Are you like me?
Do you feel like the words "COCONUT SUGAR" are everywhere?
In your Facebook and Instragram feeds? At your favorite restaurants and bakeries?
What's the deal with coconut sugar?
Can we believe all of the health claims about coconut sugar? Is it a healthier option compared to table sugar?
I wish we were back in the 1980's when I was in elementary school and the internet did not exist. A time when we couldn't get instant access to information that hadn't been vetted by reputable sources. A simpler time when researching was easier and I knew everything I read had been verified, well-documented and fact-checked.
When I was in 5th grade, let's be honest, when I was in high school; and I wanted to learn about something I would visit my local library and the collections of Encyclopedia Brittanica. By the way, who is Brittanica?
Anyway, if there was a topic I was interested in like coconut sugar I would open up the "C" encyclopedia and all of the information listed would be facts, not opinions or mass marketed health claims.
Today, when anyone wants to learn about a topic they most likely visit Google. Within milliseconds we have access to lots of information and we can get this information sitting on our couches in our pj's. Yes, there is something beautiful in this. I love that I don't have to get in my car or even change out of my pj's.
But, there is a downside to this accessibility. If you search coconut sugar on Google there are 227,000,000 entries. Yes, millions of entries. And, these entries are not all facts. It includes opinions, marketing health claims and yes, fake news about coconut sugar. How are we supposed to fact check millions of entries? Where is the truth? Where is Brittanica when we need them?
I spent countless hours over the last few weeks researching coconut sugar attempting to sort out truth from fiction; healthy vs health claim; and authentic scientific research vs fraudulent investigations.
If I was Brittanica and could develop a "C" encyclopedia with a coconut sugar entry this is what it would look like:
Families Balancing Fructose "C" Encyclopedia, Coconut Sugar:
What is coconut sugar?:
Coconut sugar comes from the sap of a coconut tree similar to sap from a maple tree, the sap is boiled down to eliminate the water and it becomes a crystalline substance like what we know as table sugar. (a) (b)
Is there anything else in coconut sugar besides sugar?:
Yes, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines coconut sugar contains trace amounts of zinc, iron, calcium, phytonutrients and antioxidants. (d) (e) When I first read this I thought score one point for coconut sugar. If I am going to eat a treat, why not also get the benefits of healthy nutrients. But, the more I dug into this research the more I discovered that this health claim is just a claim. It can not be 100% verified and hasn't been vetted by multiple research institutes. In addition, multiple companies from multiple countries make coconut sugar and there is a complete lack of regulations. We can not fact check every bag of coconut sugar. We honestly don't know what is in it. We are back to square one: coconut sugar and table sugar are tied.
What's the deal with glycemic index and why is this important when choosing sugar?:
According to the American Diabetes Association, "the glycemic index measures how a carbohydrate containing food raises blood glucose levels." (f) Glucose is the main source of energy for our bodies. If you are living with Diabetes foods that have a low glycemic index prevent blood sugar spikes, spikes in blood sugar are not good for diabetics. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index compared to table sugar. So, yes coconut sugar is better for you if you have Diabetes. A food's glycemic index does not correlate to whether a food is safe or unsafe for people living with Fructose Malabsorption.
What is inulin that is in coconut sugar?:
"Inulin is a type of soluble fiber that slows the absorption of food in the gut" and is found in coconut sugar, but not in table sugar. (a). At first you might think this is a win for coconut sugar. It has fiber in it, and fiber is good for us, right? Unfortunately, inulin is a high FODMAP food that can also be found in onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and bananas. Many people with Fructose Malabsorption discover after using the FODMAP challenge program that inulin causes gut unrest. (c) Why then would I substitute my regular table sugar for coconut sugar that has inulin in it? I am constantly trying to balance my fructose and other FODMAP food intake and do I really want to introduce another FODMAP source in a dessert?
Encyclopedia Coconut Sugar Conclusion:
Coconut sugar is not a healthier option for me. Coconut sugar contains inulin.
Table sugar does not contain inulin.
Table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This is a fact. And, glucose is like a spaceship transporting fructose across the gut barrier. Glucose is FM's friend. (g)
When eating a treat I am eating it because it is a treat, it is special, and I have spent the rest of the day or week making healthy choices.
Sugar is sugar. Coconut sugar and table sugar have very similar calorie amounts. Let's get rid of the myth that some sugars are healthier than other sugars. Sugar is sugar.
Michael Pollan sums it up in his book In Defense of Food: “If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat” Table sugar companies do not market their product with a health claim.
Go ahead, enjoy an occasional treat made with real sugar if that works for your body. I know my gut enjoys an occasional square of dark chocolate or a piece of my daughter's homemade cake.
(b) Wikipedia article on coconut sugar