Monday, February 11, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Coconut Palm Sugar, Part 1

My quest for the perfect sweetener continues.

On my last trip to the store I made a discovery.  Just above eye level sat a medium sized bag tucked in between the agave nectar and the stevia blends.

My heart skipped a beat.  My body temperature slightly raised and a feeling of everything-is-good-in-the-world overcame me.  It was a certified organic, unprocessed, highly nutritive, non-sugar sweetener.

Package of 100% organic coconut palm sugar
Look!  It's in front of my fish tank to give it more of a tropical feel!
Pay no attention to the  fact that a goldfish doesn't belong in that vision...

Coconut Palm Sugar.

Naturally, I scooped it up.  This was something I had to try.  The price tag was a bit higher than I'd like, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  I had a mission, after all, and I wasn't going to take that lightly.  Ignoring such a treasure would cause me to lose sleep.

I'd get deep circles under my eyes due to the high stress levels created by ignorance, and I'd curl up into a tiny ball, crying until I lost enough water to dehydrate, finally succumbing to this loss of fluids and ending up as an emaciated husk resembling the mummies dug up after a few millennium. 

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration.  Probably only one millennium.

But you get the point.  I had to try it.

The first thing I need to point out is that this doesn't fall into the same category as the monk fruit sweetener I blogged about in the past.  It can't be classified as a "diabetic" sweetener.  Nativas coconut palm sugar fulfills this requirement, having 4 grams of carbohydrates and 15 calories per serving... just like table sugar.

One serving of coconut palm sugar is a mere teaspoon, and the ratio of coconut sugar to table sugar for the purpose of sweetening is 1:1.

So it's not a sweetener comparable to monk fruit or stevia.  

Not even close.  Never make the mistake of believing otherwise.  You use much less stevia or monk fruit to sweeten a beverage.  I don't know what the given ratio for one of these sweeteners to sugar is, but my personal ratio is around 4:1.  Big difference.

I have found quite a few benefits to coconut palm sugar, however:

  1. It has nutritive value.
  2. Coconut palm sugar has a low glycemic index.
  3. There's no major processing involved.
  4. It's yummy.
That's a lot, right?  I thought so, too. 

I decided to go on the quest for more information.

I looked into the various claims, and actually found that there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding coconut palm sugar.  Some people adore it to the point of using terms that make it sound like a food sweetening miracle.  The other side's terminology reminds me of people that panic about The Apocalypse.

So, what do I think?  

Well, I haven't taken a side yet.  It's too new to me.  Instead, I'll go into the various claims so that you can have a starting point for determining your own opinion.  This will end up causing me to break this up into a few posts, in order to ensure I'm giving you an adequate amount of information.

Note: I'm specifically referring to 100% coconut palm sugar.  

Read your label to ensure that's what you're getting.  Often, packages contain a blend of coconut palm sugar and table sugar.  This isn't even close to the coconut palm sugar I'm talking about here.

The Nutritive Value of Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the Cocos nucifera.  The package that I bought says that
"Organic evaporated coconut sugar is especially high in minerals incuding potassium, magnesium and zinc, as well as vitamins B2, B3 and B6."
Big claims.  No wonder some people liken it to a miracle food!  But is it true?

The first thing we have to realize is that as an unprocessed food, nutritive values are dependent on brand, batch, and even region of origin.  The numbers I give, therefore, are general, rather than specific.

First, I went to coconutpalmsugar.com's nutrition page.  Obviously, this is going to be highly biased in favor of coconut palm sugar, but it's a great starting point.  There are many nutrient amounts listed, but I'm sticking solely to the ones mentioned on the bag I purchased.  That leaves us with:

Potassium - 1,030 mg/ 100g (this means 1,030mg in 100g of sugar)

Magnesium - 29 mg/100g

Zinc - 2 mg/100g

** no listing for B vitamins on this site

But what does that mean, exactly?  Numbers are nice, but if we don't have the knowledge necessary to understand them, they're pretty much worthless.  I went to netrition.com for answers.

The recommended daily value of Potassium is 3500 mg, so 1,030 is great.  Almost a third of what you need.  Score!  

Magnesium's recommended daily value, on the other hand, is 400 mg.  29 mg is a far cry from that, so you're getting a little under 1/16th of that.  Better than nothing, but not particularly spectacular.

Zinc has a recommended daily value of 15 mg, so 2 mg isn't particularly shabby.  Eat an oyster and you're good to go, right?  If you like oyster, that is...

This all sounded absolutely amazing!  I was thrilled beyond belief...

Until I realized that every single website that gave me information about nutrients within coconut palm sugar (that actually had the decency to cite their information) all got it from the same study done in the year 2000.  That alone wouldn't really have upset me overly much, but I discovered that the study used powdered coconut palm sugar.  Not crystallized.  The study wasn't viable for this particular instance because of that.

I decided to check out the study on my own.

Unfortunately, I couldn't actually find the study that was referenced.  Seriously.  I even had a friend look for it in his university's database.  Nothing.  I then looked a little more closely at the source:
COMPARISON OF THE ELEMENTAL CONTENT OF 3 SOURCES OF EDIBLE SUGAR - Analyzed by PCA-TAL, Sept. 11, 2000. (MI Secretaria et al, 2003)
When "My Secretary and others" were cited, I kind of had to sit back and have myself a good laugh.

I stopped laughing, however, when I couldn't track anything at all about this study.  Maybe someone's secretary did this, after all...

Needless to say, I found that people seemed to just be quoting a single impossible to find source over and over again - as though they were simply students in class copying the smart kid.  Plenty ended up just quoting each other, and some decided to get creative and change the macro-nutrient levels from mg/100g to mg/L... hence showing bigger, prettier numbers.

As excited as I got in the beginning of my search, happily digging for information, I finally had to throw up my hands and say,

"That's enough!!!"

I gave up.  In my mind, all of this nutrition information is completely worthless until I see the so-called study that they all seemed to get their information from, because at the moment, it has nothing to show for it.  It's like that one study that everybody cites doesn't exist at all.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe the study can be found.  If so, please show me where to find it.  If I can't find it in a university database, nor on the internet, I become rather skeptical.  Of course, I'll continue looking.  There are still a few stones I haven't overturned in this quest.

What do you make of this?

I want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I'm sure, after all, that there must be some concentration of minerals in coconut palm sugar.  I can taste that there's something more than empty calories within those crystals.  When I can't find anything to prove that, however, I can't really make the claim.

Next time, in Part 2, I'll go over the low glycemic index value of coconut sugar, and possibly go through the rest of the benefits mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
                                                                                              










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4 comments:

naturalsweetenerstore said...

Sugar performs many important roles for the people in eating various foods supplements such as baking, sweeteners along with many other sweet dishes. There are many people who like sugar along various sweet dishes, but they are not allowed to take it due to diabetes. In such cases,coconut palm sugar diabetes natural sugar substitute will be one of the perfect options for them

Rebecca Foster said...

Negative.

As someone who has had diabetes for over 30 years, I can verify that it is *not* a diabetic sweetener. It has a lower GI, and so is a better option than cane sugar or corn syrup, but that isn't the same as being a perfect option.

As far as diabetic health is concerned, stevia or monk fruit are far superior options... even if I'm not a big fan of them.

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that I absolutely love coconut palm sugar! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think i may have found it.

http://coconutboard.gov.in/images/neera-TPTrinidad_FNRI.pdf

Rebecca Foster said...

That pdf file is truly spectacular. It has a great deal more information than is usually found on the subject of coconut sugar, and I'm going to need to delve a little deeper into the information supplied. It's well worth looking into. Thanks!

It still can't be considered a diabetic sweetener, though, no matter how much we both wish otherwise (I LOVE coconut palm sugar), because even though the GI is extremely low, the carbohydrate count is large enough to ensure it isn't considered a free food. In order to be considered a diabetic sweetener, the substance of choice must have the free food guidelines met.

I hate that. I really do, because if coconut palm sugar was a true diabetic sweetener, I'd switch over to it as my only sweetener in a heartbeat.

That being said, coconut palm sugar *can* be used safely by diabetics, but only if the carbohydrate content is taken into account... just like, say, an apple. Diabetics can use it, and it *is* a better choice than cane or beet sugar. But it is not a diabetic sweetener by definition.

And that was kind of long... I apologize. Basic summary: The pdf you linked to *rocks*! Coconut palm sugar isn't a diabetic sweetener. It is, however, a far superior choice for diabetics than beet or cane sugar. :-)

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