In this article, we look at the effect coconut palm sugar has on blood sugar (glucose) levels and whether it may be healthful for people with diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Is coconut palm sugar a safer option for people with diabetes, who have to closely monitor their blood sugar levels?
People with diabetes have bodies that do not produce enough insulin or use insulin correctly.
Insulin is the hormone needed to help the body to normalize blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are a measurement of the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.
Most foods contain sugar. The body stores the sugar and transports it through the bloodstream to the cells, which use it as energy.
When insulin is not working properly, sugar cannot enter cells, and they are unable to produce as much energy. When the cells of the body cannot process sugar, diabetes occurs.
What is coconut palm sugar?
Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm. The sugar is extracted from the palm by heating it until the moisture evaporates. After processing, the sugar has a caramel color and tastes like brown sugar, making it an easy substitution in any recipe.
Coconut palm sugar is considered a healthier option for people with diabetes because it contains less pure fructose than other sweeteners.
The digestive tract does not absorb fructose as it does other sugars, which means that the excess fructose finds its way to the liver. Too much fructose in the liver can lead to a host of metabolic problems, including type 2 diabetes.
Can people with diabetes eat coconut palm sugar?
While the American Diabetes Association (ADA) do find coconut palm sugar to be an acceptable sugar substitute, they do not appear to endorse its use.
Coconut palm sugar and glycemic index
Some people believe coconut palm sugar is more healthful because it is lower on the glycemic index (GI).
People with diabetes are encouraged to consume foods with a low GI because they will not raise blood sugar levels as much as foods with a high GI level. Any GI value of 55 or less is considered low, and anything above 70 is high on the GI.
Both honey and cane sugar have GIs of around 50, while the GI of coconut palm sugar, as reported by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines, is 35.
However, the University of Sydney have measured the GI of coconut palm sugar at 54. Based on its chemical makeup, this is thought to be the most likely value. Despite the difference in opinion, coconut palm sugar is still considered to be a low GI food.
Issues with looking at GI
There are several factors that contribute to blood sugar levels after eating, including how the food is prepared.
In the United States, there is no official GI rating system. The ADA note, however, that GI numbers for specific foods differ based on their source, and this would likely apply to coconut palm sugar.
According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, the GI is not the best guideline for what happens to blood sugar levels after eating.
There are many factors that influence the process, including:
- the individual
- the content of the food
- how food is prepared
- what other foods are consumed
- the rate of digestion
Therefore, the ADA advise people to treat coconut palm sugar as they would any other sweetener, including pure cane sugar. It is also important to include the number of calories and carbohydrates it contains when planning meals.
People should always check the nutritional labels on coconut palm sugar. This is because coconut palm sugar may contain other ingredients, including cane sugar, which means its GI will be much higher than noted in a rating system.
Coconut palm sugar contains inulin
Inulin is a fermentable prebiotic fiber, beneficial to gut bacteria that may help with controlling sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.
At least one research study finds coconut palm sugar contains significant amounts of inulin.
A study from 2016 found that fermentable carbohydrates might help to improve insulin sensitivity. They may also have unique metabolic effects for those who are at high risk for diabetes.
Benefits for women with type 2 diabetes
More research is needed to further identify and understand these findings to extend to other populations with type 2 diabetes.
Nutritional value of coconut palm sugar
Coconut palm sugar contains the same number of calories and carbohydrates as regular cane sugar.
In addition, coconut palm sugar and cane sugar both contain:
- fructose, which is a monosaccharide, or single sugar
- glucose, which is a monosaccharide
- sucrose, which is a disaccharide that is made up of two sugars: half fructose, half glucose
However, the proportion of these sugars is different in cane sugar and palm sugar.
Coconut palm sugar and cane sugar contain nearly the same amount of fructose, but there is more pure fructose in cane sugar, which may cause problems for people with diabetes.
Often referred to as "simple sugars," sucrose, fructose, and glucose are also essential carbohydrates.
Sucrose is sugar that is common in many foods. It is a natural compound and gives the body vital energy but can be harmful in large quantities. Added sweeteners found in processed foods, desserts, and beverages contain the most sucrose.
When sucrose is heated, it breaks down to form fructose and glucose.
Fruits have a high level of fructose.
High levels of fructose are found in:
- agave nectar or syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- foods with added sugars
High levels of glucose are found in:
- dextrose, also known as grape sugar or corn sugar
- some fruits
- starches, such as bread, grains, and pasta
- foods with added sugars
Other nutrients found in coconut palm sugar
Coconut palm sugar may be considered a better option, as it has more nutritional value than some other sugars.
Unlike cane sugar, it contains:
However, people should bear in mind that cane sugar contains tiny amounts of these nutrients. Most people only consume a few teaspoons of coconut palm sugar at a time, which actually contains less than 2 percent of all nutrients.
Healthful whole foods will provide dramatically more of these same nutrients for fewer calories.
There is not enough sufficient research to back up claims coconut palm sugar is more healthful, better, or different than any other sugar for blood sugar.
While coconut sugar contains inulin, it may not contain enough to significantly affect blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut palm sugar is also just as high in calories as regular cane sugar.
Coconut palm sugar seems to be slightly more beneficial than regular sugar but is still best consumed in moderation. Therefore, individuals with type 2 diabetes should treat it the same as other sugars and use it sparingly, as it still might raise blood glucose levels, despite its possibly lower GI.