Coconut Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?

Coconut sugar, sometimes called coconut palm sugar, comes from the sap of the coconut palm tree — not the coconuts.

Harvesters tap coconut palm sap by cutting into the tree’s flower-bud stem to access its nectar. Producers mix the sap with water, boil it into a syrup, and allow it to dry and crystallize. Afterward, they break the dried sap apart to create sugar granules that resemble regular table or cane sugar.

Coconut sugar is a popular sweetener in many vegan diets, as it is plant-based and minimally processed. Because coconut sugar is a plant-based, natural sweetener, some people feel it is more nutritious than regular table sugar. In reality, coconut sugar is almost identical to regular cane sugar in terms of nutrients and calories. 

Nutrition Information

Coconut sugar retains many nutrients found in the coconut palm — mostly iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. These nutrients can support the body in numerous ways, but coconut sugar does not contain enough of them per serving to offer a measurable benefit. Coconut sugar also contains the soluble fiber inulin, which is linked to a lower risk of blood sugar spikes. 

One teaspoon of coconut sugar contains:

  • 18 calories
  • 0 grams of protein
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of sugar

Potential Health Benefits of Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar provides a few potential health benefits, but it is primarily a sweetener and is not rich in nutrients.

Still, it could:

Prevent low blood sugar. The body relies on glucose for energy. Like brown sugar and cane sugar, coconut sugar can help raise blood glucose levels and prevent conditions such as low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia can make you feel hungry, shaky, sweaty, dizzy, or nauseous. It can even lead to seizures and coma. If you are looking for a natural, plant-based sweetener to keep your blood glucose and energy levels up, coconut sugar is the ideal choice.

Lower chances of a blood sugar spike. Per serving, coconut sugar contains a small amount of inulin, a type of soluble fiber that can make post-meal blood sugar spikes less likely. Foods containing inulin can be healthy choices for people with diabetes.

Continued

Potential Risks of Coconut Sugar

While coconut sugar contains very small amounts of minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, it is still high in calories. You would need to ingest so much coconut sugar for your body to use these nutrients that the calorie count would likely outweigh any nutritional benefit. 

Nutritionists tend to treat coconut sugar like regular table sugar and recommend limiting how much you have. One teaspoon of cane sugar contains 16 calories, so you won’t save on calories if you replace cane sugar with coconut sugar in recipes.

Healthy Alternatives

If you're concerned that you're taking in too much added sugars, but you still need to sweeten your food or drinks, fruit and fruit juice may be your best option. For instance, try sweetening your oatmeal with some applesauce, or bananas. Or you can add a splash of fruit juice to some seltzer water.

Other natural sweeteners can be a good idea, as well, like vanilla extract, spices like cinnamon, or other natural things like cocoa powder, or almond extract.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 15, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Coconut sugar: should you use it?”

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Functional therapeutical potential of inulin: A comprehensive review.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Forbes: “Junk Food, Minus The Junk: Food Companies Are Making Indistinguishable Plant-Based Alternatives To Classic Snacks.”

Kaiser Permanente: “How our bodies turn food into energy.”

The New York Times: “Gravlax.”

The University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences: “In the News: Assistant Professor of Practice Kayle Skorupski on Sugar Alternatives.” 

Tufts University: “Health & Nutrition Letter, March 11, 2020,” “Health & Nutrition Letter, September 17, 2019.”

Cleveland Clinic: "The 5 Best (And Worst) Sweeteners You Can Eat."

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