Coconut Palm Sugar

More and more often I read that sugar seems to be rather bad for your health. Particularly with regards to Aging (which I am getting more worried about, I have to admit... doesn't it just seem to creep up on you?) So I have recently been looking for good alternatives. There are lots of foods I don't like eating without the added touch of something sweet (like oatmeal or coffee).

I don't like sachrose or any of those chemical sweeteners much, honey has too strong a flavour for a lot of foods/drinks so this search kept me going for a while - till I finally found something: Coconut Palm Sugar! I have been looking around at more info on this food, and found a great blog about it. Rather then trying to write my own, I therefore just repeat what I have read on www.summertomato.com (a great blog by foodie author Darya Pino)....

Darya writes: Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes can be very appealing to people looking to cut their calories or control blood sugar, and I get a lot of questions about them. Generally I don’t recommend processed or sweetened foods and encourage people to break free from regular sugar consumption, but I recently discovered coconut palm sugar and decided to look into it.

Coconut palm sugar has garnered attention as being a low-carb sugar substitute that is both more nutritious and sustainable than typical granulated sugar. Because of its complex flavor it is also gaining a reputation in foodie communities, with establishments like the popular Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco switching 100% of its sweeteners over to coconut palm sugar.

Pure coconut palm sugar is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. There are several different varieties of palm (Palmyra, date, etc.), and “coconut palm” specifically refers to the coco nucifera plant.

Most of the “palm sugar” commonly sold in Asian markets is not pure coconut palm sugar but is blended with other fillers such as white cane sugar. Pure certified organic coconut palm sugar is sold under the brand name Sweet Tree in the US, and can be found at some natural food stores. It is also available online at Samovar.

The information in this article applies only to 100% pure coconut palm sugar. Check your labels carefully.

Pure coconut palm sugar reportedly has a naturally low glycemic index (GI)–a measure of how food impacts blood sugar–which has led some people to claim that it is a valuable sugar substitute for people with diabetes or those looking to control blood sugar (the low-carb camp). Indeed, a lower GI may be a good indication that a food is safer for diabetics, though it is not a guarantee.

When I first saw that coconut palm sugar has a low GI I figured it would be composed largely of fructose, similar to the popular sweetener agave nectar (and high-fructose corn syrup). Fructose does not impact blood sugar because it is transported directly to the liver and converted to fat. For an explanation of this mechanism, check out Dr. Lustig’s video on the dangers of fructose.

I was surprised to find, however, that coconut palm sugar is reportedly very low in fructose, and its main sugar component is sucrose (aka table sugar). What confuses me is that the GI of coconut palm sugar is supposed to be 35, while the GI of sucrose is 64.

I feel obligated to qualify the numbers on coconut palm sugar, however, since I could only find a summary of how GI was measured and not the published study itself. Also, this information was only available on the website of a company that sells coconut palm sugar. This doesn’t mean the number is inaccurate, it just means I’d like to see the study repeated by another credible source or two before taking it as fact.

(UPDATE: It seems newer tests have indeed found discrepancies with the reported GI of Sweet Tree products)

The number of calories in coconut palm sugar is almost identical to the number in regular table sugar and its closer relative, brown sugar. But coconut palm sugar is notably higher in various micronutrients, probably because it is less processed than industrial sugars.

But does anyone really eat sugar for health benefits?

There are a number of good reasons to consider using coconut palm sugar as a substitute for white or brown sugar in your kitchen. For me the most obvious benefit is that it tastes amazing, similar to brown sugar but with a rich complexity I’ve never tasted in industrial sugars.

Coconut palm sugar is also supposed to be substantially better for the environment, having been called the most sustainable sweetener by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (couldn’t find the original FAO report though).

Overall coconut palm sugar is a tastier and possibly healthier and more sustainable substitute for granulated or brown sugar. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a health food, or even low-carb just yet. However it is a nice pantry addition for foodies concerned with sustainable products.

Substitute coconut palm sugar for traditional sugar at a 1:1 ratio in normal cooking and baking."

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  1. Thank you for this article. I heard abt palm sugar on Dr. Oz where it was proclaimed a “low GI” product so I bought some. I’ve only used it in custard so far and it tastes good. I’ll probably continue to use it because I like the fact that it’s sustainable. Perhaps further studies will confirm the initial finding regarding its low glycemic index :)

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