4 Jan 2016
In recent years, many people have begun to seek other substitute of refined white sugar. They want more natural to sweeten their foods as alternatives to common cane sugar or syrup / corn syrup.
Substitute of refined white sugar
One of white sugar substitute that has become extremely popular, is the sugar from coconut (also known as “palm sugar” or “coconut palm sugar”. As its name implies, this product is derived from plant that is better absorbed by the body and is more nutritious than regular sugar.
In this content I would like to clarify some points about it. Let’s begin!
What exactly the coconut sugar is and how it’s made?
This substitute of refined white sugar (sweetener) is made from sap (a kind of sweet liquid) flowing through the palm tree. For the final product, a cut is made in the flower of the palm coconut then liquid is collected that comes in containers. Subsequently, this sap is subjected to high temperatures to remove most of the water by evaporation. The result is precisely coconut sugar, which is quite similar to the appearance of brown sugar.
It’s absorbed more slowly in the blood…
Coconut sugar contains a fiber called inulin, which helps delay the absorption of glucose in the body, and therefore has a lower glycemic index than other sugar.
The glycemic index is a measure of the speed with which foods raise blood sugar levels in the blood. For example, pure glucose has a GI of 100 and if a food has a GI of 50, this means that blood sugar increases by 50% compared to glucose.
The Philippines Department of Agriculture made some measurements for IG coconut sugar and compared with glucose, finding that the first value is 35, which place it in a relatively low range, more than table sugar.
However, there are some points to consider with the conclusions that can be obtained based on this study alone:
GI values can vary greatly according to each individual, and this study included only 10 people. Similarly, the IG may suffer variations between different portions of food. This means that products of other manufacturers may have slightly different effects.
Also keep in mind that this study is being compared to coconut sugar glucose directly, rather than with respect to sugar cane (sucrose). It would be good to do an analysis by reference to the latter, since it is precisely the product you want to replace with coconut sugar.
As a conclusion to this question from a very personal point of view, I honestly do not believe that coconut sugar has such a low GI as stated. Perhaps the inulin (fiber) helps a little slow to its absorption, but need to have at least another study before reaching a final conclusion.
Comparison to common sugar: Is it really more nutritious or is it substitute of refined white sugar?
It is important to note that while coconut sugar contains small amounts of the nutrients listed above, you may obtain a higher proportion from other authentic foods as they would have to ingest exaggerated manner in order to meet your nutrient needs above and, like the common sugar, coconut is very high in calories.
Both regular sugar and corn syrup only provide calories, i.e., completely devoid of any essential nutrient (vitamins and minerals).
However, coconut sugar does retain some of the nutrients found in the palm where applicable. There is not much information as to this, though, according to the Department of Agriculture of the Philippines (one of the main producing countries), coconut sugar contains several nutrients, among which we mention minerals like calcium, potassium, iron and zinc, along with some other substances such as antioxidants, fatty acids and short chain polyphenols, which may also provide certain health benefits.
Is it has any other common problem with respect to sugar?
As mentioned above, the regular sugar is harmful because of having a high GI and by a high number of calories, but that is only the surface part of the problem. The main reason this product is very unhealthy, is it is full of other component known as “fructose”.
Table sugar contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Although it is stated everywhere coconut sugar contains no fructose, but consists of 70 – 80% sucrose, and half of this sucrose is fructose! That is why, coconut sugar provides about the same amount of fructose as cane sugar.
It is well known that any added sugar, when consumed in excess, causes all kinds of problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, among others. Surely coconut sugar would be no exception to this rule.
Having analyzed all the above, we can say that definitely coconut sugar is not a miracle food because, although its manufacturing process is more natural and contains minor amounts of calories as compared to table sugar, but it’s quite similar to table sugar in structure and final composition, as well as the effects caused in the body when ingested.
It is certainly much healthier than refined sugar, but certainly it is best to abstain entirely from consumption of added sugars.
Therefore, if you decide to use it as a sweetener, then do it quite sparingly.