It’s often touted as a ‘healthier’ alternative, but its claims have yet to be substantiated. Dietitian Melissa Meier debunks some myths about coconut sugar and explains why she won’t spend her money on it.
In the world of wellness, sugar is seen as one of the bad guys. A quick Google search would have you believe that too much sugar is to blame for everything, from a weak immune system to obesity, many types of cancer, and even poor gut health.
Enter: the ever-expanding range of ‘natural’ sugar substitutes that are supposedly better for you. If coconut sugar, one of the most popular alternatives, is on your radar, here’s what you need to know.
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Sugar vs. coconut sugar
Here’s a fun fact for your next game of trivia: coconut sugar doesn’t actually come from the coconut itself, but rather the sap from part of the palm. One of its claims to fame is that it has a low GI, but this is yet to be substantiated by science – so watch this space!
Coconut sugar is touted as a healthier alternative because it offers micronutrients like energising iron, zinc for wound healing, and potassium for heart function. And while that might sound like a really good thing, the quantities of these nutrients are so minuscule that a teaspoon of coconut sugar here and there would hardly make a dent in your daily nutrient needs.
If you’re into numbers, here’s the difference between coconut sugar and regular raw sugar:
- Coconut sugar: 1568kJ, 1g protein, 0g fat, 97g carbs, 93g sugar
- Raw sugar: 1597kJ, 0g protein, 0g fat, 100g carbs, 100g sugar
There’s hardly any difference, right?
The verdict on coconut sugar
At the end of the day, coconut sugar is still sugar – so don’t think it’s any healthier than the OG. You might be surprised to know coconut sugar is classed as an ‘added sugar’ (along with honey and trendy options like maple syrup and agave nectar), so it should be minimised. Of course, if you prefer the taste, then go for it, but keep in mind coconut sugar can cost upwards of 10 times more than plain white sugar, so I wouldn’t be wasting my money.
In case you’re wondering, the only truly healthy natural sugars are those that come from whole fruits and dairy – these types of sugars are packed with a wholefood bundle of goodness, along with substantial amounts of many essential nutrients like fibre and calcium, respectively.
Ten alternatives to adding sugar…
Now that bombshell is dropped, you might be wondering how you’re going to get your sweet fix in a truly healthier, more natural way.
Behold: 10 of my favourite alternatives to adding any type of sugar to your meals and drinks:
- Instead of maple syrup on your pancakes, try plain yoghurt and fresh raspberries.
- Instead of sugar in homemade muffins, try a mashed banana.
- Instead of sugary pre-made sauces, add fresh pineapple to Asian-style stir-fries.
- Instead of honey in your porridge, try vanilla.
- Instead of sugar in homemade cakes, try a combination of dried fruit and grated carrots (there’s a reason carrot cake is a thing!).
- Instead of shaved chocolate atop your milky coffee, try cacao.
- Instead of sugar in your tea and coffee, try cinnamon.
- Instead of honey in your smoothie, try throwing a pitted date into the blender.
- Instead of sprinkling brown sugar on your breakfast cereal, try fresh blueberries.
- Instead of jam, whip up your own variety at home with chia seeds and fresh strawberries.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.