Is Coconut Sugar Really Low Carb?

Coconut sugar annotated

Photo: Alexandra Shytsman 

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Is coconut sugar, also called coconut palm sugar, healthier or lower in carbohydrates than regular table sugar? There are claims that it is a low-carb sugar that doesn't raise blood glucose as much as other sugar and that it is loaded with minerals. Let's look at what it is and whether any of the claims have merit.

What Is Coconut Palm Sugar?

All forms of sugar are concentrated forms of natural plant sugars. They might come from sugar cane, sugar beets, maple trees, flower nectar (honey), agave plants, rice, etc. They are fairly similar, with approximately 20 calories and 5 grams of sugar (carbohydrate) per teaspoon. Coconut sugar is no exception.

Coconut palm sugar is produced from the nectar of coconut flower buds. The buds are cut open and the sap is captured, and then boiled down. The result is a caramel-colored sugar that has similarities to brown sugar. You may also see "palm sugar" which is a similar sugar obtained from other types of palm tree than the coconut palm.

How Glycemic Is Coconut Sugar?

Some purveyors of coconut sugar make the health claim that doesn't raise blood sugar as much as other sugars. There was a report produced by the Philippines Food and Nutrition Institute which has been widely cited that said that the glycemic index of "coco sugar prepared by the Philippine Coconut Authority" was calculated to be 35, based on the results from 10 test subjects.

This index number is indeed quite low.However, it is important to note that this investigation was very limited including a small number of participants. In addition, glycemic index can vary from person to person and from batch to batch of coconut sugar.

On the other hand, a similar study reported by the University of Sydney came up with a glycemic index of 54, which is only a little lower than that of table sugar. There are a couple of possibilities to doubt the claimed low number.

There was no indication of the range of responses in the report. Almost always, the report of a glycemic index study will state not only the average response to a food but the range of responses—how different people responded. This was not done in the Philippines study. Did some of the 10 people have a much higher response? We don't know.

Glycemic index tests are almost always done on healthy young adults who are the least likely to have problems with blood sugar. People with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and "pre-pre diabetes" often react differently.

The American Diabetes Association says that people with diabetes should use coconut palm sugar the same as they would regular sugar. They also note that some of it is mixed with cane sugar and other ingredients.

Is It Rich in Minerals?

"Coconut sugar is loaded with minerals," websites selling it loudly proclaim. The claim can best be made for potassium. According to data released by the Philippine Food and Nutrition Research Institute, the amount of potassium in half a cup of coconut sugar is significant—over 1000 milligrams.

The daily recommended intake for an adult is 4700 milligrams. The amount of potassium in a teaspoon of coconut sugar (the amount typically consumed) is 43 milligrams. As a basis for comparison, a half a cup of most cooked greens have between 400 and 500 mg of potassium, and a 4-ounce serving of most meats has about the same.

Sustainability

"The most sustainable sugar on the planet," some websites state. Some sources say that there are environmental problems with sugar cane production that are not present with coconut sugar production, where the tree can keep producing the sap year after year. According to some websites, less water is used, and coconut palms can grow in very poor soil, such as sandy beaches.

But, once a coconut flower is tapped for the sap, it will not grow into a coconut. Since coconut farmers may get more money for coconut sugar, some of the trees that were in coconut production have been being tapped for coconut sugar instead. This may result in rising prices of coconut meat, milk, and oil.

One last argument is that coconut sugar is more natural. But some might argue that sucrose made from cane or beet sugar is just as natural. There is no clear definition of what "natural" means. Like other forms of sugar, coconut sugar still needs to be processed and packaged.

A Word From Verywell

Coconut sugar is very expensive sugar. It might have a lower glycemic index as compared to other sugars, but in order to receive the nutritional benefits, such as certain minerals, one would have to consume large amounts of sugar which is not recommended. Added sugar use should be limited regardless of the source. According to the American Diabetes Association. Use it as you would use regular sugar, following your own personal precautions. It is likely no better than any other sugar for people following low-carb ways of eating.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. FoodData Central. US Department of Agriculture.

  2. Trinidad TP, Mallillin AC, Sagum RS, Encabo RR. Glycemic index of commonly consumed carbohydrate foods in the Philippines. Journal of Functional Foods. 2010;2(4):271-274. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2010.10.002.

  3. GI Foods Advanced Search. The University of Sydney.

  4. Potassium. National Institutes of Health. July 2019.

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