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Is Coconut Sugar Healthy? Pros And Cons You Should Consider

Is Coconut Sugar Healthy?

Brown sugar has a lower glycemic index than white sugar but its sucrose levels are only slightly better. The inulin it contains may help gut health and immunity. But the potential harmful effects of excessive sugar intake, including greater risk of weight gain, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disease, still remain. The levels of minerals and vitamins don’t warrant heavy consumption either. But if you’re looking for a delicious change from white sugar – and one that is more natural, this could be your go-to sweetener. Just keep your intake in check.

With its gorgeous caramel color and a heady aroma, coconut sugar is the kind of food that will capture your imagination. And reports of its mineral, natural vitamin, and antioxidant content is sure to pique your interest. But how much goodness does it really contain and should you actually switch to coconut sugar? Here’s a look at what this natural alternative to heavily processed granulated table sugar has to offer, so you can decide.

Coconut Sugar Offers An Alternative To White Sugar But Is Also Mainly Sucrose

Coconut sugar is a sweetener made from coconut flowers. Extracted from the sap of the blossoms, this sugar has a distinctive caramel color and flavor and works well as a substitute for cane sugar in cooking. This brown hued sugar is about 70 to 79 percent sucrose with around 3 to 9 percent glucose while regular table sugar is all sucrose, making coconut sugar just marginally better because it isn’t just pure sucrose. So, it comes down to the minerals and inulin, a form of fiber, found in coconut sugar.1

Coconut Sugar Contains Some Minerals, But Not Enough

Coconut sugar is often less processed than regular white table sugar, leading to the belief that it has a better nutrient content than plain white sugar. It is also thought to have a host of different minerals that the refining processes leach out of white sugar. While this is true, a closer look will reveal that coconut sugar contains just trace amounts of minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc. These are all nutrients your body needs and they would offer immense health benefits if consumed in higher levels that meet the daily recommended intake. Unfortunately, a small serving of a teaspoon or two of the sugar will get you nowhere in the range. If you do the math, it will take not spoons but cups full of coconut sugar to get a significant intake of these nutrients. Hardly reason for using coconut sugar to get your nutrition.2

Inulin In It Helps Boosts Immunity And Gut Health

Among other things, coconut sugar contains inulin, a fructose polymer and dietary fiber that is great for gut health. Some estimates put the average inulin levels at nearly 4 to 5 percent per 100 gm of coconut sugar.3 It is known to stimulate growth of good intestinal bifidobacteria. As with probiotics, this helps improve immune system functions overall.4 That said, because coconut sugar is high in sucrose as well as calories, you may still want to get your dietary fiber from healthier alternatives like fresh vegetables or whole grains rather than sugar.

Has A Lower Glycemic Index Than Sugar

Coconut sugar is said to have a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular table sugar, with estimates putting it at about 35.5 This should, in theory, mean that coconut sugar is a better choice for diabetics or anyone trying to cut down on high GI foods because the GI of table sugar is about 63.6 GI is a measure of how fast a food causes your blood sugar to rise. But as experts now tell you, you should be looking at the glycemic load (GL), which looks at both how much and how fast a food delivers carbohydrates to the body, and not just the GI. Coconut palm sugar has a GL of around 7.3 per 10 gm.7 This is comparable to and even slightly higher (depending on how it is manufactured) than that of regular table sugar, which clocks in a GL of 6 per 10 gm serving.8

Antidiabetic Potential Of Coconut Sugar Not Firmly Established

Research on whether coconut sugar may be beneficial to diabetics is still limited. According to one very small study by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in the Philippines, coconut sugar does not seem to induce high blood sugar or hyperglycemia due to its low GI. That said, the researchers themselves cautioned that the GI may vary depending on how the coconut sugar is processed and when it was harvested.9 There have been studies linking inulin in coconut sugar to better glycemic control as well as improvement in antioxidant indicators in the body for those with type 2 diabetes. However, the researchers suggested that further investigations are required to establish this connection.10

Calories Similar To Other Sugars, So Treat It Like Any Other Sugar

Eating too much of coconut sugar, as with any sugar, exposes you to greater risk of obesity, metabolic disorder, and cardiovascular problems while being of no particular nutritional value beyond the energy it gives you.11

If you’re still contemplating having lots of coconut sugar for its potential nutrient content or because it seems healthier, remember this – coconut sugar isn’t any less calorific than regular sugar. So while it is less processed, it is still heavy on calories and is essentially a sugar. Coconut palm sugar has about 375 calories per 100 gm12 to the 387 calories per 100 gm of regular granulated table sugar13 That’s about 15 calories in every 4 gm teaspoon of coconut sugar.14

So all in all, enjoy your coconut sugar, don’t expect too much from it, and have it in moderation. So go ahead and use a little on your cereal, mix it into your coffee or tea or even in desserts, and enjoy its lovely caramel flavor – but treat it carefully as you would any white sugar.

References   [ + ]

1, 14. Ochel, Evita. Healing & Prevention Through Nutrition: A Holistic Approach to Eating and Living for Optimal Health, Weight, and Wellness. Matrix Fusions, 2014.
2. I spotted coconut sugar in the health food shop. What’s healthy about it?. British Heart Foundation.
3, 5. Trinidad, Trinidad P. “Nutritional and Health Benefits of Coconut Sap Sugar/Syrup.” Food and Nutrition Research Institute (2003).
4. Niness, Kathy R. “Inulin and oligofructose: what are they?.” The Journal of Nutrition 129, no. 7 (1999): 1402S-1406s.
6, 8. Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. Oregon State University.
7, 12. Coconut Palm Sugar Nutrition Facts And Calories. SelfNutritionData.
9. FNRI: Coco sugar has anti-diabetic properties. Philippine Council For Health Research And Development.
10. Pourghassem Gargari, Bahram, Parvin Dehghan, Akbar Aliasgharzadeh, and Mohammad Asghari Jafar-abadi. “Effects of high performance inulin supplementation on glycemic control and antioxidant status in women with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes & metabolism journal 37, no. 2 (2013): 140-148.
11. Added Sugars. American Heart Association.
13. Sugars, granulated. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.