Well there’s a difficult one! Perhaps the title should be: is coconut sugar better for you than other sugars?
The default way to tell is by comparing glycemic index (GI). This is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore insulin levels.
Pure glucose has a value of 100, stevia 0 and refined sugar around 65, depending on the original source of the sugar (cane, beet, corn). Interestingly, white bread has a GI of 71. Coconut sugar is widely reported to have a GI of 35.
Apart from it might not have. There is only one source for this figure and it was a piece of research funded by the Indonesian Government, which has a massive vested interest in promoting coconut products. The test also only involved 10 people.
GI testing is fairly subjective. Testing is carried out using human volunteers. Basic tests use up to thirteen healthy, fasted volunteers to consume a portion of food containing a known amount of available carbohydrate. Their blood sugar levels are then monitored over a two hour period. Each volunteer’s response to the test food is compared to their response to a control, containing the same amount of carbohydrate as the test portion. Each volunteer consumes the test food on one occasion and the control on three occasions. The averaged responses of all the volunteers give the GI. Testing is regulated and controlled by the World Health Organisation (WHO), but the minimal sample size is a concern.
Some commentators have suggested the the GI of coconut sugar may in fact be closer to 56. Lower than regular sugar, but certainly not as low as 35 and considered ‘low GI’.
So how do we get to the bottom of this? It seems that the only way to achieve this would be for coconut sugar to be independently tested. Even then, there is such a wide variety of coconut sugar available, how much should be tested? Hopefully someone will pick this up. It’s not cheap either – a simple test costs up to £10,000. From my research background, I’d like to see a much larger sample base, which would increase the costs exponentially.
Do you use coconut sugar? How do you feel about it now? Is GI important to you?
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at how coconut sugar rates against other alternatives from an eco perspective.