We all know about the various health benefits of the humble coconut. But do you know much about coconut sugar? Both our bars and buttons contain unrefined coconut sugar, giving our chocolate its natural sweetness, with less of the guilt! Here’s all you need to know about coconut sugar.
All natural sources of sugar come with other nutrients found in the plant, particularly minerals. But because white sugar is refined, it is stripped of most, if not all, of these other nutrients. This makes it just a source of ‘empty calories’ – it makes foods taste nice and can give us a boost of energy, which is really just a sugar rush, but is not nourishing to the body in any other way. In fact, it uses up more of the body’s nutrients to process it than it actually provides, hence having an overall negative effect on our health.
Unrefined coconut sugar, on the other hand, is pure coconut palm sap with the water evaporated and isn’t processed or refined in any other way. Coconut sugar naturally contains minerals such as potassium, zinc, iron and calcium, and it can be a source of vitamin B1 too. The amounts found in a standard serving of the sugar are generally small and you should not consume it specifically to get these nutrients, as many other whole foods are better sources. However, this does mean it’s not just ‘empty calories’ and provides at least some additional nutrition.
Being unrefined, coconut sugar may also have a lower glycaemic index (GI). Glycaemic index is a measure of the effect of the food on our own blood sugar: high-GI foods tend to contain quickly absorbed carbohydrates and cause a greater peak in our blood sugar; lower-GI foods have a smaller effect on our blood sugar, either because they contain little in the way of carbohydrates, or because their carbohydrates are more slowly broken down and absorbed.
Maintaining a steady blood sugar level, without the dips and peaks associated with high-GI foods, can give us more balanced energy and improve mood, focus and concentration, hormone balance and our ability to cope with stress. It’s also better for our long-term health, as high blood sugar levels are associated with developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Again, the difference between coconut sugar and white sugar may be small, but does make coconut sugar a better choice.
The fact that coconut sugar is unbleached may also give it an advantage. Several different chemicals may be used for bleaching sugar, similar to white flour. As those chemicals aren’t ingredients in the sugar product, they don’t have to be listed on the label or declared. Of course, food production standards will require that any chemical traces remaining in the sugar are below safe levels. But if you had the choice, would you prefer to eat a food that may contain traces of bleaching chemicals, or a more natural sugar that has never come into contact with these chemicals?