We can give thanks to the coconut tree for the numerous products it yields — from coconut water to desiccated coconut, coconut vinegar and, a personal favorite, coconut oil. It’s also very popular in making alcoholic drinks known to locals as tuba or coconut wine. However, it is the inflorescence — or coconut blossoms of the coconut tree (not to be confused with the palm tree) — that offers a sap that can be processed to create a syrup or honey-like substance, which is then dried to form coconut sugar. (1)
Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that may be more expensive than regular granulated sugar, but it’s worth it since it yields some tremendous benefits that make it a much better choice than many other sweetener options. For instance, coconut sugar is better for diabetics and the gut than your normal, everyday sugar, and it holds trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Is Coconut Sugar Good for You?
This question is a popular one, especially since coconut oil has become one of the top go-tos for just about anything from whitening your teeth to a healthy fat on your morning toast, but there is still little data on it. What we know is that there are trace amounts of vitamins and minerals found in coconut sugar, but for it to really have impactful nutrition, you need to eat a lot of it. Eating too much sugar, in any form, is not a good idea, and coconut sugar, calorie for calorie, is the same as regular granulated sugar.
Regardless, it’s definitely the better choice if you’re looking for an alternative sweetener or granulated sugar substitute since trace elements are available, such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, some short-chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants, and a fiber known as inulin — all of which may offer some health benefits that regular table sugar cannot. (2)
Coconut Sugar Benefits
1. May Help Diabetics
Coconut sugar and coconut nectar contain a fiber known as inulin. This fiber may help slow glucose absorption, offering an alternative for those dealing with diabetic concerns. Some studies show that inulin may help reduce the absorption of glucose, therefore, keeping glucose levels in check. (3) One study in particular conducted by the Department of Biochemistry and Diet Therapy at the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences’ Nutrition Research Center suggests that it helps women with type 2 diabetes, improving some glycemic and antioxidant levels while decreasing malondialdehyde levels, a marker of oxidative stress. (4)
With a taste much like brown sugar, coconut sugar (and coconut nectar) is gaining popularity as a sweetener in everything from coffee and tea to delicious food recipes. The American Diabetes Association shares that while it’s OK for those with diabetes to use coconut sugar as a sweetener on a diabetic diet plan, it’s important that they use it the same way they would use table sugar because it contains just as many calories and carbohydrates — about 15 calories and four grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon. Another important note is that it’s often found blended with table sugar, so take a look at the label before making a purchase. (5)
2. Paleo-Approved, Sort Of
If you are on the Paleo diet, coconut sugar is an option that you can use to satisfy that sweet tooth, according to the Ultimate Paleo Guide. (6) Some hard-core Paleo followers still avoid it since it’s often processed. However, it’s thought to have been used in Paleolithic times, which is part of its claim to being OK for Paleo lovers.
Studies lead us to think that our “ancestors obtained about 35% of their dietary energy from fats, 35% from carbohydrates and 30% from protein.” (7) Coconut sugar would lie in the carbohydrate category, but it’s still a processed form of the coconut flower. Perhaps the coconut nectar or a liquid form is a little closer to Paleo for those who want to maintain a more strict Paleo lifestyle. (8)
3. Contains Vitamins, Minerals and Phytonutrients
Coconut sugar contains vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, though in small amounts. Iron and zinc, for example, are found in coconut sugar, containing about two times more than granulated sugar according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). (9)
The FNRI also notes that there are a decent amount of phytonutrients, specifically polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanidins. These phytonutrients help reduce blood sugar, inflammation and cholesterol, making coconut sugar a better option than many other sweeteners. The American Cancer Society explains that phytonutrients that come from plants offer many health benefits and are better choices than supplements or pills. (10)
4. Good for the Gut
As noted earlier, coconut sugar contains inulin. Inulin has the ability to stimulate the growth of intestinal bifidobacteria, commonly found in probiotics, which can provide an overall boost to the immune system. Though bifidobacteria are a group of bacteria that normally live in the intestines, they can be grown outside the body and taken orally as medicine. Bifidobacteria have been known to help restore the good bacteria in the gut that may have been destroyed through chemotherapy, antibiotics and the like. (11)
This bacteria helps many conditions that may affect the intestines, such as diarrhea, ulcerative colitis,and pouchitis, and it has even been used to prevent a particular bowel infection found in infants called necrotizing enterocolitis. (12)
How to Use Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar can be used the same as you would use regular sugar, but you may want to start with half the amount until the desired sweetness is reached.
Try the following coconut sugar recipe to start:
Roasted Sesame Broccoli with Orange and Basil Miso Dressing
- 2 heads broccoli
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- Toasted coconut flakes
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, lightly toasted for topping the dish
For the dressing:
- 2 teaspoons red miso
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or coconut nectar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon dried chili peppers
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 orange, freshly squeezed
- Trim the broccoli florets and place in a bowl with the onion. Add the coconut aminos and sesame oil and toss until well-coated.
- Place on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes or until tender. Keep an eye on it to make sure it does not get too dry. You can add a little water to the bottom of the pan if needed.
- In the meantime, let’s prepare the dressing. Place all of the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- To toast the coconut flakes and sesame seeds, simply dry toast them in a pan on the stove on medium to high heat. They will toast quickly so keep a watchful eye so that it does not burn. Toast them separately. Set aside.
- Once the broccoli and onions are ready, place them in a bowl or platter. Drizzle the dressing across the broccoli and onions. Top with the toasted sesame seeds and coconut flakes. This makes a great side dish to almost any meal.
There are so many more recipes that utilize coconut sugar, especially desserts. Here are some of my favorites:
Coconut Sugar History
The International Relations Service of the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris reports on the history of coconut palm sugar, citing a part of a speech given by Ghandi, a known vegetarian, at the opening of a village industry exhibition in 1939: (13)
“Neera [sap extracted from Borassus flabellifer] can be converted into Jaggery sweet as honey itself. This Jaggery is superior to ane Jaggery. Cane Jaggery is sweet, but Palm Jaggery is sweet and delicious; it can be produced worth crores of rupees. Palm Gur gies mineral salts too. Doctors have told me to eat Jaggery and I always eat Palm Gur. Nature has made this product in such a way that it cannot be manufactured in the Mills; it is produced in the Cottages. Where there are Palm trees; there, Jaggery is produced in every hamlet. This is the way to banish poverty from the land. This also is an antidote to poverty.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Coconut palm trees have been used for sugar production for centuries using highly sophisticated techniques of tapping that were developed Asia, Africa and America. Ensuring ways to retrieve the sap has been of great interest since trials of feeding animals were successfully initiated during a project in Cambodia. In fact, this process has been practiced by the Indonesians for hundreds of years, noting it as an efficient system in some highly populated islands.
It’s commonly referred to as coco sugar, coconut palm sugar, coco sap sugar or coconut blossom sugar, but keep in mind that palm sugar is not the same thing and is often confused when used in labeling.
Potential Side Effects/Caution with Coconut Sugar
There seems to be little information regarding precautions other than the reminder that coconut sugar has the same calories as regular sugar, so keeping it in moderation is key. Having too much sugar of any kind can affect weight gain, inflammation in the body and can even increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. (14)
Also, the American Diabetes Association points out that many products on the shelf add regular sugar to coconut sugar, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye on labeling.
Final Thoughts on Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar can be a great sugar alternative, especially for diabetics. Additionally, while coconut sugar has many benefits that you will not find in regular table sugar, it may require large amounts to really make a positive affect. Regardless, it’s a much better option than regular granulated sugar, though keep in mind that I always recommend opting for small amounts of sugar in your diet in general.
However, if you are going to go for that sweetener, coconut sugar is one of the better natural sweeteners out there.
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