Palm Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?

Palm sugar is a sweetener made from the sap in coconut palm trees. It has a mild caramel flavor that is a popular ingredient in Southeast Asian and African cooking. 

Palm sugar is considered a healthier alternative to other sweeteners because its production involves minimal processing with no added chemicals. Because it’s unrefined, it also retains high levels of plant-based vitamins and minerals that can benefit your health.

Palm sugar also has a low glycemic index compared to other sweeteners, which means it’s less likely to cause your blood sugar to spike and crash. While research is ongoing, some studies suggest that palm sugar is a good alternative sweetener for people with diabetes

You can buy palm sugars at most supermarkets, and some places sell it in both solid sugar and honey-like liquid forms. 

Nutrition Information

One tablespoon of palm sugar contains: 

  • Calories: 54
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 15 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 15 grams

Palm sugar is a good source of: 

Palm sugar also contains manganese. This mineral aids in bone health and may reduce your risk of osteoporosis. It has also been studied for its potential in the reduction of some risk factors of diabetes, like insulin resistance

Too much sugar in your diet increases your risks for these conditions and other chronic diseases, however. While palm sugar contains a range of health-boosting nutrients, it should only be consumed in moderation.

Potential Health Benefits of Palm Sugar

Palm sugar is a better source of vitamins and minerals than comparable sweeteners. However, many people consume too much sugar, which can cause health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity

When consumed in moderation as an alternative to other sweeteners, palm sugar’s nutrients have health-boosting benefits like:

Blood Sugar Regulation

Palm sugar contains less glucose and a lower glycemic index than table sugar or honey. This helps to stabilize blood sugar levels better than other sweeteners so your energy levels don’t spike and crash — and reduces strain on your heart.

Promotes Better Digestion

Palm sugar contains a dietary fiber called inulin. Studies show that this plant-based fiber can help control bacteria in your gut, promotes good digestion, and improves your body’s mineral absorption. 

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Nervous System Function

By weight, palm sugar has higher levels of potassium than green vegetables and bananas. Potassium is necessary for maintaining good nervous system activity, like muscle contractions and a regular heartbeat. Consuming enough potassium can also help manage high blood pressure

More Antioxidants than Other Sugars

Research shows that palm sugar contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than other sugars. 

This nutritional content includes phytonutrients. These plant-based compounds have an antioxidant effect, which prevents cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases. 

Potential Risks of Palm Sugar

While research suggests that palm sugar may be a healthier alternative to sweeteners like white sugar, brown sugar, or honey, it should still be consumed in moderation.

Excessive sugar intake can lead to many health problems, including:

Heart Problems

Studies have found a strong link between high sugar diets and an increased risk of dying from heart disease.

Weight Gain

Research confirms that too much sugar can lead to unwanted weight gain and may put you at a greater risk for obesity. Some research also suggests that sugar can cause us to overeat. 

Overweight and obese people are at a higher risk for many types of chronic diseases, including diabetes

Tooth Decay

Sugar is one of the leading causes of tooth decay. It feeds plaque-forming bacteria and raises acidity levels in your mouth, both of which wear down tooth enamel and cause cavities. These bacteria can also cause gum infections like gingivitis, which can lead to tooth loss if left untreated.

Increased Stress

Recent research shows that people with high-sugar diets are more at risk for cognitive impairment, anxiety, and stress. 

Healthier Alternatives

When substituted for other common sweeteners in your diet, palm sugar may offer superior health benefits if consumed in moderation. But there are still significant risks associated with consuming sugar in excess. 

Some healthier alternatives for satisfying your sweet tooth may include:

Stevia

This zero-calorie plant extract is 200-300 times sweeter than regular sugar, but not everyone enjoys its taste.

Dates

These dried fruits are common substitutes for sugar in baked goods. While high in sugar, they contain large amounts of fiber, which can help you feel full. 

Fresh fruits

Fruits are naturally high in sugar, but are much richer in vitamins and minerals than traditional sweeteners. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Palm Sugar.”

Food Science & Nutrition: “Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) sap as a potential source of sugar: Antioxidant and nutritional properties.”

Harvard Medical School. “The sweet danger of sugar.”

Harvard Medical School: “Use glycemic index to help control blood sugar.”

International Food Research Journal: “Effects of sugarcane, palm sugar, coconut sugar and sorbitol on starch digestibility and physicochemical properties of wheat based foods.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Obesity, Sugar and Heart Health.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: “Symptoms & Causes of Diabetes.”

National Institutes of Health: “Manganese.”

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews: “The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors.”

Nutrients: “Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding.”

Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology: “Assess the Effectiveness of Palm Sugar Coffee on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus among Selected Rural Area.”

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Government: “Cut Down on Added Sugars.”

University of Illinois at Chicago Dentistry: “Thinking About Another Sweet Gulp? Think Again.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Potassium.”

U.S. Pharmacist: “Inulin Studies in Humans: Overview of Health Benefits.”

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