If you walk into any health food store today, you will come across coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is enjoying a boom in popularity these days as it is touted as a healthy sugar alternative.
Coconut sugar is derived from the coconut palm tree and is considered healthier and lower on the glycemic index as compared to regular sugar.
But what is coconut sugar, and is it actually healthy? This article will help you find the answers to these questions.
What is coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar, also known as coconut crystals or coconut palm sugar, is made from the sap of the coconut tree.
The farmers cut into the flower-bud stem of the coconut tree to allow the sap to flow out. The farmers collect the sap into containers.
They then boil the sap until most of the water has evaporated.
This sap is then left to dry out and crystallize. The farmers then break up the dried chunks and create granules.
Coconut sugar is brown and looks similar to raw sugar. However, its granules may vary in color and size.
Coconut sugar is primarily produced in Southeast Asia, where it is used to make desserts like sago gula Melaka and klepon, which are coconut-coated rice cakes that are filled with liquid coconut sugar.
While coconut sugar may be new to the Western World, it has been harvested and used throughout southern Asia for many years.
Some records show that it has been used for over 6,000 years. The sap of the palm trees has been used for centuries as a sweetener and alcoholic beverage.
- Also read: How to Lower Blood Sugar Naturally?
Coconut sugar vs. table sugar and high fructose corn syrup
Table sugar and high fructose corn syrup do not contain any vital nutrients, whereas coconut sugar contains nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.
Coconut sugar also contains antioxidants and phytonutrients like polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanidins.
A 100 grams serving of table sugar contains, 99.98 grams of carbohydrates. Of this amount, 99.80 is sugar, and the remaining amount is calcium and sodium.
A 100 grams serving of high fructose corn syrup contains.76 grams of carbohydrates of which 75.65 is sugar. It contains 24 grams of water. The remaining amount is traces of sodium and iron.
A 100 grams serving of coconut sugar contains 100 grams of carbohydrates, of which 75 grams is sugar. It also includes 625 mg of potassium and 125 mg of sodium.
Coconut sugar contains a fiber known as inulin, which helps to slow down sugar absorption.
This fiber may be the reason why coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar.
- Suggested read: How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day?
Health benefits of coconut sugar
1. Healthier for diabetics
Coconut sugar has a glycemic index rating of 54, whereas regular table sugar has a glycemic index rating of 60.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a particular food can raise your blood sugar levels (1).
The lower GI of coconut sugar may be due to the presence of inulin. Studies have shown that inulin slows down the absorption of glucose and keeps the glucose levels in check (2).
According to a study by the Department of Biochemistry and Diet Therapy, Nutrition Research Centre, Iran, inulin supplementation can improve some glycemic and antioxidant indices and decrease malondialdehyde levels in women with type 2 diabetes(3).
Even though coconut sugar is more natural than table sugar, it can still impact your carbohydrate levels.
One teaspoon of coconut sugar contains 4 grams of carbohydrates and 15 calories.
2. Good for the digestive system
Coconut sugar contains a type of soluble fiber called inulin. In inulin cannot be digested by the small intestine, so it travels to the lower gut, where it works as a prebiotic.
The gut bacteria convert inulin into short-chain fatty acids, which nourish the colon cells and provide many benefits (4).
Several studies show that inulin stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which helps improve digestion, immunity, and overall health (5).
This bacteria, known as intestinal bifidobacteria, are found in probiotics, and it helps to boost immunity. Bifidobacteria also helps to restore the good bacteria of the gut, which may have been destroyed by chemotherapy, and overuse of antibiotics.
Inulin can help relieve constipation and improve digestion.
3. Contains phytonutrients
Coconut sugar contains small amounts of zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium, which are missing in table sugar.
It also contains phytonutrients like polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanidins. Phytonutrients have health-protective properties.
They help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and inflammation. So, using coconut sugar is much healthier than taking table sugar.
According to the American Cancer Society, phytochemicals are best taken in by eating foods that contain them rather than taking pills or supplements (6).
4. Can be used in the paleo diet
Coconut sugar can be consumed as part of the paleo diet as it is a sweetener found in nature and is produced from the sap of the coconut tree.
Humans have eaten coconuts for a long time; it is therefore highly likely that cave dwellers would have also consumed coconut sap.
Coconut sugar is sometimes processed or mixed with other sugars, so you must buy organic and 100 percent pure coconut sugar.
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, coconut palm sugar is the most sustainable sweetener in the world.
The coconut trees use very little water and fuel, especially compared to sugarcane production.
The coconut trees produce fruit for over 20 years. Coconut sugar has no artificial ingredients, and it is not chemically altered during production in any manner.
6. Reduces anxiety
Coconut sap is rich in inositol, also known as vitamin B8. Our body needs inositol for the formation of healthy cells.
A lack of inositol can lead to anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders, and other psychological disorders. Healthy levels of inositol can help avoid stress.
Side effects of coconut sugar
Though coconut sugar and regular table sugar is made from different sources, chemically they are quite similar.
According to the British Dental Journal, coconut sugar has 70 to 80 percent sucrose (7).
Table sugar, on the other hand, has 99 percent sucrose. Though it contains some amounts of vitamins and minerals, their quantity is very little.
Coconut sugar can be as harmful to your teeth like regular sugar.
Coconut sugar contains high levels of fructose. Sucrose is made up of half fructose, which means it has 35 to 40 percent fructose content.
When consumed in excess, fructose can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.
It is also important to remember that coconut sugar is also high in carbohydrates and calories.
We must avoid consuming too much of coconut sugar as this can lead to an increase in weight.
How to buy and use coconut sugar?
You can find coconut sugar at most health food stores. Opt for organic, and 100 percent pure coconut sugars, as many brands mix regular sugar with coconut sugar.
You can use coconut like your use brown sugar. This sugar has a light but distinctive flavor, which is quite similar to brown sugar or molasses.
Keep in mind that coconut sugar can make your batter brown, so it may not be suitable for certain dishes.
You can use one cup of coconut sugar for one cup of regular sugar in all your recipes. In some recipes, you may have to adjust other ingredients and baking time.
Coconut sugar is a healthy alternative to regular sugar as it contains many nutrients like calcium, zinc, iron, and potassium.
These nutrients help reduce blood sugar spikes, improve digestive health, lower inflammation, and cholesterol, and reduce anxiety.
Producing coconut sugar is also more environmentally friendly as compared to sugar from sugarcane.
Though coconut sugar contains many nutrients and phytonutrients, one will have to consume large quantities of this sugar to enjoy the benefits.
Consuming large amounts can cause more harm than good as this sugar is high in carbohydrates and calories.
Overeating coconut sugar can also be harmful to the teeth due to their high sucrose content.
While coconut sugar is available at most health food stores, opt for 100 percent pure and organic coconut sugar.
You can use this sugar to cooking and bake many dishes, including pies, muffins, bread. It can also be used to sweeten tea and coffee.