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June, 20 2017

Is coconut sugar really as good as it looks?


Ayesha @JdeV HQ

Coconuts have rapidly evolved from an exotic treat to a bonafide superfood, yielding deliciously sweet coconut water, rich coconut milk, coconut nectar and that famous all-rounder, coconut oil. So far coconut-based products have been lauded and praised, providing healthier alternatives and that trend is continuing with the popularity of coconut sugar.

If you enjoy a good bar of vegan chocolate, this ingredient may sound familiar to you. Health fanatics everywhere are starting to convert from cane sugar to coconut sugar, praising it as a more nutritious, guilt-free alternative.

But is it really worth the hype? Is coconut sugar really the flawless sweetener we’ve all be searching for? Well today I’m going to uncover the proposed health benefits of coconut sugar and decide whether it really does live up to its reputation.

How is coconut sugar produced?

Coconut sugar is produced from the sugar fluid or sap of the coconut, with the liquid usually being placed under a great amount of heat until the fluid has evaporated, leaving only the golden-brown sugar grains.

How does this compare to conventional sugar? Well white cane sugar, otherwise known as sucrose, derives from the sugar cane plant and goes through a very precise processing procedure.

First the raw sugar is separated from the plant and clarified by adding carbon dioxide and lime milk. Once the sucrose juice has been collected it is then heated to become a sort of syrup. This syrup is then crystallised into raw sugar and refined into granulated sugar, brown sugar or powdered sugar.1

What is the nutritional value of coconut sugar?

Coconut sugar is touted as having a greater nutritional value than ordinary sugars, although to be fair this wouldn’t exactly be difficult. Ordinary sugar is composed of 100% sucrose, making it 50% glucose and 50% fructose. By comparison coconut sugar is usually only 80% sucrose, or less, giving it a slightly lower fructose content at 45%.

Coconut sugar is also more environmentally-friendly than cane sugar, being voted the most sustainable sweetener in the world by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2014! - http://www.livestrong.com/article/367337-what-are-the-benefits-of-coconut-sugar/

Coconut sugar also contains more trace nutrients than ordinary sugar, including zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as other phytonutrients and antioxidants which can help to support your immune system.

Arguably the most important nutrient in coconut sugar, though, is inulin. Inulin is a type of fibre which can act very similarly to a prebiotic, helping to support your good gut bacteria whilst being quite gentle on your gut. It can also help to slow down the absorption of glucose – very useful if you suffer from trouble with your blood glucose levels!

It also scores surprisingly low on the GI index, usually ranking around 35, which is almost 50% less than ordinary cane sugar!

How does this compare to conventional sugar? It’s no secret that sugar is not exactly considered a ‘health food.’ The nutritional benefits of taking sugar are extremely low and this is in part to do with fructose.

Fructose cannot be synthesised by your body and usually can only be consumed through ripened fruits. Usually fructose derived from fruit is just fine – it’s only harmful in large amounts and there’s no way you’d be able to get an excessive intake of fructose from eating fruit alone.

However, refined sugars contain high quantities of fructose, which can pose serious problems. Only your liver can metabolise fructose, so in excess, it can place a great deal of stress on this organ, as well as providing empty calories, triggering insulin resistance and building fat around your organs!

Definitely not what you want!

What should you take away from this?

Coconut sugar definitely has some benefits when compared to ordinary cane sugar – it ranks a much lower score on the GI index, is rich in inulin and contains trace amounts of important minerals and phytonutrients.

However, that does not mean you should treat coconut sugar as some sort of guilt-free miracle sweetener, redeeming your cakes and chocolate. Coconut sugar still has a relatively high fructose content so it should still be treated as a sugar – a slightly healthier sugar perhaps – but you still shouldn’t be consuming it in excess!

I would personally still choose coconut sugar over cane sugar, though, and that’s mainly to do with its GI index score. It’s not a perfect sweetener, however it is still slightly better than cane sugar and in moderation, does make a delicious natural alternative similar to honey and maple syrup.

Finding asuitable brand of coconut sugar can be difficult though as packaging can be misleading. That’s why I always opt for Superfoodies Organic Coconut Sugar. Harvested from coconut blossom nectar, Superfoodies coconut sugar is never bleached and brings a caramel-esque sweetness to cakes and other baked goods!

Another coconut sugar treat that I’ve fallen in love with recently is Pacari Chocolate’s Raw 85% Cacao Organic Chocolate Bar. Intensely rich and chocolaty, a few squares are all it takes to satisfy your sweet tooth and it makes for a great treat if you suffer from any blood sugar related health issues!

1https://www.sugar.org/images/docs/refining-and-processing-sugar.pdf