If you have diabetes, you’re probably used to limiting your added sugar intake. Many people with diabetes may have the impression that all-natural sweeteners are healthier than highly processed sugar replacements. One of the most popular natural sugars is coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar, sometimes called coconut palm sugar, is made using the sap of a coconut tree flower.
Many coconut sugar makers proudly tout coconut sugar’s ranking on the glycemic index (GI). Coconut sugar’s average GI rating differs from source to source. Regular table sugar has an average rating of 58, while coconut sugar’s GI is reported as low as 35 and as high as 54.
A food’s GI rating is a measure of how much that food may raise your body’s glucose, or blood sugar. Coconut sugar has a slightly lower GI rating on most scales. On average, anything below 55 is considered low.
Regular table sugar typically falls in the middle range. The middle range generally covers ratings from 56 to 69. Anything with a rating above 70 is usually considered to have a high GI.
The United States doesn’t have a standard GI rating system. This means that any food, including coconut sugar, may carry different GI scores depending on the scale and the way it’s cooked or what other foods it’s mixed with.
How different people absorb sugar varies. That means a food’s GI effect will be different depending on who’s eating the food. For that reason, GI ratings aren’t the most effective way to determine if a certain food is a good choice for you.
Coconut sugar also has similar amounts of fructose as table sugar. That means that eating coconut sugar carries the same health consequences as eating excess added sugars, including an increased risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases.
If you’re interested in using coconut sugar in your diet, treat it as you would any other sweetener. Coconut sugar provides the same level of nutrients as refined white sugar. One teaspoon has roughly 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates. Coconut sugar is touted as more natural, but it still has a real impact on your calorie and carbohydrate levels.
As a general rule, you can substitute coconut sugar for white sugar if you prefer, but keep all added sugars to a minimum. Raw coconut sugar tastes very similar to brown sugar. Using coconut sugar instead of white sugar may change the flavor of your food.
Coconut sugar adds a brown hue to whatever food or drink it’s an ingredient in. Keep that in mind for food or drinks where the brown tint may not be very appealing.
Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body uses sugar. This sugar, also known as glucose, is essential to your health and everyday living. Your body’s cells derive their energy from it. This sugar helps fuel muscles and other tissues, including the brain.
Without properly managing your glucose, your blood sugar levels may climb too high or fall too low. If your blood glucose level is too high, you have hyperglycemia. If you have hypoglycemia, your blood sugar levels are too low.
Your blood carries glucose around your body to supply fuel for all of your body’s functions. A hormone called insulin moves the sugar from your blood into your cells where your body converts it to energy.
Your pancreas produces insulin. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t have enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work properly.
Either way, the glucose can’t get into your cells. This affects your body’s ability to function properly. The glucose can also build up in your blood leading to high blood sugar levels.
The main types of diabetes are types 1 and 2. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile onset diabetes because it often develops in childhood. Type 1 diabetes can also develop in adults. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your pancreas cannot make enough insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop in people who are overweight and people who are inactive.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body has developed a resistance to insulin, which means your cells don’t use insulin properly. Your body produces more insulin as a response to this resistance.
At first, your pancreas is able to keep up with the additional need. Insulin production may slow, and the pancreas may be unable to keep up with your body’s insulin demands. If that happens, your blood glucose levels may climb too high.
You’ll then need to treat your diabetes with medications or supplemental insulin. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are key steps in managing your diabetes.
The longer you have diabetes and the longer it’s left untreated, the higher your chances of developing serious health complications. If your high blood sugar is not properly treated and managed, you may experience the following issues:
Blood sugar levels that are too high can damage the tiny blood vessels and nerves in your body. This can lead to decreased blood flow. Eventually, you may experience tingling or numbness.
Nerve damage, also called neuropathy, is most common in your extremities, but it can develop anywhere.
As with other parts of your body, high blood sugar levels in your kidneys can damage their tiny vessels. Your kidneys may not work as well as they should as a result. This can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure.
Neuropathy in your feet and poor circulation may increase the risk of foot injuries going undetected and possible infection.
If you develop an infection from a cut or sore, diabetes makes healing difficult. In severe cases, people with advanced diabetes may need surgery to remove toes or portions of their feet.
People with diabetes have an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, including:
They also have an increased risk for atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
It’s often assumed that all people with diabetes must follow a strict diet. There isn’t one specific eating plan that works for every person, though. Instead, you should follow a set of principles when it comes to meal planning.
You should also opt for lower-fat animal products. Lean meats are better than fattier cuts. Pick lower-fat milks and milk products, such as cheese and yogurt, when you can.
Here are some additional tips for meal planning:
Reduce refined carbs and sugars
Sugar isn’t off-limits for people with diabetes, but you should be careful about what you eat and how often.
Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars can increase blood glucose levels. They also aren’t good sources of any other nutrition.
Focus on healthier sources of carbohydrates, such as:
Swap in some fish
Instead of chicken, pork, and beef, try adding fish to your menu about 3 times a week. Fish is a protein source that’s rich in healthy fats and vitamins. Avoid fried fish, which adds unnecessary fat, carbs and calories to your meal. Stick to grilled, baked, and seared fish.
Focus on fats
Seek out healthy, unsaturated fats. Limit your intake of unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Healthy fats come from plants in the form of:
Unhealthy fats, including those in butter and cheese, mainly come from animal sources. Trans fats are in products containing hydrogenated oils. Animal fats and processed foods often contain high amounts of saturated and trans fats.
Eating too many of them can increase your risk of developing certain health conditions.
Coconut sugar is quickly gaining popularity because of its flavor and its description as a “natural” sugar. Finding it in your local grocery store should be easy.
But remember, natural sugars still have calories and carbs and can raise blood sugar. “Natural” does not mean it won’t affect blood sugars.
Some manufacturers mix coconut sugar with raw cane sugar and other ingredients. Read the ingredients list before purchasing. Keep it stored in an airtight canister to prevent clumps.
Enjoy using coconut sugar in your baking and cooking for a change of flavor or to add complexity to dishes.
Remember to count the carbs as part of your total daily intake.