charak Samhita6. In Ayurveda, there are descriptions of different types of sharkara, methods of processing, and their properties. The process of refining sugar involves the removal of impurities and extraction of sucrose, resulting in white crystals.  

    Traditional sweeteners of Ayurveda like guda, sharkara, and khanda sharkara have been used in various medicinal ways. But in the present world, sugar contains processed and artificially synthesized components that are used instead of natural sugar. Therefore, it is essential to note that traditional sugars possess vital health benefits as they do not have any chemicals in them7. 

    Thus, when compared to jaggery, refined sugar lacks minerals and has limited nutritional value. Infact, jaggery’s mineral content is approximately 60 times that of refined white sugar8. 

    Is one better than the other? 

    If one has to pick between two ingredients, the simplest yet the most effective way is to compare their potential benefits over each other. Mentioned below are some vital potential benefits that jaggery has over sugar. 

    Digestion: According to Ayurveda, old jaggery is considered to be a good digestive stimulant9 and an appetizer due to its ushna (hot/heat) properties. In a similar context, jaggery may also help in improving the digestive fire (agni) and appetite due to its ushna property10. 

    Acidity: Acidity, characterized by a burning sensation in the chest and discomfort, is a common digestive issue affecting millions worldwide. While various factors contribute to acidity, including diet and lifestyle, remedies like jaggery have gained attention for their potential to relieve symptoms associated with acidity and promote digestive health. In terms of Ayurvedic wisdom, it is the ushna (hot) property of jaggery that helps improve the agni (digestive fire) which aids in digestion and helps offer relief from acidity. 

    Weight management: Secondly jaggery may have the potential to help in weight management as the potassium content in it may potentially help in inhibiting water retention in the body11.  

    Bowel movement: Additionally, jaggery is also considered to be a potentially strong ingredient for stimulating bowel movements and reducing constipation. Apart from that, since jaggery facilitates easier digestion and allows for the release of ama (or toxins) from the body, it can help in potential detoxification and smooth bowel movements12. 

    Anemia: There is limited research that also suggests that jaggery may help in dealing with anemia due to the presence of ferrous salts in it which are formed during its preparation in iron vessels13. It is also essential to understand that imbalanced Pitta dosha has been considered a major cause of anemia14 in Ayurvedic teachings and jaggery has been reported to potentially balance this dosha and reduce some of the symptoms associated with anemia15.   

    Asthma: While jaggery is commonly known for its rich flavor and numerous health benefits, its potential effects on asthma management have gained attention. Diet plays a crucial role in managing asthma symptoms and overall lung health. According to a study, jaggery might help reduce the symptoms of asthma due to its anti-asthmatic properties and may help ease breathing difficulties16. 

    Antibacterial: In the domain of natural remedies, jaggery has garnered attention not only for its delightful sweetness but also for its potential health benefits. Beyond being a traditional sweetener, jaggery is believed to possess antibacterial properties17. Jaggery contains several natural compounds that are thought to exhibit antimicrobial effects. These compounds include polyphenols, flavonoids, and phytochemicals, which have been studied for their ability to inhibit the growth of various bacteria. 

    Antioxidants: Jaggery has long been cherished for its distinct flavor and rich nutritional profile. Beyond its role as a natural sweetener, jaggery boasts another remarkable attribute – its potential as a source of antioxidants18.  

    Heart health: A healthy heart is the cornerstone of overall well-being and the center of our circulatory system. Therefore, it requires care and attention to function optimally. Jaggery has emerged as a potential ally in promoting heart health. Jaggery is a rich source of essential minerals such as potassium and magnesium that play a pivotal role in maintaining heart health. Jaggery has a lower glycemic index compared to refined sugar, which causes a slower and steadier rise in blood sugar levels which can be beneficial for heart health19. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, the hrudya property of jaggery is potentially vital in strengthening the heart and acts as a cardiac tonic. Ayurveda preaches that old jaggery that has been preserved for a long time is good for the heart20. 

    The primary difference between jaggery and sugar is in their composition. While sugar is a simpler form of sucrose that gets digested faster and energy is released immediately, jaggery, on the other hand, consists of longer chains of mineral salts, sucrose, and fiber. Considering the potential benefits that jaggery has over regular sugar including its iron-rich content, ability to improve heart health, and improve digestion. So, it is advisable to potentially replace sugar with jaggery. 


    3. Pattnayak PK, Misra MK (2004) Energetic and economics of traditional gur preparation: A case study in Ganjam District of Orissa, India. Biomass & Bioenergy 26: 79-88. 
    11. Shrivastav P, Verma AK, Walia R, et al.Jaggery: A revolution in the field of natural sweetners.EJPMR. 2016;3(3):198-202 



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