Coconut Sugar: Is It Actually Better Than Regular Sugar?


Being a chocolate maker (someone who makes chocolate from scratch), I am always on the lookout for great sweeteners to use in Sacred Chocolate. Several years ago, a vendor approached me trying to sell me coconut sugar (aka coconut palm sugar as opposed to palm sugar which is not from a coconut tree) as a healthy sweetener because of its relatively low glycemic index of 35.

I was excited about the possibility of a good tasting, inexpensive sweetener that was also healthier than refined cane sugar. Could this be the ultimate sweetener redemption? It seemed too good to be true to my sometimes skeptical engineering mind.

My concerns with this study were twofold. The study was conducted on only ten people. And, the study was done by a government who is one of the largest producers of coconut sugar in the world. Personally, I was hesitant to make an informed decision until more independent studies were conducted. Unfortunately, the only other study I have seen since shows a glycemic index for coconut sugar to be 54 as shown here:

A whole raw chocolate industry has popped up over the last few years touting coconut sugar as a low glycemic sweetener citing the first study above. However, as can be seen from the second study, further studies need to be conducted since there is such a difference between the two: 35 vs. 54.

I am not the only one with concern regarding the ambiguity associated with what is known about the glycemic index of coconut palm sugar as evidenced by these links:

Through my experience as a chocolate maker for almost ten years, I have learned that sugar is a necessary evil when it comes to making delectable chocolate. So in general, I advise people to eat chocolate at the highest percentage cacao content possible, that is still enjoyable for them, and to choose a chocolate with a “healthier” sweetener than refined cane sugar.

The idea that a sweetener is healthy if it is low on the glycemic index can be misleading. Certainly, a low glycemic index value is a desirable characteristic of a healthy sweetener for reasons. Other factors also come into play that can still make a low glycemic sweetener problematic to health. For instance, coconut sugar happens to be approximately 70% sucrose which equates to about 35% fructose. Fructose has been implicated in health issues such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity.

What makes coconut palm sugar healthier than refined cane sugar besides its supposed low glycemic index is the fact that it is higher in minerals than refined cane sugar and also contains some inulin, a starchy prebiotic fiber.