Coconut Sugar – are the health claims as sweet as they’re made out to be?


It seems as though the latest nutrition trends at the moment seem to be fueled by talk shows, celebrities and blogs by yummy mummies with no degree in nutrition.

Coconut sugar has been marketed as a ‘healthy’ sugar and a better alternative to white sugar. It is perceived to be more natural and less processed, than table sugar.

As Dietitians we would rather see more attention being focused on whole foods rather than sugar – Can we not just enjoy our healthy veggies, flax seeds and salmon for a while without being bombarded by the latest ‘health’ trends stirred up by celebrities or television ‘doctors’. But seeing as coconut sugar is popping up in our local shops we thought we would have a look to see if these health claims are actually as sweet as they’re advertised to be?
Where does coconut sugar come from?

Coconut sugar is a granular sugar that is produced from the sap of the flowers from coconut palms and not from the coconuts themselves. (Very similar to how maple syrup is derived from a maple tree).

It has been used as a traditional sweetener for many years in South and South-East Asian, but has only recently started appearing in our shopping aisles.

Is it nutritious?

Any form of sugar is not on the top of the list of nutritional foods to include into your healthy diet. Because coconut sugar is not as refined as other sweeteners/sugars it is able to retain more of the minerals and vitamins found in the coconut itself.

Some interesting facts about pure coconut sugar:

  • 20X as much potassium as honey
  • 2X as much iron as agave nectar
  • 2X as much magnesium as maple syrup
  • But is higher in sodium than other sweeteners
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar provides roughly the same amount of calories (15) as table sugar
  • It consists primarily of sucrose (70–79%), glucose (3–9%) and fructose (3–9%)

While it seems that coconut sugar contains more minerals than other sugars/sweeteners, you would have to eat about 25 teaspoons to get in half of your daily potassium needs.

The Bottom line

There isn’t much of a difference between coconut sugar and table sugar. They are both added sugars that we should be limiting in our diet. Did you know – “Too much sugar of any type – white, brown, coconut, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar – raises blood triglycerides, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol and contributes excess calories to your diet.”

The media and good marketing has given us the impression that coconut sugar is “healthier” than regular sugar. The problem with this is that it can result in a “health halo” – this basically means that we give ourselves permission to eat more of that specific food because we perceive it to be healthy for us.

Our advice – If you decide to start using coconut sugar for its unique taste and because you like the idea of it being less processed, please remember it is still a sugar and use it sparingly.

 

Feeling a bit coconutty after this information, why not try out this great recipe that contains coconut – Lemon Pie Yum Bites

Munchwize Dietitians are based in Claremont, Cape Town. Contact us here

 

 

 

References:

  1. http://www.racheljeffery.com/sugar.html
  2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/coconut-sugar-is-it-healthier-than-white-sugar-or-just-hype/article19187927/
  3. Corwin, J. Is Coconut Sugar Better For You?
  4. Sift through the specs of so-called natural sweeteners before settling. http://news.nationalpost.com/health/from-agave-nectar-to-coconut-sugar-sift-through-the-specs-of-so-called-natural-sweeteners-before-settling?__lsa=dd24-aa5d