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Coconut Sugar Review

February 1, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Over the last few years, coconut sugar has become a serious contender in the natural sweetener market. According to proponents, it’s an environmentally sustainable sweetener with several advantages over common “table” sugar. For starters, it’s a rich source of the essential mineral potassium. Beyond that, coconut sugar also prominently features inulin, a prebiotic carbohydrate with a very low glycemic index that may support digestive and immunological health.

You know a product has arrived when Dr. Mehmet Oz gives it his wholehearted blessing. In a recent segment of the Dr. Oz Show, coconut sugar was presented as a healthier alternative to most common sweeteners. My take on coconut sugar, sometimes referred to as coconut palm sugar, isn’t entirely on the same page.

Based on the available data, it does seem that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (35) than other sweeteners including brown sugar (64), high fructose corn syrup (62) and maple syrup (54). What’s most impressive is that coconut sugar accomplishes a low glycemic index while possessing just nominal fructose content (between 1 to 4%). This differentiates coconut sugar from other low GI sweeteners like agave nectar. Coconut sugar likewise outpaces refined sugar sources because it contains a sizable quantity of naturally occurring antioxidants – primarily polyphenols. However, it’s important to note that the scant amount of research currently published on coconut sap and sugar comes from the Philippines, a country whose economy is heavily influenced by coconut manufacturing. What’s more, even researchers in the Philippines have called for additional study in human subjects to confirm or refute the proposed health benefits of this trendy sweetener.

In terms of downsides, coconut sugar is the same as any other sugar in terms of its caloric content. Most people, especially diabetics, would do well to reduce their caloric intake from non-essential sources. Also, the previously mentioned inulin content can produce conflicting results. On the positive end of the spectrum, inulin consumption increases the number of friendly or good bacteria in the digestive system. Conversely, some sensitive individuals may find that inulin provokes unwelcome reactions, such as increased gassiness.

For me, the bottom line is that I’d like to see much more research on coconut sugar before I’m entirely comfortable recommending it. If the forthcoming data continues to support the initial findings, I’ll likely include coconut sugar on my short list of approved sweeteners – that is, for those who may require additional calories in their diet. For the time being, I occasionally suggest coconut sugar for my clients who won’t use stevia, my favorite non-caloric sweetener. Stevia still holds several advantages over coconut sugar, including a lower glycemic index, more research to support its use and zero calories.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Philippine National Standard – Coconut Sap Sugar (PDF File) (link)

Study 2 - FNRI Nutritional and Health Benefits of Coconut Sap (PDF File) (link)

Study 3 - Dr. Oz: Coconut Palm Sugar: Best New Sugar Alternative(link)

Study 4 - Manilla Bulletin: PCA Eyes More Coconut Sugar Exports (link)

Study 5 – Microbiota Benefits After Inulin and Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum (link)

Study 6 - Chicory Inulin Does Not Increase Stool Weight or Speed Up Intestinal(link)

Study 7 – Effects of Chicory Inulin in Constipated Elderly People: A Double-Blind (link)

Study 8 – Antioxidant, Anti-Diabetic and Renal Protective Properties of Stevia (link)

Study 9 - Steviol Glycosides from Stevia: Biosynthesis Pathway Review (link)

Study 10 - An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Stevia by the Natural (link)

Low Glycemic Diets Benefit Cardiovascular Health in Type 2 Diabetics

Source: Indian J Endocr Metab 2012;16:991-5 (link)

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2 Comments & Updates to “Coconut Sugar Review”

  1. kristi Says:

    Thanks for this article! Do you have an opinion on coconut nectar. I’ve weaned myself from “needing” even stevia in my tea – but sometimes I do need a little something – esp. in my homemade desserts – for these things, I have been using coconut nectar.

  2. JP Says:

    Hi Kristi,

    Coconut nectar (or sap) has a slightly higher GI than coconut sugar – about 39 according to the only analysis I could find. The nutritional and phytochemical content of the sap vs. sugar varies slightly. The specifics can be found by downloading Study 2 (a free, PDF file) entitled, “Nutritional and Health Benefits of Coconut Sap and Sugar”.

    Be well!

    JP

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