Coconut Sugar: A Healthier Sugar Alternative Or A Marketing Gimmick?
4 mins read
Touted as being organic and a healthier alternative to table sugar, coconut sugar is a new addition to the long list of sugar substitutes that we have in the market today. Also known as coconut palm sugar, it should not be confused with regular palm sugar, since each is obtained from a different source. While coconut sugar comes with a higher price tag as opposed to regular table sugar, it seems to offer the same number of carbohydrates and calories. If so, how is it healthier?
Before we get to its health claims, you must first understand what coconut sugar really is. Let’s get down to the basics.
What Is Coconut Sugar?
First things first—it is not made from either coconut water or its milk. Obtained from the sap of coconut palm (specifically the flower buds), the sugar is produced by boiling the nectar until it loses all its water. What stays behind is a brown, caramel-colored dehydrated residue that we call coconut palm sugar. The granules are bigger than regular table sugar while the taste is almost identical to that of brown sugar.
In terms of its chemical composition, this sugar doesn’t differ significantly from granulated table sugar, and contains 70 to 80 percent of sucrose, while the rest is composed of individual glucose and fructose units. Some experts believe that coconut sugar also contains impressive amounts of nutrients like zinc, potassium, and iron.
Coconut Sugar Health Benefits: Yay Or Nay?
Apart from the aforementioned nutritional factors, coconut sugar is also rich in inulin—a dietary fiber which acts as a prebiotic. Clinical research studies have found that inulin can support gut health, protect one from colon cancer, help to balance blood sugar levels and also improve immunity. 
From a calorific viewpoint, coconut sugar contains as many calories as regular sugar—about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon. However, it ranks much lower on the GI (glycemic index) scale as compared to table sugar. Glycemic index is nothing but a measure of how quickly a food raises your blood sugar levels after consumption. With a value of 35 on the GI scale, coconut sugar definitely fares better than regular sugar, which has a value of 60.
But that’s no reason to celebrate yet. Coconut sugar is still loaded with sucrose which is nothing but a disaccharide of glucose and fructose, along with individual units of fructose. So while coconut sugar may have a lower GI, it is still high on fructose.
Fructose, although a simple carbohydrate, gets converted to triglycerides in the body, which is not good news. Bearing this in mind, coconut sugar may not be the guilt-free sugar substitute as is currently marketed. The American Diabetes Association released a statement stating, “It is okay for people with diabetes to use coconut palm sugar as a sweetener, but they should not treat it any differently than regular sugar.”
Coconut sugar is no different than regular sugar or its substitutes such as honey, maple syrup, molasses, and agave nectar. The body treats all of these varieties in a similar fashion, converting them to glucose to fuel up its energy reserves. So if you are looking for a healthier alternative to keep your sweet tooth happy, you can opt for natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol. Always be mindful of what you choose, especially if you are a diabetic.
1. Kelly G. Inulin-type prebiotics: a review. (Part 2). Altern Med Rev. 2009 Mar;14(1):36-55. Review. PubMed PMID: 19364192.
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