Sugar might be useful for most foods and recipes, but it actually poses a lot of health problems. Consuming this can lead to weight problems, acne, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even a fatty liver. It can also affect your mental health, as high sugar consumption may increase your risk of depression.
With that being said, experts recommend reducing sugar intake – and opting for healthy sugar alternatives instead. One of the more popular options is coconut sugar, which is also known to many as coconut palm sugar.
What is Coconut Sugar?
Like brown sugar, coconut sugar has a characteristic brown colour and a caramelly taste. It is made from the coconut palm sap, which is the fruit’s sugary fluid.
This natural sweetener is harvested through a 2-step process. First, the coconut palm flower is cut so that the sugary sap may be collected and funnelled into a container. This product is then exposed to heat, which allows the water to evaporate. The coconut sugar production process is different from how most sugars are made, as they are usually boiled to up to 221F.
The remainder, which usually takes the form of blocks, is then broken down into smaller coconut sugar crystals. Since production methods vary according to makers, coconut sugar granules largely vary in colour and size.
Is Coconut Sugar Healthy?
Yes. Compared to regular sugar, coconut sugar is better.
To illustrate, for every 100 grams of coconut sugar, you get 625 milligrams of potassium and 125 milligrams of sodium.
Coconut sugar also contains small amounts of calcium, iron, and zinc. It also has minute amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which include flavonoids, polyphenols, and anthocyanidins.
Is Coconut Sugar Better Than Sugar?
A lot of people often ask the question “Is coconut sugar good for you?” Well, the answer is yes. This natural sweetener is considered a healthy alternative to sugar because of the following factors:
1. Low glycaemic index
Coconut sugar has a low glycaemic index (55 and below). It only has 51 – with one study saying that it’s much lower (35 to 42). Regular sugar has a glycaemic index of 60 (medium).
Coconut sugar also contains inulin, a type of fibre that can help slow glucose absorption in the body. With these properties, this natural sweetener makes for a better option for diabetics.
2. Lesser fructose content
Coconut palm sugar is considered a healthy sugar substitute because of its lower fructose content. It has about 70 to 80% sucrose, which is half fructose and half glucose. This would put coconut sugar’s fructose content at 35% to 40%. It is markedly lower compared to regular sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which contain 50% and 55% fructose respectively.
3. ‘Better’ content
Although coconut sugar contains the same number of calories as regular sugar, the latter’s caloric content is said to be ‘empty.’ It also has trace amounts of nutrients, which are very minimal compared to what you get from coconut sugar (potassium, sodium, iron, zinc, etc.)
To put things into perspective:
- For every 100 grams of granulated sugar, you get 99.80 grams of sugar with the remaining 0.20 grams being comprised of sodium and calcium.
- For every 100 grams of high-fructose corn syrup, you get 75.65 grams of sugar, 24 grams of water, and a trace amount of sodium and iron.
4. No artificial ingredients
As mentioned, coconut sugar is made from dehydrated coconut palm sap. No chemicals are used in the process, which makes it a better alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners, as they are often made with synthetic ingredients.
Not only are they synthetic, ingredients such as sucralose (Splenda) may also lead to some health problems. According to a study, sucralose has been linked to the development of blood cell tumours in mice.
What are the Benefits of Coconut Sugar?
It has long been established that excessive sugar intake can lead to a variety of problems. If you don’t want to suffer from any of these maladies, then you should reconsider your eating (and cooking) habits. With that being said, you should a natural sweetener as it comes with the following coconut sugar health benefits:
1. Healthier option
As previously mentioned, coconut sugar has lower fructose content, which makes it healthier than white sugar and corn syrup.
How does this make sugar better? For one, fructose is often used in processed foods because it is sweeter than sucrose. Unfortunately, the digestive system finds it harder to absorb fructose than other sugars (sucrose and glucose). This sugar then ends up in the liver, where it can trigger a bevy of metabolic disorders.
In summation, a high intake of rich fructose sources may trigger type 2 diabetes, systemic inflammation, a fatty liver, even systemic inflammation.
2. More nutritious
Raw sugar only has traces of sodium and calcium, while corn syrup has minimal amounts of sodium and iron. Raw coconut sugar, on the other hand, contains more nutrients – at even higher amounts.
At 625 milligrams, potassium is the most significant electrolyte to occur in every 100 grams of coconut sugar. With that being said, eating recipes with coconut sugar can help your body achieve normal cell function, optimum muscle contraction and nerve signalling, and body fluid balance. Potassium may also help preserve bone mineral density, which could lower one’s risk of developing osteoporosis.
Like potassium, sodium plays a role in maintaining fluid and electrolyte concentrations in the body. However, consuming too much of this can lead to a bevy of health problems, such as high blood pressure, and an increased risk of developing stroke, heart attack, or kidney stones.
Compared to high-fructose corn syrup (155 milligrams per 100 ml), there are only approximately 125 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of raw coconut sugar. With this good amount of sodium, coconut sugar may help contribute to normal body functioning – without the extra fructose.
This mineral is an essential component of haemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen in the circulation. Without adequate amounts of iron, you may develop pallor, weakness, and fatigue – which are some of the signs of anaemia.
Iron also plays a role in maintaining healthy cells. As such, it may help contribute to good skin, hair, and nails.
Compared to other natural sweeteners, 100 grams of coconut sugar contain a little over 2 milligrams of iron. This amount is higher compared to brown sugar and refined sugar, which contain 1.2 milligrams and 0.1 milligrams (per 100 grams) of iron respectively.
Zinc is a nutrient that helps maintain good immunity – and other necessary metabolic functions.
100 grams of coconut sugar contains about 2 milligrams of zinc. Again, this is much higher compared to brown sugar (1.2 milligrams) and refined sugar (0.1 milligrams).
With that being said, the zinc in coconut sugar may help in the management of some health issues such as colds, wound healing, and diarrhoea, to name a few.
Calcium, a mineral found in trace amounts in coconut sugar, is necessary for the teeth and the bones. It also helps maintain normal heart, muscle, and nerve functioning.
A 100-gram serving of coconut sugar contains as much 150 milligrams of polyphenols, which are micronutrients that are beneficial to the body.
They serve as antioxidants or substances that help neutralize the damaging and disease-causing effects of free radicals. These unstable molecules develop in the body due to prolonged exposure to UV radiation, pollution, and smoke, to name a few.
Apart from fighting free radicals, polyphenols may also help reduce systemic inflammation, a process that has been associated with many chronic conditions.
Flavonoids are the most plentiful type of polyphenols at 60%. As such, they also function as antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals in the body. With this protective action, flavonoids may help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Apart from that, a study also suggests that flavonoids may help lower blood pressure as well.
Coconut sugar contains about 24 milligrams of flavonoids for every 100-gram serving.
Also known as anthocyanins, this type of flavonoid helps gives fruits or flowers their characteristic red, blue, or purple hue. Apart from being potent antioxidants, anthocyanidins in coconut sugar also have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits on the body.
3. Rich in beneficial inulin
As mentioned, coconut sugar contains inulin at a rate of 4.4 milligrams per 100 grams. Low in calories and high in fibre, inulin boasts of the following benefits:
Improves nutrient absorption
Inulin fibre is soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. In the stomach, this fibre becomes a gelatinous substance that helps delay digestion. This action helps your body absorb more nutrients, specifically calcium, from the food you eat. Despite improving absorption, inulin fibre can minimize cholesterol absorption in the body.
Apart from these benefits, inulin is known to promote a feeling of fullness as well.
Promotes normal bowel movements
Inulin, with its rich fibre content, helps add bulk to your stool. This can help facilitate normal bowel movements, apart from reducing one’s risk of developing colon cancer.
Helps reduce diabetes risk
Raw coconut sugar has a low glycaemic index, many thanks to its inulin content.
In a study by Guess et al., results showed that inulin helps reduce insulin resistance, wherein the body is not able to utilize insulin well. This often leads to increased blood sugar levels, which could lead to diabetes in the long run.
With inulin being beneficial to diabetics, it may help pre-diabetics and other at-risk individuals as well.
Helps improve immunity
Inulin stimulates the growth of good bacteria, specifically the strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, in the digestive tract. These microbes help stimulate your immune system and fight off harmful bacteria, which greatly reduces your chances of developing an infection.
4. Teeming with short-chain fatty acids
Short-chain fatty acids, also known as SCFA, are produced when probiotics ferment fibre in your colon. They help provide energy to the cells in your digestive tract, making them essential for good colon health.
Fortunately, coconut sugar is rich in these substances, as each gram contains about 140 milligrams SCFAs. Its primary yield is propionate, an SCFA that helps facilitate glucose production in the liver.
While it’s largely popular for its colon health benefits, SCFAs can also provide you with 10% of your caloric needs. It can also help metabolize carbohydrates and fats, which provide the body with the energy that it needs.
Coconut Sugar for People on a Diet
Here are the most popular kinds of diets – and whether or not coconut sugar may be used in their corresponding recipes.
1. Coconut sugar is best for…
The vegan diet is against the use of animal products, not only in food but in other areas as well (cosmetic trials, fashion, etc.)
More than just banning meat, a vegan diet also prohibits the consumption of animal-derived products such as egg, dairy, honey, albumin, gelatine, casein, whey, and some forms of Vitamin D3.
With fruits and vegetables as the stars of this form of diet, these high-diet sources help make vegans feel fuller for longer.
Although other forms of sugar are not derived from animals, coconut sugar is considered a healthy sugar substitute for vegans. It’s even heralded by PETA, an organization that is against eating, wearing, and experimenting on animals, for its many health benefits.
While a gluten-free diet is best for people with gluten intolerance, it is followed by ‘healthy’ people as well. For these individuals, gluten-free food gives them more energy – all the while facilitating weight loss as well.
Fortunately, raw coconut sugar benefits many dieters who avoid gluten sources.
Many gluten-free recipes can be done with coconut sugar, ranging from main entrees to dessert. A popular dessert choice proves to be the gluten-free jaffa marble cake, which is made from buckwheat flour, and of course, coconut sugar. It’s also low-calorie, as each serving only contains 30 grams of carbohydrates.
The Paleo diet consists of eating the food that ancient hunter-gatherers have eaten before agriculture was fully developed. As such, a paleo dieter leans towards whole foods, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Processed foods, grains, and dairy are avoided.
While sugar is not normally a part of the paleo diet, coconut sugar may also be used in paleo recipes. According to paleo advocates, coconut sugar fits the bill as it would have probably been available during the early days of mankind.
The Zone diet, developed by Barry Sears, involves the intake of 35-45% carbohydrates, 30% of protein, and 30% fat. This was developed to promote weight loss, as well as minimize diet-induced inflammation and chronic disease risk.
In terms of carbohydrate intake, the Zone diet recommends eating sources with low glycaemic indices. As such, Zone dieters often consider coconut sugar as a good alternative to sugar and other sweeteners. After all, it has a low glycaemic index compared to most sugars and high-fructose corn syrups.
2. Not recommended for…
A low-carb diet involves limiting carbohydrate intake from 20 to 150 grams a day. With this diet, the body is forced to burn fats as a source of energy.
With a low-carb diet, you can lose weight and get rid of stubborn belly fat. It may also curb your appetite, which could lead to lesser caloric consumption.
Unfortunately, coconut sugar is high in carbohydrates, with one tablespoon containing as much as 4 grams of carbohydrate. If you follow a low-carb diet, then you should opt for other sweetening agents.
Without a doubt, raw coconut sugar benefits a lot of people – even strict dieters. Unfortunately, this product is not recommended for those who follow the keto diet, as the emphasis is placed on high-fat foods.
Despite its low glycaemic index, coconut sugar has a high carbohydrate count of 12 grams – which is near to that of white sugar (12.6 grams).
Since a keto diet necessitates low carbohydrate consumption, those who follow this diet may need to consider other sweetening options.
The Atkins diet is all about avoiding carbohydrates while eating as much as protein and fat as you can. This four-phase diet starts with an induction phase, where carbohydrate consumption is limited to 20 grams per day.
While healthy carbohydrates are gradually re-introduced in the Atkins diet, coconut sugar is not recommended for those who follow this dietary regime. That’s because a tablespoon of coconut sugar contains as much as 4 grams of carbohydrates.
Dukan diet is another type of low-carb diet. However, it places importance on the consumption of high-protein foods.
Apart from promoting a weight loss of up to 33 pounds in 10 weeks, the Dukan diet may also help increase your metabolic rate.
The Dukan diet has four phases. The weight loss stage involves the unlimited eating of high-protein sources, while the other phases focus on consuming non-starchy vegetables, some carbohydrates, and fat.
Since the Dukan diet restricts carbohydrate consumption, coconut sugar, with its significant carbohydrate content, is usually not recommended.
This extreme diet promises a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a day. According to its proponents, it may help improve a person’s metabolism and rate of weight loss – without making him/her hungry.
This three-phase diet involves the taking of HCG supplements. This is followed by the consumption of low-calorie foods, which restricts the use of most sweeteners such as coconut sugar. In this diet, only Stevia and Saccharin may be used.
Intermittent fasting is all about controlling the food you eat. As such, this is viewed more of an eating pattern rather than a diet.
Different methods of intermittent fasting include the 16/8 method, eat-stop-eat method, the 5:2 diet, and the warrior diet.
While you may consume various foods during your period of eating, intake of foods made with coconut sugar (among many other things) is discouraged. After all, the fast should not be ‘broken’ with high-carbohydrate sources such as coconut sugar.
Healthy Recipes for Coconut Sugar
If you have a sweet tooth – but would like to lay off the additional fructose and empty calories – then you should consider using coconut sugar recipes. Here are some healthy and yummy examples:
1. Cookie Recipes
With this chocolate chunk quinoa cookie recipe, you can fuse your love for cocoa and ‘healthy’ ingredients. After all, it makes use of coconut sugar, quinoa flakes, and walnuts (or pecans, if you want). For every 2 cookies, you get about 29.6 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, and 2.8 grams of fibre.
2. Brownie Recipes
Brownies are not always sinful, as a fudgy avocado brownie recipe will tell you. Made with dark chocolate, cacao powder, almond meal, coconut sugar, and of course, avocado, it is healthy as it is delicious.
3. Muffin Recipes
Whether it’s for breakfast or a mid-day snack, a wholegrain blueberry and banana muffin would give you the nutrition that you need. Made with quinoa flour, flaxseeds, seed mix, and coconut sugar, this high-fibre muffin provides as much as 14.6 grams of protein.
4. Dessert Bar Recipes
Recipes with coconut sugar make for delicious yet healthy pick me-uppers. One good example is the yoghurt muesli bar, which you can make with rolled oats, dried fruits, desiccated coconut, and of course, coconut sugar.
5. Doughnut Recipes
You can create a low-calorie doughnut simply by using many parts of the coconut – sugar, milk, and flour. This gluten-free doughnut, which comes with a cinnamon drizzle, only has 20 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
6. Cake Recipes
Cakes need not be sinful, as shown by this coconut sugar recipe. By using coconut flour, almond meal, tapioca flour, and light coconut milk, you can make a gluten-free banana and blueberry cake. It’s also surprisingly low in carbohydrates at only 16 grams per serving.
7. Cheesecake Recipes
Cheesecake is another delightful dessert where you can use coconut sugar. While most recipes are very sinful, you could lower the calorie content by using silken tofu, coconut cream, arrowroot biscuits, and of course, coconut sugar. With this dairy-free cheesecake recipe, you only get about 24 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener derived from dehydrated coconut palm sap.
It is considered a healthy food item since it contains potassium, sodium, zinc, iron, and calcium. It is also rich in antioxidants – polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanidins.
Coconut sugar is heralded as a good alternative to sugar because of its nutritional value, low glycaemic index, lesser fructose content, and lack of artificial ingredients.
There are many coconut sugar benefits to health. Rich in nutrients and short-chain fatty acids, it also contains inulin, which helps promote fullness and better bowel movements. Additionally, inulin may also help improve immunity and reduce diabetes risk.
Coconut sugar can be used in a wide variety of recipes, including cookies, brownies, muffins, dessert bars, doughnuts, cakes, and cheesecakes.
While coconut sugar is good for you, it does not apply to all types of diets. Low-carb, Keto, Atkins, Dukan, HCG, and Intermittent dieters are discouraged from using this sugar because of its higher-than-usual carbohydrate content.
Although this is the case, coconut sugar benefits await those who follow vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or zone diets.