Coconut Sugar - A Healthy Sugar Alternative?
Almost every single person has a sweet tooth. We have cravings for something sweet, whether it be in our beverages or our food. A cup of coffee would not be complete, for some, if there wasn’t a tablespoon or two of sugar in it.
Cakes and other desserts have sugar as a primary ingredient. Most dishes would also require anywhere from a teaspoon to cups of sugar in order to be prepared.
With the very widespread use of sugar as well as the very known health hazards concerning sugar, the time has come for people to look towards alternatives to this sweet additive.
Among those sugar substitutes is coconut sugar, and we will be discussing, in-depth, what coconut sugar is all about and if this is truly the healthier alternative to sugar that it claims to be.
What is Coconut Sugar?
Coconut sugar is a type of palm sugar that is derived from the sap of the coconut palm’s flower bud stem. It is known by many names such as coco sugar, coco sap sugar, or coconut blossom sugar.
In some countries, it may also be known as gula Jawa or gula Melaka, names that they are called in Indonesia and Malaysia, respectively. Coconut sugar, in fact, is a very popular sugar alternative in many Southeast Asian countries and is used in a variety of local delicacies.
Coconut sugar comes from sap which is harvested by farmers by making a cut into the flower bed stem.
This is then boiled with water until it thickens into a syrupy texture. The mixture is then dried and pounded into crystals. Unlike processed sugar, coconut sugar is created through natural means. As such, coloration and sizes can vary from batch to batch.
How Healthy is Coconut Sugar?
Compared to regular white sugar, coconut sugar has some advantages when it comes to health effects on the body. First and foremost, coconut sugar contains more electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Electrolytes help in maintaining bodily functions such as those of your nerves and muscles. More calcium, iron, zinc are found in coconut sugar when compared to other alternatives.
As coconut sugar comes from the coconut tree, it has thus inherited some essential nutrients from the latter. These include Vitamin C that promotes good bone health and boosts the immune system, as well as fatty chain acids that help in lowering cholesterol levels.
There are also rich antioxidants that can be found in coconut sugar, which helps fight aging as well as certain cancers.
However, consuming coconut sugar may have negative effects as well. As such, moderation is still a must, in pretty much the same way that you would avoid consuming too much table sugar.
The negative effects of coconut sugar, as well as its other properties, are discussed in the sections below.
Coconut Sugar vs. Other Sugars
Regular white sugar contains “empty” calories, which basically means that there are almost no vital minerals that can be found. In coconut sugar, however, 25% are minerals, which are made up mainly of potassium and sodium.
Both of these are vital for regular bodily functions. The amount that you would be getting while still consuming daily limits are quite negligible, though, and you would be much better off getting these nutrients from other food sources or supplements.
Coconut sugar is also a good source of inulin which is great for those that need to regulate their blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut sugar is also less “bad” for you as this sweetener, when compared to others, has quite less actual sugar. Regular white sugar is almost 100% pure sugar while coconut sugar is around 75%.
Against other sugars such as brown sugar or cane sugar, coconut sugar is more sustainable as it requires less energy to produce. Also, it is completely vegan as it does not use bone char, an element usually used when processing sugars, so this is a perfect alternative for those with medical or ethical concerns regarding this matter.
However, coconut sugar has some downsides, too. First, it is among the highest when it comes to calories and carbohydrates. As such, they are no better than white sugar and it may even be worse if you are worried about your waistline.
What is Coconut Sugar’s Impact on Blood Sugar Levels?
As previously mentioned, coconut sugar is a good source of inulin, which is a dietary fiber and serves as a type of good bacteria that helps clean your digestive tract. Not only that, but inulin as helps in balancing your blood sugar levels.
This makes coconut sugar a good alternative for those with diabetes, but it is by no means a cure and must still be consumed sparingly.
Another benefit of coconut sugar is its low glycemic index. The glycemic index, or GI, or a particular food determines how fast it is absorbed into the body.
A low GI for sugars means that it will not spike your blood glucose and insulin levels as fast. Coconut sugar has a GI of 35, while table sugar has a GI of 65 and brown sugar has a GI of around the same figures as the latter.
Again, coconut sugar is not the ultimate answer for diabetics or for those who want to regulate their blood sugar levels. While it is less harmful to the body, it is still a type of sugar and must be treated, and consumed, as such. For diabetics, other sweetener alternatives may be pursued and only take coconut sugar at the advice of a licensed physician or your doctor.
Coconut Sugar and Fructose
In order to better understand how sugar affects us, it is important to understand the different types of sugars, or saccharides, that exist and how they are absorbed by the body. These sugars are known as sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
Simply put, sucrose is a combination of one part fructose and one part glucose. Sucrose would need to be broken down by the body before it can be absorbed. On the other hand, glucose is considered as a building block for carbohydrates and is absorbed more easily by the body.
As such, glucose also tends to increase blood sugar levels faster. Lastly, fructose is the sweetest type of sugar but does not raise your blood sugar as quickly. However, fructose is often added to foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup and has the worst effects on the body when eaten in excess.
Different combinations of these three sugars can have different effects on the body, although studies have shown that fructose is the worst culprit as it has been linked to multiple complications such as obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
When it comes to coconut sugar, many say that it is fructose-free. The truth, however, is that the fructose is hidden within sucrose of which coconut sugar has around 75%. Comparing that to high fructose corn syrup at 55% and regular sugar at 50%, coconut sugar is actually not a worry-free sweetener that some claim it to be.
However, it can also be argued that those foods with more fructose are actually better. As fructose is the sweetest of sugars, you would need to use and consume less in order to satisfy sugar cravings.
As such, you would need less sugar than you would regularly use if you have previously required sugars with less fructose content. Of course, this would fully depend on your discipline and personal tastes.
Is Coconut Sugar Good for Weight Loss?
Ten grams of coconut sugar yields around 37.5 calories, which is comparable to other types of sugar. It also has as many grams of carbohydrates by weight, so unless you are leading an active lifestyle, you should use coconut sugar sparingly.
While coconut sugar does contain more essential minerals than its counterparts, you would have to consume a ridiculous amount just to be able to enjoy its benefits. As such, it would be much better to get these nutrients from other sources.
Coconut sugar is definitely not a good wealth loss alternative to regular sugars and it must be treated just like any other type of sugar. Depending on your age, gender, and general health, you must limit your sugar consumption to only 6 to 9 tablespoons per day. You should also consider that most foods and beverages already contain sugar as they are packaged or served.
What’s the Healthiest Sugar?
The jury is out when it comes to the best sugar. Coconut sugar does provide minerals and nutrients that cannot be found in other sugars, but these are not significant in the sense that getting enough from this food source will cause more harm than good.
What this basically means is that you should definitely not use coconut sugar to get your daily dose of zinc, potassium, or other nutrients as there are other healthier choices.
In reality, there is no healthy sugar, but coconut sugar does provide some benefits. By regulating consumption and leading an active lifestyle as well as having a balanced diet, you can use coconut sugar, or any type of sugar, for that matter, in order to satisfy your cravings while still preventing negative effects on the body.
It is still best to consult with a doctor when determining the best type of sugar for you, as well as determining the limits by which you can consume them.
Is Coconut Sugar Better than Stevia?
Stevia comes from the plant stevia rebaundiana which is native to South America. It is 300 times sweeter than regular sugar, so only very little is required. It also has a glycemic index of 0, has zero calories, and is highly recommended by doctors for diabetics.
On the plus side, coconut sugar has some nutrients, while stevia does not contain any. Stevia also has a bitter aftertaste which takes some getting used to, while coconut sugar has a taste similar to brown sugar.
If you do not have any health concerns, then coconut sugar in moderation may be superior. However, if you are looking after your weight or if you are a diabetic, then stevia is your best bet.
Other Sugar Alternatives
Aside from stevia, there are many other sugar alternatives that you may choose. Here are some examples as well as their pros and cons.
Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol that is also known as birch sugar. It has less calories than regular sugar and is not harmful to your teeth. Xylitol is probably as close to sugar in terms of sweetness and texture than others in this list. However, take note that xylitol can be quite expensive, is dangerous to dogs, and can cause diarrhea when consumed in excess.
Honey, as many would know, comes from bees. Honey is typically considered as a miracle food due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, making it good for those with infections or weak immune systems.
Unfortunately, honey is also very calorie-rich. While properties would vary depending on batch and locale, honey is also less sweet than sugar in general, which might tempt you to use more to reach the sweetness that you want.
Maple syrup is another good alternative to sugar. Real maple syrup contains antioxidants and nutrients like iron, magnesium, and calcium. You should be careful when choosing maple syrup, though, as some products may be packaged as such but are not the real thing.
Some products may be artificially produced and may do more harm than good. Be careful also when serving maple syrup as it is less sweet than sugar and you may over-estimate portions for your foods or drinks.
Other alternative sweeteners include agave nectar, molasses, and dates. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and would still need to be used sparingly. It is very important to know, aside from how they taste, how they would affect your body both long term and short term.
This is especially important for diabetics or for those who are watching their weight. With the right sugar or sugar alternative, you can still indulge in your sweet cravings without compromising your health.