Too much sugar is unhealthy - as most of us now know. However, giving up sugar entirely is not an option for many people and does not necessarily make sense from a nutritional perspective, as long as sugar is consumed in appropriate quantities. This is, among other things, one reason why potentially “healthier” alternatives to conventional white sugar have created a new nutritional trend - this also includes the so-called coconut blossom sugar. It can not only be found in health food markets and organic markets, but now also at Aldi, Lidl & Co., which promote the supposedly healthier coconut blossom sugar as an alternative to white industrial sugar.
Even the name “coconut blossom sugar” sounds simply enchanting and suggests a possibly more environmentally friendly and healthier sugar. But is coconut blossom sugar really healthier and more environmentally friendly than white sugar? We clarify!
Coconut blossom sugar vs. white sugar
Brown sugar, white sugar, refined sugar, coconut blossom sugar, honey, agave syrup and many more – the list of potential sugar sources is long. Just as long and extensive are the numerous reports about the many unhealthy or healthy aspects of these sugars, the harmful effects that their breakdown has on our planet and, of course, which sugar we should consume.
Many consumers now find the current reporting and opinions regarding some foods to be confusing and can sometimes almost overwhelm them. “What can I actually eat anymore?” one or two of us heard grandma complaining at the last family celebration.
Is the latest trend in healthy eating really based on science, or just a trend and good marketing?
Coconut blossom sugar tastes caramelly, has a special aroma and is significantly more expensive than conventional white sugar. It is said to cause blood sugar levels to rise more slowly, to be more suitable for diabetics and to contain many nutrients that white sugar does not have - that's what many nutrition blogs say. Is this information fact-based and scientifically proven? Is it worth switching to coconut blossom sugar and digging deeper into your wallet for our health? And what exactly was so bad about white sugar?
In this article we would like to shed more light on the myth that “coconut sugar should be preferred over white sugar” from two aspects:
- Firstly, with regard to the health of us humans in terms of our nutritional physiology and…
- Secondly, with regard to the aspect of sustainability, i.e. to what extent the mining of the respective sugar affects our environment.
Which of the two sugars is really healthier and which sugar should you prefer if you want to consume in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner?
First, we would like to take a look at how coconut blossom sugar and white sugar affect our bodies and what nutrients each sugar really brings with it.
To do this, let’s first look at the glycemic index.
The so-called glycemic index indicates how quickly a food containing carbohydrates, such as white sugar or coconut blossom sugar, causes our blood sugar levels to rise.
For reference: Dextrose has a GI (glycemic index) of 100 and is therefore the food that causes our blood sugar levels to rise the fastest.
When our blood sugar levels rise sharply, our insulin levels also rise sharply.
Insulin is a hormone from our pancreas that regulates our blood sugar levels. It ensures that glucose (dextrose) gets into our cells, which in turn lowers blood sugar levels. Sugar is used as energy in the cells or is transferred to fatty tissue as energy storage.
A low GI is intended to prevent cravings and help you choose healthy foods. The GI is often used as a guide when choosing food, especially for people with diabetes mellitus or overweight.
So what is the glycemic index of our two sugars?
Little difference in GI – sugar is sugar?
When looking at the glycemic indices of our sugars, it is important that we only use scientifically proven values. Because: Sometimes coconut blossom sugar is given a GI of 35, but this has not been scientifically proven. So let's focus on the facts:
White sugar has a GI of 60 and coconut blossom sugar has a GI of 54. In terms of the glycemic index, our two sugars hardly differ. So the effects that both sugars have on our blood sugar levels and insulin production are very similar and comparable to each other.
The fact that coconut blossom sugar causes blood sugar levels to rise much more slowly and is therefore better suited for diabetics can therefore be debunked as a myth.
Nutritional values in comparison
Coconut blossom sugar
If we look at the packaging of coconut blossom sugar, it often says “contains valuable minerals” on the packaging. Coconut blossom sugar consists of approx. 90% sucrose. It contains around 380 kcal per 100g. In fact, it also contains small amounts of potassium, calcium, iron, vitamins and a little more moisture (sugar syrup), which make coconut blossom sugar moister and more perishable than white, refined sugar. Coconut blossom sugar is heated strongly and for a long time during production, which is why the nutrients contained in the nectar of the coconut palm are almost completely destroyed.
In order for the remaining and very low nutrients to have a relevant effect or advantage in our diet, we would have to consume extremely high amounts of coconut blossom sugar. According to common opinion and scientific evidence, this is not recommended and would be harmful to health.
Bernhard Watzl, the head of the Max Rubner Institute, also commented on this:
"Coconut blossom sugar is a sugar and period. It doesn't matter that it contains a few more accompanying substances." – Bernhard Watzl, Max Rubner Institute
Our white household sugar consists of approx. 99.96% sucrose. White sugar contains around 400 kcal per 100g. It also contains minimal amounts of nutrients, such as potassium and calcium, which are almost irrelevant to our nutritional physiology due to the low intake of sugar. White sugar is particularly pure because it has been refined.
In the refinery, the sugar beet is crushed into so-called sugar beet pulp, which is then heated in water. The mass is thickened into a juice and then crystallized. During this process, the nutrients in the original sugar beet are almost lost to the white sugar that is created later and are often captured in by-products such as molasses. White sugar also has no relevant nutrients because it is only consumed in small quantities.
Environmental aspect – Which sugar is more sustainable?
Coconut blossom sugar from a distance
Coconut blossom sugar comes from the nectar of coconut palm flowers (Coco nucifera). To make this sweet-sounding sugar, the coconut palm inflorescence is cut twice a day so that the coconut blossom nectar drips out. This nectar is then heated strongly until the liquid crystallizes. After cooling, the crystals are ground and sieved until the coconut blossom sugar we know is created.
As is well known, we unfortunately have no coconut palms in Switzerland, which is why the coconut blossom sugar for sale here is almost exclusively imported from Southeast Asia.
This happens through long and long transport routes, which in turn contribute to environmental pollution and the production of greenhouse gases. The working conditions of the local farmers and factory employees do not always meet European standards and should be marked with a fair trade symbol on the packaging.
White sugar from home
White table sugar, which we also know as sucrose, is mainly obtained from sugar beets or sugar cane. The molasses (sugar syrup) from sugar beets is always refined, while sugar from sugar cane can theoretically be processed unrefined, but is usually also refined. Interestingly, most white sugar from sugar beet comes from the EU and covers up to 85% of our sugar needs.
The local production of sugar refineries therefore offers an advantage in terms of the environment and sustainability, as longer transport routes are no longer necessary. There are organic sugar beet processors in Switzerland, Germany and France, with Germany being one of the largest sugar producers in the EU.
However, sugar from sugar cane comes from overseas and should therefore be avoided in terms of the environment and sustainability.
Conclusion – Don’t trust every trend
From a nutritional perspective, coconut blossom sugar does not offer any significant advantage over white sugar. Both sugars have a similar glycemic index and therefore cause blood sugar levels and insulin levels to rise at approximately the same rate. Coconut blossom sugar is therefore no better suited for diabetics than white sugar.
The often touted “mineral content” in coconut blossom sugar can be written off as a marketing slogan, since we consume sugar in such small quantities that these minimal nutrients have no relevant influence on our nutritional health.
In terms of sustainability and environmental aspects, even our white sugar wins. White sugar, which is obtained from European or local sugar beets in Switzerland, does not have to be transported over long distances and therefore leaves a low ecological footprint.
Coconut blossom sugar, on the other hand, is made from the flowers of the coconut palm and, in contrast to white sugar, is imported from distant countries, mostly from Southeast Asia, as no coconut palms grow in Switzerland and the surrounding countries.
However, with regard to sustainability, it is important to note that when buying white sugar we should make sure that it is sugar from sugar beets and not sugar from sugar cane, as sugar cane only grows abroad and the sugar produced from it therefore only grows also needs to be imported.
Ultimately, it can be said that the alleged health benefits of adding coconut blossom sugar to white sugar are not scientifically proven or explainable. The touted differences in the nutritional values of the two sugars are negligible in comparison and irrelevant to our diet because we only consume sugar in very small quantities anyway and these microvalues therefore have no nutritional relevance. Both types of sugar are also comparable in terms of calorie content.
In addition, coconut blossom sugar is more expensive and can sometimes be produced under ethically questionable working conditions in distant countries.
If you want to consume sugar sustainably, you should use organic sugar, which is produced from Swiss sugar beets. From a health perspective, sugar should only be consumed in small quantities, around 50g of sugar per day - regardless of the form.
1: Rogers KM et al.: Authentication of Indonesian Coconut sugar using stable carbon isotopes (2021)
4: https://eatsmarter.de/ernaehrung/gesund-ernaehren/kokosbluetenzucker- aktuell-die-gesunde-alternative-zu-zucker