Coconut sugar: What is it and is it healthier than table sugar?


Last Updated December 24th, 2019

What is coconut sugar?

Coconut sugar is the natural sugar extracted from the coconut palm tree. It is also referred to as coconut flower nectar or coco sap sugar or coconut palm sugar. The sap of coconut palm runs just like the maple tree that stores the starch in the trunks and the roots during winter.

Coconut sugar crystals appear brown in color. It has a mild sweet taste. The color and taste tend to differ with the kind of coconut from which it is derived.

How is coconut sugar manufactured?

  • The coconut sap is harvested.
  • The farmer pierces through the stem of the flower bud. The nectar flows out.
  • The coconut sugar is made from this nectar by mixing it with water and boiling it to a syrup consistency. This nectar syrup is dried so that the sugar crystallizes.
  • The dried sugar blocks are broken down to obtain sugar granules.
  • This looks just like raw sugar that is not processed. There might be some variations in color and size of the granules.
  • Coconut sugar is brown because the process of boiling causes caramelization.

What nutrition does it provide?

Coconut sugar contains minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium. It also contains short chain fatty acids, polyphenols, and other antioxidants.

The calorie content is the same as table sugar. 1 teaspoon of refined sugar offers 16 calories of energy and the same amount of coconut sugar offers 15 calories of energy. The fiber content in coconut sugar is called inulin. This enables slow absorption of glucose and that is why coconut sugar has a low glycemic index (a value indicating the effect of the carbohydrates on the blood sugar levels).

The minerals play a major role in bone health, muscle relaxation, etc., and the nitrogen is vital for the heart. It is used in protein synthesis along with the amino acids and also acts as a source for the production of nitric oxide which is a blood pressure minimizer. The glycemic index of white refined sugar per 100 g would be 63 whereas it is about 35 for coconut sugar.

How is coconut sugar different from other sugars?

  • White refined sugar or corn syrup is a widely consumed form of sugar. It is mostly calories and is devoid of other nutrients.
  • The composition of granulated sugar or white sugar (per 100 g) would be about 99.98 g of carbohydrates and the rest would be minerals such as sodium and calcium.
  • In case of high-fructose corn syrup (of 100 g), the content would be 76 g of carbohydrates and 24 g of water. There is a minute amount of iron and sodium.
  • If you look at coconut sugar (per 100 g), 75 g is the carbohydrate content and the remaining belong to minute elements such as sodium (125 milligrams) and potassium (625 milligrams).

Coconut sugar and fructose

Coconut sugar is high on fructose. You need to know that sucrose is composed of half fructose. In other words, the sucrose content in coconut sugar amounts to 70 – 80% and this corresponds to 35 – 40% of fructose amounts. 

The advantage is that fructose is slightly complex than glucose. The glycemic index of fructose is lower than glucose. The body takes time in deriving energy from fructose as opposed to immediate processing of glucose. This does not mean fructose is a healthier option as it is still sugar.

Excess intake of any sugar in large amounts will obviously result in a disruption in the metabolism, diabetes, obesity, and even heart diseases. So it is better if you consume coconut sugar in moderation. Because high levels of fructose can cause the following damages:

  • As the uric acid levels in the blood intensify, there is a formation of urate crystals which can narrow down the blood flow. This increases blood pressure & could cause gout
  • The high sugar levels will negatively impact the liver. The liver can convert the sugar into storage for up to a certain limit beyond which, it converts it into fat. This can result in the non-alcoholic fatty liver.
  • This eventually causes an abrupt balance of lipids in the blood. The high intake of fructose eventually causes a rise in the blood sugar levels. Finally, there will be a surge in the levels of bad cholesterol (very low-density lipoproteins or VLDLs).
  • The high fructose levels will impair the hormones (leptin) that make you feel full and magnify the hunger causing hormone ghrelin. So you might tend to indulge in overeating and give into
  • The high sugar levels will disrupt the function of insulin. It causes insulin resistance. This leads to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  • Coconut sugar affects your teeth just like any refined sugar
  • Eventually, the sucrose is a feed source to the bacteria in the oral cavity.

Coconut sugar and weight loss

Replacing sugar with coconut sugar may not aid weight loss.Some people may think coconut sugar is a perfect alternative to white sugar and add it with no hesitation. Unfortunately, coconut sugar is not a weight loss miracle or nutritional wonder. It contains additional nutrients when compared to white sugar, but the difference is small.

It is also critical to understand that coconut sugar is still high in carbohydrates and contains calories. It is recommended to consume no more than 6 and 9 teaspoons per day of added sugar for women and men, respectively. This is irrespective of whether it comes from coconut sugar, table sugar, or any other type of added sugar.

Is it good for digestion?

As noted earlier, coconut sugar contains inulin. Inulin has the ability to stimulate the growth of intestinal bifidobacteria which provides an overall boost to the immune system. Coconut sugar’s inulin is very useful to replenish the gut bacterial population in cases such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, etc. when they are usually killed. 


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