Sugar, probably, is one of the best-known flavorings in the world. But how can we tolerate its excellent taste if it is also one of the main reasons that lead to non-communicable diseases like Diabetes? Diabetes is a serious and chronic metabolic disease characterized by an increase in blood sugar levels which has been consistently one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the Philippines through the years. As of 2019, International Diabetes Federation (IDF) data showed that 3,993,300 of the then total 63,265,700 Filipino adult population have diabetes, with a 6.3 percent prevalence of diabetes in adults. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that from January to December 2020, Diabetes Mellitus ranked fourth as the leading cause of death in the country. From the average 32,991 deaths between 2015 to 2019, the figure rose to 37,265 last year. So, how can coco sugar be a healthier alternative to the table sugar that we used to flavor our foods? What are the health benefits we can get from it?
Coconut sugar, also known as Coconut Palm Sugar, is a natural sugar made from coconut palm sap which is the sugary circulating fluid of the coconut plant. It is often confused with palm sugar, which is similar but made from a different type of palm tree. Coconut sugar is made in a natural 2-step process: A cut is made on the flower of the coconut palm and the liquid sap is collected into containers. Thereafter, the sap is placed under heat until most of the water has evaporated which will eventually have an end product of brown and granulated residue. Its color is similar to that of raw sugar, but the particle size is typically smaller or more variable. Regular table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup don’t contain any vital nutrients and therefore supply “empty” calories. However, coconut sugar does retain quite a bit of the nutrient found in the coconut palm. Most notable of these are the minerals iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, along with some short-chain fatty acids like polyphenols and antioxidants. It also contains a fiber called inulin, which may slow glucose absorption and explain why coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular table sugar.
Coconut sugar provides a few potential health benefits, but it is primarily a sweetener and is not that rich in nutrients. Still, it could:
Prevent low blood sugar. The body relies on glucose for energy. Like brown sugar and cane sugar, coconut sugar can help raise blood glucose levels and prevent conditions such as low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia can make you feel hungry, shaky, sweaty, dizzy, or nauseous. It can even lead to seizures and coma. If you are looking for a natural, plant-based sweetener to keep your blood glucose and energy levels up, coconut sugar is the ideal choice.
Lower chances of a blood sugar spike. Per serving, coconut sugar contains a small amount of inulin, a type of soluble fiber that can make post-meal blood sugar spikes less likely. Foods containing inulin can be healthy choices for people with diabetes.
At the end of the day, coconut sugar is no miracle food. It’s very similar to regular table sugar, although it’s not as processed and it contains a minimal amount of nutrients. If you’re going to use coconut sugar, use it sparingly. Coconut sugar belongs in the same boat as most sugar alternatives. It’s healthier than refined sugar but definitely worse than no sugar at all.
NO I Zamubec Alomar C. Adlawan, RND
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