If you've been trying to reduce refined sugar in your diet, it's likely that you've come across packets of coconut sugar in the grocery store. Considered a natural sweetener, coconut sugar is a relatively new sweetener joining the ranks of sugar substitutes.
It isn't derived from coconuts. Rather, coconut sugar is a plant-derived sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. It's sometimes also labeled as coconut palm sugar, or as coco sap sugar. The coconut nectar sap collected from the tree's flower buds is heated to evaporation, resulting in solid brown coconut sugar granules that can be used as a replacement for regular table sugar.
Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index as compared to regular table sugar. It also contains trace amounts vitamin C and other vitamins, as well as minerals like iron, potassium, sodium and zinc.
Effects of Added Sugars
Harvard Health Publishing notes that sugary beverages, along with sweets and ready-to-eat cereals are the highest sources of added sugar in one's diet. And, with more than 1.5 million new cases of diabetes being diagnosed in Americans annually, per the American Diabetes Association, the need to reduce the daily intake of added sugars is becoming increasingly important.
As the name suggests, added sugars are any sugars that have been added to foods during processing. The Mayo Clinic states that there are four types of added sugar substitutes: artificial sweeteners, novel sweeteners, sugar alcohols and natural sweeteners. While small amounts of sugar have no overall harmful effects on our bodies, consuming a diet rich in added sugars does.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a diet with too much added sugar can often also result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Limiting your added sugar intake plays a key role in maintaining a healthy body. The 2015-2020 Edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans offers a similar conclusion: healthy eating and nutrition are directly correlated to the occurrence of non-communicable diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
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, sodium, zinc and copper. Coconut sugar also contains antioxidants and the fiber inulin. However, you would need to consume a lot of coconut sugar to reap any of its 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.
There are approximately 18 calories in one teaspoon of coconut sugar, 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 162 calories or nine teaspoons (45 grams of coconut sugar) for men and 108 calories or six teaspoons (30 grams of coconut sugar) for women.
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.
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." This increase in blood sugar levels can have a negative impact on people with diabetes.
Repeated consumption of foods high on the GI scale can result in insulin resistance and obesity. Coconut sugar has a GI of 35, which is approximately half that of regular table sugar. This makes coconut sugar a healthier alternative for people with diabetes, as its disaccharide, sucrose, breaks down into the monosaccharides glucose and fructose much slower.
- 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