Is Coconut Sugar All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Is Coconut Sugar All It's Cracked Up to Be?

In an effort to be healthier, many people are consciously trying to avoid heavily processed sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup and highly treated sugars, such as cane sugar, and are looking for healthy, all-natural sugars. One of the replacement sugars being used more now is coconut sugar. 

What is it?

Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the flower that buds on the coconut palm tree.  It is not to be confused with palm sugar, which comes from a different kind of palm tree.  The sap is extracted from the budding flower and is then boiled and dehydrated down into a crystal.  For thousands of years, people in South and Southeast Asia have used coconut sugar as a primary way to sweeten their foods. 

Pure coconut sugar has a medium-brown caramel color and tastes similar to brown sugar.  It can be used in the same manner as regular cane sugar. 

Is it healthier?

Although it has about the same number of calories and carbohydrates as cane sugar, it has a very difficult chemical makeup.  Coconut sugar is between 70% and 80% sucrose with the remaining 20% to 30% being a mixture of fructose and glucose. In comparison, cane sugar is 50% fructose.  Fructose is the type of sugar that negatively impacts sugar levels in the blood, so when it comes to sweeteners, the lower the amount of fructose, the better. 

Processed cane sugar and high fructose corn sugar are high on the glycemic index and very low on nutrients. They are both highly processed and often chemically bleached.  Many initial studies on coconut sugar show that it scores much lower on the glycemic scale; however, studies are not final and much more research needs to be done on the subject.

The glycemic index tells us how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels.  The higher on the scale, the more quickly the food raises blood sugar levels, which means that the pancreas must work faster and harder, releasing insulin to handle the influx of sugar.  A slower blood sugar level rise is better. 

One major benefit is that coconut sugar retains a lot of the nutrients found in the palm tree blossom.  These include iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and certain antioxidants.   It also has a fiber called inulin, which regulates the blood sugar levels within the body.  

Where to source it?

When finding a good source of coconut sugar, make sure to read the label.  You want to look for something that is 100% coconut sugar and not mixed with other sugars.

You also want to make sure it has not been bleached or chemically processed, so you will be looking for that caramel color.  The label should show that it’s been minimally refined and should also state that they use sustainable methodology. 

The conflict:

There is a growing conflict related to whether coconut sugar is sustainable, with one side stating that coconut sugar is the single most sustainable type of sugar and the other side stating that coconut sugar is absolutely not sustainable.  At this time, there is no meeting of the minds and both sides claim they are right. 

The bottom line is that coconut sugar, though healthier, is still an added sugar and should be used sparingly.  

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