In a vast sea of supposedly healthy food alternatives, coconut palm sugar was one I did not expect to find. It escapes the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners, as it is considered a natural sweetener. So, what exactly is coconut palm sugar, and does it meet the expectations of a natural sweetener? Or, is it too good to be true?

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Spoon University

Where and How Coconut Palm Sugar is Produced 

As the name suggests, coconut palm sugar is extracted from coconuts. While palm trees are grown in most countries, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports the highest production of coconuts comes from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India as of 2016. Coconut palm sugar is a product of tapping palm trees. There are several methods for tapping. Most methods involve damaging the palm tree by applying physical force and chemical treatments. Once the sap has been extracted, the tree is then shaved down periodically in order for it to heal and eventually provide more sap. The sap is then boiled to produce sugar almost immediately after collection. After processing, the sugar is ready to be packaged and sold as a natural sweetener. 

What Makes Coconut Palm Sugar Different 

While the name natural sweetener may sound great, there is a difference between natural sugars and natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners differ from natural sugars in that they are still processed. Natural sugars are naturally occurring sugars that are found in foods like fruit. So what separates coconut palm sugar from artificial sweeteners and refined sugar? Artificial sweeteners are popular for being created synthetically and having no calories. Like most food alternatives, there are arguments surrounding artificial sweeteners and their safety. Currently, The National Cancer Institute reports that there is  "[no] clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans" regarding artificial sweeteners. Similar to coconut palm sugar, refined sugar is processed from sugar cane. What separates cane sugar from palm sugar is the Glycemic Index. 

The Glycemic Index is defined by The University of Sydney as "...a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating." Foods with a high index number cause blood sugar levels to change rapidly while foods with a low index number facilitate a more stable blood sugar level. Refined sugar, known as sucrose, has a GI of 65. Coconut palm sugar has a GI of 54. A low Glycemic Index number is considered to be 55 or lower. Although coconut palm sugar is considered to have a low GI, it is still a processed sugar. 

Is Coconut Palm Sugar the Best Alternative?

Like most things, moderation is key. Coconut palm sugar is a good alternative if you're looking for a slightly better option of a natural sweetener instead of table sugar. Although it is not calorie-free like artificial sweeteners, it is not synthetically produced. In any case, less added sugar would be the best option for making healthier choices. 

Overall, coconut palm sugar is a low GI food that is an unrefined natural sweetener. Although it is not synthetically produced, the methods for obtaining it involve damaging palm trees. Coconut palm sugar isn't a complete answer to our sugar problem, but it does provide a good path for embracing natural whole foods and our cravings for something sweet.