Is Molasses Healthy for You?

It’s not exactly wheatgrass juice, but of the various forms of sugar, molasses is in most ways the healthiest, relatively speaking of course.  Molasses presents a bit of a paradox, in that it’s a byproduct of the sugar refining process, but is not a refined sugar itself.  It’s more typically known to be an unrefined sugar, particularly blackstrap molasses, aka unsulphured molasses, which arrives as a result of the third boiling of sugar syrup, and therefore the darkest, and therefore again, presumably, the most nutrient-rich.

Most molasses available in stores for baking will be of the dark variety, if not necessarily called ‘blackstrap.’  It’s really hard to say whether one brand is better than any other, but organic versions seem to have the best nutrition facts.  In any case, if you do buy molasses, it should at least be the unsulphured kind, ideally blackstrap, organic, and unsulphured.  Let’s start by analyzing the nutrition facts; you’ll get some variations in the area of nutrient benefits if you look around for stats online, so to make it somewhat simple, I’m going to use the facts on the jar of Grandma’s Molasses, a common store version, which is not organic.

For a tablespoon serving of Grandma’s unsulphured molasses, there are 60 calories, 10 grams of sugar, 4% (of daily value) calcium, 4% iron, and 2% magnesium.  By comparison, to use one other example, Self Nutrition Data lists a tablespoon of molasses as having 58 calories, 11 grams of sugar, 4% calcium, 5% iron.  So we have a ballpark figure, if a highly imperfect one (the percentage of sugar for the first molasses is 67%, while only about 50% in the second) to use as a guideline.

It’s clear that one can consume a lot greater volume of molasses to reach the same amount of sugars in the other most common sweeteners – honey, agave nectar, and table sugar. Of course there are the calories to also consider:  60 calories is not an insignificant amount to consume if it’s just for the purpose of obtaining a little bit of iron and calcium.  Are you going to count that tablespoon of molasses that you’ve mixed into some hot water, or some milk, as a dessert, or more like just another cup of tea?  In other words, what other sugars will you consume that day, for breakfast, for drinks, for dessert?

Does blackstrap molasses provide enough iron to balance out the sugar and calories?

The question then becomes: is the iron boost I’m getting from my serving of molasses worth the sugar and calories?  The answer to this question has to come from your own diet, weight standards, etc.  From my perspective, presumably, anyone who is eating/drinking molasses for the iron content is a vegetarian who isn’t getting iron from meat.  As a vegetarian myself, I know that it’s hard to get enough iron, but as to how much iron one actually needs, that really needs to be determined on a case by case basis.  Some claim that not getting enough iron will lead to anemia is a myth.  Certainly, iron is important for our bodies, but does one really need the equivalent of 20 servings of molasses to reach their daily needs?  Other tout molasses healing benefits; perhaps the nutrient sources of molasses – notably the iron and calcium – in concert with other sources of iron and other vitamins in one’s diet, is beneficial.

All that said, let’s get back to the original question:  is molasses healthy for you?  Answer: not really, certainly not in a way that scientific research has proved.  However, the nuanced answer: it can be.  Again, many claim its health benefits, with its high nutrient values (organic molasses have significantly higher mineral % values, per their nutrition facts) and relatively low sugar amounts.  As much as I would like to come down strongly here on one side of the fence or the other, I’m not going to say that you should add molasses to your diet, or that you shouldn’t.  If you have enough calories and sugar grams in your dietary budget to have a tablespoon a day, or every other day, as a trial run for a month or five weeks, and have the wherewithal to chart your progress, or stagnancy, over that whole period, then by all means, I fully support an infusion of molasses in your diet.  I would simply advise seeking out the most organic stuff you can find, with nutrition facts claiming the lowest levels of sugar, and the highest levels of vitamins & minerals available on the market.  I wish you luck in your trial.