Is Coconut Sugar Healthier?

What is coconut palm sugar?
It is made from sap of the coconut palm that has been extracted, boiled and dehydrated. For cooking purposes, it has a very low melt temperature and an extremely high burn temperature so it can be used baked products instead of sugar. 

Health claims
Manufacturers of coconut palm sugar claim its low glycemic index, asserting it is a better choice for people with diabetes than regular sugar. Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how a food raises blood glucose (or blood sugar) compared to a reference food (usually glucose or white bread). In the United States, there is no official GI testing. Therefore, GI numbers for the same food can differ depending on the testing laboratory. GI can also vary by individuals, cooking method of that food item, and/or what it is combined with. In the case of coconut palm sugar, it is likely to be mixed with other ingredients that contain carbohydrates.

Truth
It provides the same number of calories and carbohydrates as regular cane sugar (about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon) so you wouldn’t be gaining any advantage in these respects by substituting it. However, coconut sugar about 71% sucrose (table sugar) as well as 3% pure glucose and 3% pure fructose. Meaning, about 78% of coconut sugar is sugar, compared with 100% of table sugar. Nutrients, inulin, and antioxidants constitute coconut sugar’s other 22%. Inulin is a type of indigestible dietary fiber which acts as a prebiotic.

Why focus on fructose content?
Fructose is a form of sugar found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. When fructose is joined to glucose, it’s called sucrose. It is vastly found in sugar cane, sugar beets, corn, and other plants. When extracted and refined, sucrose makes table sugar. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the average American consumed about 15 grams of fructose and mostly from eating fruits and vegetables. Currently, the American consumption averages around 55 grams per day (73 grams for adolescents). Higher intakes of fructose are associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. However, clinical trials have yet to show that it causes them.

Recommendations
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume not more than 6 teaspoons, and men not more than 9 teaspoons, of added sugar per day. The association also recommends that most children and adolescent girls consume less than 5 teaspoons, and adolescent boys less than 9 teaspoons, of added sugars per day. It is okay for people with diabetes to use coconut palm sugar as a sweetener, but you need to consider it as regular sugar and account it into your meal planning. Remember, everything in moderation. Otherwise, if you want to replace sugar for a non-calorie sweetener, I would recommend pure Stevia extract.

References:
Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health. A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009; 120:1011-20. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627

American Heart Association. Dietary recommendations for healthy children. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Dietary-Recommendations-for-Healthy-Children_UCM_303886_Article.jsp; Accessed July 18, 2017.

American Diabetes Association. Making healthy food choices, coconunt palm sugar.
http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/coconut-palm-sugar.html; Accessed July 18, 2017.

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