A sweetener that has become very popular in the past few years is coconut sugar. This sugar is derived from the coconut palm tree and touted as being more nutritious and having a lower glycemic index than table sugar.
This article separates the facts from the fiction to determine whether coconut sugar is really a healthy sugar alternative.
Coconut sugar is also called coconut palm sugar.
It’s a natural sugar made from coconut palm sap, the sugary circulating fluid of the coconut plant. It is often confused with palm sugar, which is similar but made from a different type of palm tree.
Coconut sugar is made in a natural two-step process:
- A cut is made on the flower of the coconut palm, and the liquid sap is collected into containers.
- The sap is placed under heat until most of the water has evaporated.
The end product is brown and granulated. Its color is similar to that of raw cane sugar, but the particle size is typically smaller or more variable.
Coconut sugar is the dehydrated sap of the coconut palm.
Regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup don’t contain any vital nutrients and therefore supply “empty” calories.
However, coconut sugar retains quite a bit of the nutrients found in the coconut palm.
The most notable of these are the minerals iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, as well as phytonutrients such as polyphenols and antioxidants (1).
However, even though coconut sugar contains some nutrients, you would get a lot more nutrients from eating whole foods.
Coconut sugar is very high in calories, just like regular sugar, and you’d have to eat a ridiculous amount of it to satisfy your needs for the above nutrients.
Coconut sugar contains small amounts of minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. However, its high sugar content outweighs any potential benefits.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels.
Glucose has a GI of 100. For comparison, foods with a GI of 50 raise blood sugar levels half as much as pure glucose.
Table sugar has a GI of around 60, whereas coconut sugar has a GI of 54 (2).
However, GI can vary greatly between individuals and may also differ between batches of coconut sugar. It may also depend on the other foods it is combined with and their nutritional content, the size and timing of meals, and other factors (
Although the inulin content of coconut sugar probably slows sugar absorption somewhat, it’s unclear whether this modest difference in GI has any relevance to health.
Coconut sugar causes a slightly smaller increase in blood sugar than regular table sugar. However, the respective health benefits are probably modest.
Added sugar is unhealthy because it causes a significant increase in blood sugar levels. It’s also lacking in nutrients, providing virtually no vitamins or minerals.
Additionally, if consumed in excess, added sugars may contribute to all sorts of health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Health experts recommend getting no more than 20% of your total calorie intake from added sugar (
Although coconut sugar has a slightly better nutrient profile than table sugar, its health effects should be largely similar.
Use coconut sugar in moderation, just as you would use regular table sugar.
Though coconut sugar contains slightly more nutrients than cane sugar, it has the same potential adverse effects as other added sugars if consumed in excess.
Coconut sugar is not a miracle food.
It’s very similar to regular table sugar, although it is less processed and contains minor amounts of nutrients. If you’re going to use coconut sugar, use it sparingly.
Coconut sugar belongs in the same boat as most sugar alternatives. It’s healthier than refined sugar but less healthy than consuming no sugar at all.