I spotted coconut sugar in the health food shop. What’s healthy about it?

brown coconut palm sugar in a coconut bowl with wooden spoons full of coconut palm sugar resting beside the bowl, all on a brown wooden table mat

BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:

Coconut sugar looks like brown sugar and has a strong caramel taste. It’s produced in the Philippines and elsewhere in South East Asia, and is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. It is essentially the same as palm sugar and jaggery, which can be made from palm sap or sugar cane.

Coconut sugar undergoes little processing so, as with other unrefined sugars, it retains some of the natural vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. The nutrients in coconut sugar (or other unrefined sugar) are likely to have a minimal effect unless you eat large amounts, when any benefit will be outweighed by all the sugar you’re eating.

Coconut sugar has only recently become widely available in the UK but is gaining popularity, partly because of the growing interest in other coconut products.

Many people are now choosing alternatives to white sugar, including coconut sugar, honey, molasses, syrups and nectars (such as date or agave), in the belief that they are healthier.

Coconut sugar has the same number of calories as other sugar, refined or not.

Victoria Taylor

But all of these products contain free sugars – the kind we eat too much of on average in the UK. Coconut sugar has the same number of calories as other sugar, refined or not. Use it if you like the taste or if it works in your recipe, but treat it in the same way as any other sugar and use it sparingly.

Some research suggests that palm sugar has a lower glycaemic index (or GI, a ranking system for how quickly a food makes blood sugar levels rise after eating them) than other sugars.

Overall, there’s not enough good-quality evidence to recommend this type of sugar over others. Considering a food’s GI in isolation is also not that helpful, as it is dependent on what foods you eat with it.

Pairing a high GI food with a low GI food can help balance out the whole glycaemic effect of a meal.

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