Sugar substitutes: What is the deal with coconut sugar?

As the media continues to surface the negative impacts of sugar, the sugar substitute market is heating up, with everyone vying to get in there and market to us as sugar-free pioneers (yes by reading this blog you are a sugar-free pioneer!).

One sugar that’s increasing in popularity is coconut sugar, or alternatively known as coconut nectar. I thought I’d dig deep to find out what the deal really is with this seemingly virtuous sugar substitute (before we end up with another agave nectar scenario).

What is coconut sugar?

Coconut sugar is drawn naturally from the bud of a coconut tree. So basically it’s the sap, like palm sugar comes from the palm tree sap. It’s boiled and thickens to make the nectar, or crystalised to make sugar granules.


The positives

It’s natural

It’s not processed like maple syrup and is a more natural sweetener. It’s also a sustainable sugar, because of the abundance of coconut palms. However, you still need to be a detective when buying coconut sugar, to make sure it’s not been overly manufactured, diluted or mixed up with other ingredients.

Nutritional benefit

For a sugar substitute, coconut sugar has the most nutritional benefit. We’re talking various essential minerals like potassium and magnesium, even some vitamin C. Here’s a guide for comparing the nutritional qualities against other sweeteners.

Low GI

It’s low GI with a rating of 35 which means it won’t spike your blood sugar like the evil table sugar. However, GI rating is dependant on which foods you eat it with and it’s unlikely you’re going to guzzle pure sugar on it’s own, so I tend to take GI with a pinch of salt (I also don’t have any desire to memorise values and use it day to day).

Out of interest, this is how it compares to others:

  • Regular refined white sugar 80

  • High fructose corn syrup 87

  • Honey 50

  • Barley malt syrup 42

  • Coconut sugar/nectar 35

  • Brown rice syrup 25

  • Xylitol 12

  • Stevia 1

The not so positive: It’s STILL SUGAR!

I’m sorry to break it to you, but coconut sugar still has a relatively high fructose content. It’s primarily the sugar sucrose (70-79%), which is 50% fructose, so it ends up with about the same amount of fructose as honey (around 35-40%).

This is why it tastes sweet. It’s going to hit all those pleausre points and it’s not going to help you reduce your dependence and addiction to sweet tasting stuff, if that is your end goal.

Saying that, it’s definitely a healthy alternative if you’re baking. If this is where you prefer to spend you’re fructose or ‘sweet spend’ allowance, then yes, it’s a far better option.

I was given some coconut sugar to try whilst at a trade show earlier in the year. I substituted one teaspoon in to replace the stevia in my sweet potato vanilla breakfast omelette. It tasted good, I’m not going to lie, and in fact, I wanted to keep eating the three portions I had cooked. Maybe this was the addictive fructose component working it’s magic. I got scared and haven’t really touched it since. I like my lack of cravings too much these days.

In summary

It’s good to know coconut sugar exists, as it seems one of the most nutritional sugar substitutes (there really is no excuse for using refined sugar in baking ever again!). However, it’s not the magic bullet and still is tallying up on your daily fructose total and keeping your taste buds accustomed to sweet, so use with caution.

What do you think of coconut sugar? Have you tried it? Any thoughts?