With the increasing diets and nutritional protocols, many exotic sweeteners have made their way to the health food sections of our grocery stores and onto the shelves of our pantries. One such sweetener is coconut sugar, which is typically endorsed by the Paleo diet--based off of theories of the ancestral diet. Although coconuts don’t grow locally like our honey, maple syrup, and the stevia in my garden, I want to take some time to examine coconut sugar as one of our sweetener options.
Coconut sugar production has taken place in Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries for centuries. It is not harvested from the fruit of the coconut plant--which is the actual coconut--but rather the stem of the flower bud. Comparable to the tapping process of maple syrup production, once the flower stem is clipped, the flowing sap is collected and boiled. This allows the water to evaporate and the coconut sugar granules remain. These granules have a moderate glycemic load of 13, and are about 80% sucrose, 10% glucose, 10% fructose. This means the chemical structure is quite similar to table sugar. However, this product offers a slightly better nutrient profile than sugar.
The nutrients in coconut sugar include a small amount of zinc, potassium, and short chain fatty acids which are necessary for a healthy colon among other things. However, it’s unique fiber content is what sets it apart from table sugar. Coconut sugar contains a fiber called inulin which has many health benefits. For example, inulin slows down the absorption of glucose, helping to prevent diabetes. It also provides food for beneficial bacteria, acting as a prebiotic, which promotes gut healing and immune health. Inulin can also be found in chicory root, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, and asparagus.
In conclusion, coconut sugar is definitely a better option than table sugar, however, not essential for a balanced diet. It is overshadowed by the varied nutritional content of honey, maple syrup, and stevia. The inulin fiber, is fantastic, but could be obtained from the other options listed above. In addition, since it has to be shipped from tropical regions, I endorse it for those locals and am excited to utilize the sweeteners which my ecology supplies. That being said, in the healthy individual, coconut sugar is a natural sweetener which can certainly be enjoyed in moderation.