By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
Jaggery or “Gur” as it is known in Hindi, was invented in India and has been an important part of the Indian diet ever since. The Indian government claims that practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have been using it for 3,000 years. It’s often referred to as a “super food sweetener.”
About 70% of the world’s jaggery production takes place in India. Jaggery making is a simple process comprising crushing of sugarcane for juice extraction, filtration and boiling of juice for concentration and then cooling and solidifying to give jaggery blocks. The juice is extracted in conventional crusher; this is then filtered and boiled in shallow iron pans. It’s sometimes referred to as a “non-centrifugal sugar,” because it’s not spun during processing to remove the nutritious molasses. Indians value lighter shades more than darker ones. This lighter, “good quality” jaggery generally contains more than 70% sucrose. It also contains less than 10% isolated glucose and fructose, with 5% as minerals (1).
In India, it’s often mixed with foods like coconuts, peanuts and condensed milk to make traditional desserts and candies. These include jaggery cake and chakkara pongal, a dessert made from rice and milk. It is also used to make traditional alcoholic drinks, such as palm wine, and for non-food purposes like dying fabric. This sweetener is often used as a sugar substitute in baking and also can be used to sweeten drinks like tea and coffee (2).
Jaggery is loaded with minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, selenium, manganese and zinc and it is highly recommended for anaemic people. No chemicals are used in preparation of jaggery as compared to refined sugar. Studies suggest the iron in non-centrifugal sugars is more easily used by the body than iron from other plant sources (3). Jaggery contains around 11 mg of iron per 100 grams, or about 61% of the RDI (4). A tablespoon (20 grams) contains 2.2 mg of iron, or about 12% of the RDI. A teaspoon (7 grams) contains 0.77 mg of iron, or about 4% of the RDI. Adding jaggery to the diet is better than adding sugar as it contains iron.
Jaggery is packed with antioxidants it can build the immunity and further keep diseases away. the minerals and antioxidants in jaggery can support the immune system and help people recover from illnesses like the common cold and the flu. Some evidence suggests that oral zinc and vitamin C supplements may reduce the length and severity of a cold, but neither is found in high amounts in jaggery (5). Jaggery’s high calorie content may help boost energy levels for those struggling to eat when sick.
Jaggery, according to Ayurveda works as an exceptional remedy for treating breathing disorders. Its anti-allergic properties eliminate the toxins and any mucus out of the respiratory system. It helps in treating asthma, cough, cold and chest congestion by cleansing the passage (6).
Jaggery also boost digestion by removing toxins from our body. Consuming a piece of jaggery after meals is considered to be very good for the digestive system whereas adding sugar in your diet is equivalent to adding excessive calories in your diet. Some people claim it helps with digestion and can stimulate bowel movements, making it a good choice for preventing constipation. Jaggery is a source of sucrose, but it contains almost no fiber or water — two dietary factors known to help with regular bowel movements (7).
Jaggery Vs Sugar
It is been recommended to switch sugar with jaggery to obtain greater nutritional values. While both may be processed, sugar undergoes rigorous industrial processes, such as treatment with charcoal, due to which its nutritional value is lost. Whereas the jaggery undergoes no excessive treatment except the boiling of sugarcane syrup.
This procedure further ensures the retention of traces of iron, mineral salts and fiber in it along with plant phyto-chemicals are useful. This natural sweetener is an effective way to boost immunity, regulate body temperature, enrich the skin, improve digestion and cure joint pain, apart from curing other number of ailments.