Sugarcane juice is a sweet, sugary beverage commonly consumed in parts of India, Africa, and Asia.
As this drink becomes more mainstream, it’s being marketed as an all-natural beverage with a wide range of health benefits.
In traditional Eastern medicine, it’s used to treat liver, kidney, and other diseases (1).
You might be surprised to learn that some believe it can even be helpful for diabetes.
This article explains what sugarcane juice is and whether it’s a good choice for people with diabetes — or anyone who’s watching their blood sugar.
What is sugarcane juice?
Sugarcane juice is a sweet, syrupy liquid that’s pressed from peeled sugar cane. It’s often sold by street vendors who mix it with lime or other juices and serve it over ice for a tasty drink.
It’s processed to make cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, and jaggery (1).
Sugarcane can also be used to make rum, and in Brazil it’s fermented and used to make a liquor called cachaça.
Sugarcane juice isn’t pure sugar. It comprises about 70–75% water, about 10-15% fiber, and 13–15% sugar in the form of sucrose — the same as table sugar (1).
In fact, it’s a major source of most of the table sugar in the world.
In its unprocessed form, it’s also a good source of phenolic and flavonoid antioxidants. These antioxidants are the primary reason that some people claim it has health benefits (1, 2, 3).
Because it’s not processed like most sugary drinks, sugarcane juice retains its vitamins and minerals.
As it also contains electrolytes, such as potassium, it has been studied for its hydrating effects. In a study in 15 cycling athletes, sugarcane juice was shown to be as effective as a sports drink in improving exercise performance and rehydration (4).
Yet, it raised athletes’ blood sugar levels during exercise. Its benefits were largely linked to its carb content and its ability to restore energy reserves in your muscles after a workout (4).
Sugarcane juice is made by pressing the liquid out of sugar cane. It’s a source of antioxidants and other nutrients, but most of the claims around its health benefits are unfounded.
Although it provides several nutrients, sugarcane juice remains high in sugar and carbs.
A 1-cup (240-mL) serving offers (5, 6):
- Calories: 183
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Sugar: 50 grams
- Fiber: 0–13 grams
As you can see, just 1 cup (240 mL) contains a whopping 50 grams of sugar — the equivalent of 12 teaspoons.
This is significantly more than the 9 teaspoons and 6 teaspoons of total sugar per day that the American Heart Association recommends for men and women, respectively (7).
Sugarcane juice has varying amounts of fiber. Some products list none or just a trace, while others, including Sugarcane Island’s raw sugarcane juice, boast up to 13 grams per cup (240 mL).
Still, it’s best to get fiber from plant foods rather than a sweet beverage. If you want a beverage with fiber, it’s best to choose a powdered fiber supplement without added sugar and mix it with water.
Sugar is a carb that your body breaks down into glucose. Some high carb foods and beverages may raise your blood sugar excessively, especially if you have or are at risk for diabetes. Thus, people with diabetes should watch their sugar intake carefully.
Although sugarcane juice has a low glycemic index (GI), it still has a high glycemic load (GL) — meaning that it’s bound to have an outsized impact on your blood sugar levels (4, 8).
While GI measures how quickly a food or beverage raises blood sugar, GL measures the total amount of blood sugar rise. Thus, GL gives a more accurate picture of sugarcane juice’s effects on blood sugar.
Sugarcane juice is very high in sugar and it has a high glycemic load despite having a low glycemic index. Therefore, it impacts blood sugar significantly.
Should you drink it if you have diabetes?
Like other high sugar drinks, sugarcane juice is a poor choice if you have diabetes.
Its massive amount of sugar could raise your blood sugar levels dangerously. Thus, you should avoid this beverage entirely.
While test-tube studies on sugarcane extract suggest that its polyphenol antioxidants may help pancreas cells produce more insulin — the hormone that regulates your blood sugar — this research is preliminary and doesn’t make it safe for people with diabetes (9).
If you still prefer a sweet drink, you can use fresh fruit to infuse your water with natural sweetness.
Despite some lab research that points to possible anti-diabetes effects, sugarcane juice is not an appropriate beverage for those with diabetes.
The bottom line
Sugarcane juice is an unrefined drink extracted from sugar cane.
While it serves up a healthy dose of antioxidants, it’s extremely high in sugar. This makes it a poor choice for people with diabetes.
Instead of sugarcane juice, choose unsweetened coffee, tea, or water infused with fruit. These beverages can still taste lightly without endangering your blood sugar levels.
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