Is Brown Sugar Low FODMAP?
The simple answer: yes, brown sugar is low FODMAP. But so are the other products we commonly refer to as sugar – white sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar.
This means that, while following the restrictive low FODMAP diet, you can still enjoy a sweet treat. You shouldn’t overdo it, though; excess sugar does harm the body.
Now you may be wondering, how is this possible? Doesn’t a low FODMAP diet center on eliminating sugars?
Read on for the explanation and key information about brown sugar versus other sugars.
A low FODMAP diet provides symptom relief for around 50% of those with SIBO and IBS. You should, however, be aware that FODMAPs might contribute to the symptoms of these conditions, but they are not the root cause.
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. The keyword here is fermentable because chemically, these are all different types of sugar. test
The sugars that are avoided in a low FODMAP diet are those in the above categories, which are either not digested at all or poorly absorbed in the small intestine. This means that they pass through to the large intestine. Here they are broken down and used for fuel by the gut microbiome – the microorganisms that live in our gut and are important for our health.
During the breaking down process, fermentation occurs, producing gas.(1) Excessive gas causes bloating, cramps, and pain associated with IBS. FODMAPs also tend to draw water into the gut, which can cause diarrhea.
Fructose and Lactose
Intestinal issues are often caused by poor digestion and absorption of fructose and/or lactose. Digestible sugars are broken down by enzymes, mostly in the upper digestive tract. Then they are actively transported by specific carriers across the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream.
Intolerance to either fructose or lactose is often caused by a shortage of either the enzymes or the protein carriers needed to digest them. The undigested sugar then passes through into the large intestine, where it could cause gastric issues.
The majority of FODMAPS in our diets are cellulose, or what we usually refer to as fiber. It passes through to the large intestine unchanged. While we can’t digest cellulose, the intestinal bacteria have no problem with breaking it down for fuel.
Fiber is recognized as important for our health and it is unclear why, for some people, it causes gastric issues. A current area in research is focused on whether the composition of an individual’s gut microbiome could contribute to IBS. (2)
From the above explanation, it is clear that the reason why FODMAPs might cause gastrointestinal symptoms can differ between individuals. This is also why, after the first phase of cutting out all FODMAPs, it might be possible to identify specific foods which trigger symptoms by reintroducing different food types one at a time.
Why is household Sugar Low FODMAP?
Sucrose is the chemical compound of what we know as white or brown sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide, meaning it is made up of two molecules – one glucose and one fructose.
The fructose molecule in sugar does not present a problem because, as long as it is paired with the glucose molecule, it can be transported via one of the glucose transporters. A problem might occur with loose floating fructose molecules when the specific fructose transporter is in short supply. (3)
So sugar is a disaccharide, but what about the D in FODMAP? Fortunately, the only disaccharide of concern in the low FODMAP diet is lactose which is found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance is usually caused by a shortage of lactase, the enzyme required for digesting lactose.
High and Low FODMAP Sweeteners
So which products can you use for sweetness when on a low FODMAP diet? Below are lists of the sweeteners you can use and those which you should avoid.
Also, remember that most manufactured foods have added sugars and you need to check the labels carefully.
Low FODMAP sweeteners
- Cane and beet sugar – white sugar, brown sugar, caster sugar
- Icing sugar – might have added ingredients that are high FODMAP, so check the label
- Dextrose – crystalline glucose made from starch
- Palm sugar – has far lower levels of fructose than common table sugar
- Cane syrup
- Glucose syrup
- Pure Maple Syrup – be sure to buy real maple syrup and not maple-flavored syrup
- Stevia – a plant sugar commonly used as a sugar replacement in low-calorie diets
High FODMAP sweeteners
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – used extensively in processed foods, also sometimes listed as fructose-glucose or isoglucose on labels
- Fructose – sometimes listed in ingredients as fruit sugar
- Honey – contains higher levels of fructose than glucose
- Golden syrup – although it is made from cane sugar juice, it also contains high FODMAP fructans as a result of the manufacturing process
- Agave syrup, or nectar – very high in fructose
- Polyols – including xylitol, sorbitol, and isomalt, which occur in some foods but are commonly used as sugar replacements
Is Brown Sugar Healthier?
The common belief that brown sugar is healthier than other types of sugar is a misconception. Brown and white sugar, caster sugar, and icing sugar are all manufactured by extracting sugar crystals from sugar beet or sugar cane.
Brown sugar is refined white sugar to which molasses has been added to produce its distinct color and taste. Molasses is a syrupy byproduct when sugar is manufactured from sugar cane.
So brown sugar is not less refined and processed than white sugar. Molasses does add some minerals to brown sugar but it is an insignificant amount in terms of any health benefits.
All the above sugars have the same chemical composition – crystalline sucrose made up of one molecule of fructose and one of glucose. Sugar is low FODMAP because its chemical composition ensures that it is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Different chemical structures of the sugars in other types of foods and sweeteners are what make them either low or high FODMAP.
Sweetness in the Low FODMAP Diet
Many foods are restricted in a low FODMAP diet but at least it isn’t a sugar-free diet. However, this doesn’t mean that you can go all out and binge on sugary foods.
Too much sugar can also irritate the gut and cause bloating and diarrhea. Furthermore, we all know that excess sugar causes obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. These are the root causes of chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and some cancers.
As long as you keep to low FODMAP sugar products, you can go ahead and add some sweetness to your day. Enjoy a spoonful of white or brown sugar in your tea or coffee and the occasional sweet treat.
Written by Frieda Paton
Frieda is a registered nurse and published author with extensive experience throughout her career in research, scientific writing and journalism. She has now turned to writing full time to share her passion for health and wellness, helping readers to prevent and manage chronic conditions. Frieda lives and works in the small museum town of Pilgrim’s Rest in South Africa.