Gone coconuts: New sugar or old hype?

Identifying sugar substitutes for diabetics.

We are seeing a lot of new products on grocery shelves that contain coconut, such as water and food with coconut additives.

Coconut sugar is not produced from coconuts, it is a product of the coconut tree, or more specifically the sap obtained from coconut tree's flower buds. It is sometimes called coco sap sugar or coconut palm sugar. The blossoms are cut and the nectar is collected into bamboo containers. The resulting nectar is about 80 percent water and is heated to evaporate the liquid, and the remaining solid is granulated. The granules are a brownish color and larger than those you would find in standard table sugar. The taste is very similar to regular brown sugar.

Coconut sugar versus table sugar

Chemically speaking, 70 percent of coconut sugar is identical to table sugar. It is a disaccharide called sucrose, made up of two monosaccharaides: Glucose and fructose. The rest of coconut sugar is composed of the individual molecules of fructose and glucose, as well as trace minerals.

  • From a caloric perspective, coconut sugar is identical to table sugar, four calories per gram. But despite being so similar, the glycemic index of coconut sugar (36) is substantially lower than that of table sugar (60). Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how a food affects blood glucose after being consumed. The higher the GI, the more of a spike you will experience in your blood glucose. These spikes are not good. The lower GI of coconut sugar has made it popular for diabetics.

Is it a safe sugar-alternative for diabetics?

The American Diabetes Association says it is acceptable for people with diabetes to consume coconut sugar, but not to treat it any differently than regular sugar.

  • Coconut sugar is very high in calories (same as regular sugar). Until there is further research to back up claims that coconut sugar is different from any other sugar in its effects in raising blood sugar, it is wise and safe to treat it the same as other sugars.
  • If you’re going to use coconut sugar, use it sparingly.

Remember to always follow your healthcare provider’s advice. For more information on diabetic health refer to Michigan State University Extension diabetes articles.

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