• Coconut sugar’s average GI rating is 35.
  • As a general rule, you can substitute coconut sugar for white sugar.
  • Coconut sugar should be available at your local grocery store.

If you have diabetes, you’re probably used to limiting your sugar intake. Because of this, many people with diabetes look toward healthier, all-natural sweeteners over highly processed sugar replacements. One of the most popular all-natural sugars is coconut sugar.

Coconut sugar, sometimes called coconut palm sugar, is made using the sap of a coconut tree. Many coconut sugar makers proudly tout coconut sugar’s ranking on the glycemic index (GI). Coconut sugar’s average GI rating is 35. Compare that to regular table sugar, which has an average rating of 58.

A food’s GI rating is a measure of how much that food raises your body’s glucose, or blood sugar. Coconut sugar has a “low” 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.

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 refined fructose, including 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. Even if the coconut sugar is more natural, it still has a real impact on your calorie and carbohydrate levels.

As a general rule, you can substitute coconut sugar for white sugar. 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 will also add a brown hue to whatever you’re food or drink you’re making. Keep that in mind for food or drinks where the brown tint may not be very appealing, such as in lemonades or cocktails.

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 this sugar. It helps build muscles and tissues, and it fuels your brain’s functions.

Without proper management of 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 fuel 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 you body’s ability to function properly. Plus, the glucose can’t leave your blood. This is what leads to high blood sugar levels.

Two main types of diabetes are types 1 and 2. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes. That’s because it often develops in childhood. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your pancreas cannot make enough insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop in overweight and inactive individuals. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body has developed a resistance to insulin. That means your cells don’t use insulin properly. Your body produces more insulin as a response to this resistance.

At first, your pancreas should be able to keep up with the additional need. Insulin production may slow, or it 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 supplemental insulin.

The longer you have diabetes and the longer it’s left untreated, the higher your chances of developing serious health complications. If you don’t get proper treatment for high blood sugar, you may experience the following issues:

Nerve damage

Blood sugar levels that are too high can damage the tiny blood vessels 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.

Kidney damage

As with other parts of your body, high blood sugar levels in your kidneys can damage its tiny vessels. Your kidneys may not work as well as they should as a result. This can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure.

Foot damage

Neuropathy in your feet can greatly reduce blood flow and feeling in your feet. Poor circulation may lead to muscle and tissue death. If you develop an infection from a cut or sore, diabetes makes recovery very difficult. Some people with advanced diabetes may need surgery to remove toes or portions of their feet. This can stop the spread of infection.

Cardiovascular disease

People with diabetes have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. They also have an increased risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

It’s often assumed that all people with diabetes must follow a strict food diet. There isn’t one specific diet that works for every person, though. Instead, you should follow a set of principles when it comes to meal planning.

For example, you should eat more plants. A diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will be naturally high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You should also opt for low-fat animal products. Lean meats are better than fattier cuts. Pick low-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, and they aren’t good sources of any other nutrition. Focus on healthier sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables, and lentils.

Swap in some fish

Instead of chicken, pork, and beef, try adding fish into some of your meals. Fish is a lower calorie protein source that’s rich in healthy fats and vitamins. Avoid fried fish, which adds unnecessary fat 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:

  • oils
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • avocado
  • olives

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. You can have health issues if you eat too many of them.

Learn more: How to manage diabetes with a carbohydrate-friendly diet »

Coconut sugar is quickly gaining popularity because if its natural flavor and production process. Finding it in your local grocery store should be easy. You can also purchase it online from natural foods suppliers, such as Bob’s Red Mill, and Amazon.

Some manufacturers mix coconut sugar with raw cane sugar and other ingredients. Read the ingredients list before purchasing. You should look for 100 percent real coconut sugar with no additives. Keep it stored in an airtight canister to prevent clumps.

Enjoy using coconut sugar in your baking and cooking. Sweetener alternatives, especially more natural ones like coconut sugar, are fun ways to add flavor and complexity to a lot of dishes.