If you've been trying to cut refined sugar in your diet, it's likely that you've come across coconut sugar in the grocery store.
This natural sweetener is also known as coco sap sugar or coconut palm sugar, and it's joining the ranks of sugar substitutes.
What Is Coconut Sugar?
Despite its name, coconut sugar isn't actually derived from coconuts. Instead, it's a plant-derived sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, per Michigan State University. It's been used as a sweetener for many years in Southeast Asian countries.
Coconut sugar looks and tastes a lot like brown sugar, but the crystals are a little bit larger, drier and flakier. It can work as a 1:1 substitute for white sugar in some recipes. But the slightly drier consistency could have some impact on the final texture of your baked good, so you might need to experiment with adding in a little more liquid.
How Is Coconut Sugar Made?
The process is a bit like making maple syrup or maple sugar. Coconut nectar sap is collected from the trees' flower buds and boiled until most of the liquid evaporates, leaving a thick, sweet syrup.
As the mixture cools, the sugars in the sap crystallize into solid granules that resemble brown sugar, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Coconut Sugar vs. Table Sugar
Compared to granulated table sugar, coconut sugar contains more vitamins and minerals. It consists of trace amounts of vitamin C, as well as minerals like iron, potassium, calcium, zinc and copper. Coconut sugar also contains antioxidants and the fiber inulin, according to a November 2017 report in the British Dental Journal. However, you would need to consume a lot of coconut sugar to reap any of these benefits.
On a molecular level, sugar is a carbohydrate that the body uses as a source of energy. Both coconut sugar and table sugar are primarily sucrose, a disaccharide, while their remaining molecular makeup comprises two monosaccharides, fructose and glucose, per Michigan State University.
There are 15 calories in one teaspoon of coconut sugar, per the USDA, which is similar to the calorie count in a teaspoon of granulated sugar.
The AHA's daily recommendation of added sugars is less than ten percent of an individual's daily calorie intake, roughly 108 calories or six teaspoons (30 grams of coconut sugar) to 162 calories or nine teaspoons (45 grams of coconut sugar).
Coconut Sugar’s Low Glycemic Index
The significant difference between coconut sugar and regular table sugar can be seen in the glycemic index (GI) levels of the two sugars. The GI measures how a particular sugar affects the body's blood levels after consumption.
Coconut sugar has a GI of 36 while table sugar's is around 60, according to Michigan State University. regular table sugar. This makes coconut sugar a healthier alternative for people with diabetes.
Foods with high GI levels cause large spikes in blood glucose levels as they are quickly broken down by the body in a "sugar rush," per the University of Washington. This increase in blood sugar levels can have a negative effect on people with diabetes.
Effects of Added Sugars, Including Coconut Sugar
Sugary beverages, along with sweets and ready-to-eat cereals are the highest sources of added sugar in one's diet, per Harvard Health Publishing.
As the name suggests, added sugars are any sugars that have been added to foods during processing. While small amounts of sugar have no overall harmful effects on our bodies, consuming a diet rich in added sugars does. A diet with too much added sugar can often also result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Limiting your added sugar intake — including coconut sugar — plays a key role in maintaining a healthy body.
- American Diabetes Association: Statistics About Diabetes
- American Heart Association: Naturally Occurring Sugars and Added Sugars
- Michigan State University Extension: Gone Coconuts: New Sugar or Old Hype?
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Unrefined Coconut Sugar
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Sugars, Granulated
- Harvard Health Publishing: Are Certain Types of Sugars Healthier Than Others?
- Mayo Clinic: Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes
- British Dental Journal: Alternative Sugars: Coconut Sugar
- University of Washington: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: Natural Sugars
- Advances in Nutrition: Perspective: A Historical and Scientific Perspective of Sugar and Its Relation with Obesity and Diabetes
- 2015-2020 Edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans