Every few years a new sweetener comes along claiming to be the “healthy” sugar. It tastes just like “real sugar” (usually meaning cane sugar) but with a long list of benefits that rapidly turn it into the must-have sweetener of the day. The timeline goes something like this:
- In ancient times: Honey
- More recent ancient times: Cane sugar (Brought to Europe from India)
- 1800’s: Beet sugar
- Early 1900’s: Saccharin (Made popular during WW1 when sugar was in short supply. Later popular with the first diet sodas in the 60’s.)
- 1970s: High fructose corn syrup (Became wildly popular because of its low cost)
- 1980’s: Aspartame (Think SnackWell cookies. It came at a time when sugar was highly demonized as the agent of weight gain.)
- 1990’s: Sucralose (The ingredient in Splenda and marketed as the “healthier” alternative to aspartame, but controversy arise over its slogan “Tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar” (A huge stretch in the “truth”))
- 2005: Agave (Hyped as healthy, but in fact most brands are no better for you than any other sugar.)
- 2008: Stevia (The no calorie sweetener that comes directly from a plant. Only downside is a really dreadful, licorice aftertaste.)
- And now: Coconut sugar (Made from the sap of coconut trees)
Although it has no fewer calories or carbs than cane sugar, coconut sugar is being hyped as the “savior” of the sugar world, because:
- It is minimally processed – especially when labeled “organic”
- It has trace nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron and amino acids
- It’s low on the Glycemic Index – a measure of the effect of carbs on blood sugar
Or is it ….
I’ve become a tad suspect of sugars that get hyped as healthy and safe for diabetics. Pure sugar is totally unnecessary in our diet and our bodies get all that we need when our body converts carbs to glucose. If we’re looking to sugar to provide us with nutrients, we’re in big trouble.
Agave is the latest “healthy sugar” to be challenged – now that word has gotten out that most brands are highly processed and has as much fructose as HFCS.
Unless we’re talking stevia, (which is not a sugar but a plant extract that gives the mouth the sensation of sweet), or artificial sweeteners which have their own issues, sugars have a very similar impact on our body. I’ve seen food labeled “Sugar-free” only to notice that the second ingredient is agave! Or honey! Ie. Non-cane-sugar, sugar.
But what really got me wondering about the validity of the “Low GI” claim on all the packages and on all the lips of the health food store vendors, is when I came across the brand Sweet Tree that actually challenges this claim right on its own package! See that little asterix next to the “Low GI” claim?
This is what it says on the back of the package:
“* Sweet Tree does not believe GI is a safe indicator of a sugar’s “friendliness” toward diabetics. In our experience we have found that while coconut sweeteners have been shown to have GI levels as low as 35†, continued tests have shown fluctuations. We believe this is dues to natural variables. Because of this fluctuation, we do not endorse the use of this product by diabetics.” (†Cane sugar is usually in the 60’s)
I can’t think of any product I’ve seen that makes a claim but then goes on to say, “But there’s a catch”. Now that’s a brand I can trust.
So my recommendation: If you’re looking for a less processed sugar, coconut sugar is a great alternative. It also tastes similar to cane sugar so you can use it the same way. If you’re also willing to pay extra for some trace nutrients, go for it. But if you’re looking for a sugar to “nourish” you, you’re going to need to down many pounds of the stuff to get the same level of potassium you’d get in a banana or the iron you’d get in a few leaves of spinach. And if you’re buying it thinking, “Finally a REAL sugar that won’t affect my blood sugar!” you might have to wait a few more decades for that one …
Your thoughts? Have you tried coconut sugar? Any changes you’ve made to the type of sugar you consume?
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