Is Coconut Sugar A Healthy Alternative To White Sugar?

Written by Aparna Mallampalli , BEd (Biological Sciences), MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition

The negative effects of sugar are well-known. But are you finding it difficult to give up on sugar intake? Worry not! Table sugar certainly has some healthy alternatives – and one among them is coconut sugar. It is unrefined and has a low glycemic index (the body takes longer to digest it). This sugar variant helps prevent the sudden spike in blood sugar levels.

In this article, we explore the benefits of coconut sugar, its nutritional profile, and potential side effects. Take a look.

What Is Coconut Sugar And How Is It Made?

Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut trees. It is said to retain certain nutrients from the coconut palm and is used as a sweetener in many cuisines. It is unrefined, has a low glycemic index, and does not contain any synthetic substances.

Coconut sugar is made through a simple process. Nectar is collected from the coconut palm, mixed with water, and boiled until it attains a syrupy consistency. It is dried and allowed to crystallize, which is then broken down into sugar crystals.

What nutrients does coconut sugar have? Let’s find this out in the following section. Keep reading!

Nutritional Profile Of Coconut Sugar

100g of coconut sugar contain (1):

Energy400 kcal
Protein0g
Total lipid (fat)0g
Carbohydrate, by the difference100g
Fiber, total dietary0g
Sugars80g
Sodium, Na240 mg
Fatty acids0g
Cholesterol0 mg

Coconut sugar is minimally refined and retains most of the nutrients. So, what health benefits does it have? Keep reading to learn about them.

Potential Health Benefits Of Coconut Sugar

1. Helps Manage Glucose Levels And Post-Meal Sugar Spikes

Many people with diabetes prefer coconut sugar as an alternative to table sugar due to its low glycemic index. The carbohydrate content in coconut sap is less compared to other types of sugars, like cane sugar. In diabetic rats, coconut kernel protein was found to reduce the spike in glucose and insulin levels. It also normalized glycogen levels in the liver and the activities of carbohydrate-metabolizing enzymes (2).

Other studies suggest that the xylose (sugar) in coconut controls postprandial (post-meal) spikes in glucose and insulin levels by acting as a sucrose inhibitor (3). However, more quality research is warranted in this regard.

2. May Promote Gut Health

Studies show that coconut sugar contains inulin (a starchy substance) (4). Inulin was found to modify the composition of gut microbiota and improve their function (5). It also improved satiety and intestinal discomfort, and decreased cravings for sweet and salty foods. However, more research is warranted to understand the benefits of inulin from coconut sugar.

3. Is Rich In Antioxidants

Studies show that coconut sugar retains many antioxidants, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C) (6). Ascorbic acid helps prevent damage caused by free radicals, reduces the severity of allergic reactions, and fights infections (7).

4. Is Minimally Refined

Coconut sugar is usually unrefined, unlike other sugars. A study found that minimal refining of sugars may retain more nutrients (8). This may exhibit many beneficial effects on health. However, more extensive research is warranted in this regard.

How does coconut sugar compare with other types of sugar? Let us understand in the following section.

Coconut Sugar Vs.Other Types Of Sugar

NutrientsCoconut Sugar(1)Refined Sugar(9)Brown Sugar(10)
Energy400 kcal401 kcal375 kcal
Protein0g0g0g
Total lipid (fat)0g0.32g0g
Carbohydrate, by the difference100g99.6g100g
Fiber, total dietary0g0g0g
Sugars80g99.8g100g
Sodium, Na240 mg1 mg0g
Fatty acids0g0g0g
Cholesterol0g0g0g

Excess intake of coconut sugar may pose potential risks. What are they? Continue reading to know them.

Potential Risks Of Coconut Sugar

1. Is High In Calories

Coconut sugar, although derived from a natural source, is still high in calories (equal to that of white sugar). Research links excess sugar intake with obesity and diabetes (11). Hence, consume it moderately and increase physical activity to avoid these side effects.

2. May Aggravate Coconut Allergies

Anecdotal evidence suggests that coconut sugar may aggravate coconut allergies. These are generally rare and are characterized by skin rashes, scratchy throat, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea (12). Discontinue its consumption and consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

3. Is High In Fructose

Coconut sugar contains high amounts of fructose (13). Research shows that excess fructose intake may cause insulin resistance, obesity, liver disorders, and diabetes (14). Hence, avoid excess intake of coconut sugar.

Coconut sugar may not be suitable for all. Listed below are a few healthy alternatives you may opt for. 

Healthy Alternatives

  • Date Sugar: It is made from raw dates. It is lower in calories and richer in vitamins and minerals.
  •  Light Brown Sugar: It has the same texture, color, and taste as coconut sugar.
  •  Sucanat: It is whole cane sugar with lesser sucrose content.
  •  Stevia: It is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. It has no calories and is suitable for regular moderate intake (15).

Takeaway

Coconut sugar is unrefined and retains most of its nutrients. Its low glycemic index helps manage blood sugar levels and also promotes gut health. However, it is a suitable alternative only to refined white sugar. Besides, both coconut and white sugars are high in calories, and may not be ideal for regular intake. Remember that moderation is key. You can also opt for other healthy alternatives like date sugar, light brown sugar, sucanat, or stevia.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Is coconut sugar better than regular sugar?

While both have the same amount of calories, coconut sugar is believed to be better as it is less refined and retains additional minerals. However, coconut sugar may also have negative effects if consumed in excess.

Can people with diabetes eat coconut sugar?

People with diabetes can take coconut sugar moderately as it has a few proven health benefits associated with diabetes (3). However, medical advice is highly recommended before starting its intake.

What is the healthiest sugar?

All sugars contain glucose, fructose, and sucrose, and may have negative effects if consumed in excess (16). However, unrefined sugar is considered healthier than refined sugar, though moderation is advised (17).

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. [HISTORICAL RECORD]:COCONUT SUGAR
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/520260/nutrients
  2. Arginine rich coconut kernel protein modulates diabetes in alloxan treated rats
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21050842/
  3. Coconut-derived D-xylose affects postprandial glucose and insulin responses in healthy individuals
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3259296/
  4. CHARACTERIZING COCONUT SAP SUGAR AND SYRUP AS A PROMISING FUNCTIONAL FOOD/INGREDIENT
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319284705_079_CHARACTERIZING_COCONUT_SAP_SUGAR_AND_SYRUP_AS_A_PROMISING_FUNCTIONAL_FOODINGREDIENT
  5. Effects of a diet based on inulin-rich vegetables on gut health and nutritional behavior in healthy humans
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC6537941/
  6. Antioxidant properties of coconut sap and its sugars
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282279556_Antioxidant_properties_of_coconut_sap_and_its_sugars
  7. Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3783921/
  8. Antioxidant activity nutritional and physicochemical characteristics and toxicity of minimally refined brown sugar and other sugars
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC7500760/
  9. Sugars granulated
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/746784/nutrients
  10. [HISTORICAL RECORD]: CANE SUGAR
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/589490/nutrients
  11. Harmful effects of sugar consumption on health
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30673177/
  12. Coconut Allergy Revisited
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5664015/
  13. Processing of coconut sap into sugar syrup using rotary evaporation microwave and open-heat evaporation techniques
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32337729/
  14. The negative and detrimental effects of high fructose on the liver with special reference to metabolic disorders
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC6549781/
  15. [HISTORICAL RECORD]: STEVIA
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/917968/nutrients
  16. Impact of sugar on the body brain and behavior
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29772560/
  17. Some nutritional properties of unrefined sugar and its promotion of the survival of new-born rats
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3870685/

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