Hailed by many as a healthier alternative to cane sugar, coconut palm sugar has taken the health food world by storm. Made from the sap of the tree (not the fruit itself), coconut sugar has been gaining popularity in recent years. But is this just a fad, or is there truth behind the claims being made by companies producing the sweetener? We took a look at these claims and did our research to get to the bottom of the issue so we could know the truth about coconut palm sugar.
Claim: It has a low GI
This is one of the most repeated “benefits” listed about coconut sugar. There is one report claiming that coconut palm sugar has a Glycemic Index of 351, which is lower than regular table sugar which comes in at about 58. However, the problem is that people respond differently to GI and the study only included 10 people.
Verdict: This claim stands on shaky evidence at best. It’s ok to use this sugar and hope it has a lower GI, but don’t buy and use it solely for this “fact.”
Claim: It’s safe for diabetics
Because of the purported low GI of coconut palm sugar, many companies claim it’s safer for diabetics to use than regular sugar. The information this claim is based on, though, is not well-documented or supported by multiple tests. And while the GI might be different, as car as calories and carbs go, coconut sugar and regular sugar are almost identical at about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbhydrates per teaspoon2.
Verdict: According to the American Diabetes Association2, it’s OK for diabetics to use coconut sugar but to treat it exactly the same as regular sugar.
Claim: It’s loaded with minerals
It’s true that regular table sugar is filled with empty calories, adding no nutritional value whatsoever. It turns out that there is truth behind this claim: coconut palm sugar does have a wide range of trace minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and short chain fatty acids. Most notable is the potassium content: just half a cup of coconut sugar has 1000mg of potassium3. This sweetener also has a fiber called inulin1 that works to slow the body’s absorption of glucose.
The only problem with these claims is the sheer amount of coconut palm sugar you’d have to eat in order to receive a significant amount of these nutrients. Is eating half a cup of coconut sugar really the best way to get 1000mg of potassium when half a cup of cooked greens gets you 500mg3?
Verdict: For a sweetener, using coconut palm sugar does get at least some nutrition in where regular sugar would give you nothing of nutritional value.
Claim: It’s environmentally friendly
While this isn’t a health-related claim, it’s one manufacturers use to boost their cause. The reasoning behind this is that coconut trees can grow in really poor soil with less water than sugar cane. The flip side of this is that once a tree is being used to harvest sap for coconut sugar, that tree can no longer grow the coconut fruit itself. Meeting the rising demand for coconut palm sugar has actually backfired by causing the price of coconuts, coconut meat, and coconut oil to rise.
Verdict: It does seem true that there are some more environmentally responsible aspects to coconut sugar production, but the regulation of which trees are used for sugar and which trees are used for fruit is imbalanced.
Claim: It’s better than “regular” sugar
Overall, those on the coconut sugar bandwagon talk about it like it’s a miracle food. Between the low GI and nutritional content, they claim it’s far superior to regular sugar and are willing to pay the high price tag of anywhere from $4 to $15 a pound4.
Verdict: If you’re faced with the choice of regular sugar or coconut palm sugar, going with the coconut sugar does have a slight advantage if only for the nutritional content. However, it’s no miracle sweetener, and at the end of the day is still a sugar that should be used sparingly.