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Are coconut sugar and jaggery good natural alternatives to sugar?

The market for sweet tasting, ‘healthier’ sugar alternatives is booming, but are we just buying unrefined versions of the same thing?
Coconut Sugar And Jaggery
© BBC Good Food

The market for sweet tasting, ‘healthier’ sugar alternatives is booming, but are we just buying unrefined versions of the same thing — sugar? Let’s look at a couple of natural sugar alternatives.

Coconut sugar

If you’ve browsed in your local health food shop recently, you’ll probably have seen coconut sugar. Also known as coconut blossom sugar, it’s certainly a popular choice and is made from the sap of the coconut flower.

Making coconut sugar involves two stages. First, a cut is made in the flower of the coconut palm and the liquid sap collected. The sap is then placed under heat to evaporate the water and dehydrate the sap into crystals. The finished product is brown and granular, and retains small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

What’s its sugar content?

Between 70-80% of the sugar in coconut sugar is sucrose, half of which is fructose, the type of sugar which can lead to metabolic issues. Coconut sugar has a glycemic index (GI) of 54. This is partly because it retains some inulin, a fibre which slows digestion, as well as the speed at which the sugar affects our blood levels.

The verdict

With the same number of calories as sugar, a high fructose content, but a lower GI and some, although minimal, nutrient contribution, coconut sugar may be a slightly better option than refined table sugar, but it is still sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

Jaggery

Jaggery is sold as a block, as liquid or in granular form, and is an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane or date palm. It’s made using traditional methods: the sap is extracted, filtered and then boiled to evaporate any water.

What’s its sugar content?

The exact make-up of jaggery depends on the plant used, but the sugar content will be between 65-85% sucrose and 10-15% fructose and glucose. It has a high GI of about 85. Being an unrefined product, jaggery retains some micronutrients, including minerals like iron and magnesium, as well as B vitamins.

The verdict

Although jaggery has a better nutritional profile than refined table sugar, it is still high in calories, high in GI and at the end of the day, it is a sugar and should be eaten in moderation.

© BBC Good Food
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Sweet Tooth: Understanding Sugar and the Body with BBC Good Food

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