OK. Still on the hunt for fructose-free sugar substitutes. Jo and I came across coconut sugar this week – a health food shop here in Byron had a bunch of very wholesome treats using coconut sugar. I reckon you’ll start seeing it everywhere. A few of the health food companies are starting to market it.

Picture 2Via David Anderson/Glenn Allsop 2011

I asked the chick behind the counter about it. She said it was evaporated coconut water. Which would make it fructose-free. Hoorah!

But, alas, I got home and discovered the truth.

It’s pretty much palm sugar…the stuff they use in Asian cooking…. made by making several slits into the bud of a coconut tree (instead of a palm tree) and collecting the sap. Then, the sap is boiled until it thickens and solidifies.

There are some positives:

But. The fructose deal?

As you know, we’re interested in the fructose content – it’s the dangerous, fattening bit of sugar. Everyone gets excited about agave, which I’ve written about before. Agave is 90% fructose. You can read more about the fructose situation here.

So this is what the manufacturers of coconut sugar are saying:

The major component of coconut sugar is sucrose (70-79%) followed by glucose and fructose (3-9%) each.  Minor variations will occur, due to differences in primary processing, raw material source, tree age and variety of coconut.

Good, yes? No! This is very tricky wording. Because sucrose – or just plain table sugar to you and me – is half fructose! So in effect coconut sugar’s between 38% and 48.5% fructose (I did the maths just now). Which…is about the same as sugar and honey.

Back to square one…Thought I’d just share….

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Mike A

    The difference is that sucrose is not free fructose. Fructose in it’s natural form (bound) is not the monster everyone thinks. In fact, all fruit has fructose and we know fruit it healthy, right(?)

    When your body encounters sucrose is must digest and separate the sucrose into glucose and fructose before metabolizing the glucose in the blood with insulin and the fructose through the liver. For this reason sucrose (table sugar) isn’t terrible. So, if you take palm sugar, which is in essence sucrose (table sugar) with a lower glycemic index, then you are ahead of the game.

    Free fructose, on the other hand, confounds your body because you body puts out insulin in response to consuming free fructose but without a glucose component (like sucrose) the insulin isn’t used up. Eventually, this will cause your cells to become immune to insulin, requiring more and more of it to do the same job (adult onset diabetes). In fact, the US epidemic of adult onset diabetes coincides with the release of high fructose corn syrup to our food supply in 1981.

    Like anything else, sugar isn’t bad for you if taken in moderation and becomes unhealthy when overly consumed. If you replace table sugar with coconut or palm sugar and consume what you always did, then you are ahead of the game.

  • Guest

    Your wrong. Coconut water is sweetened with the same carbohydrate in coconuts, which as a fruit contains fructose. But don’t worry, like all fruits, the fructose is bound to a glucose molecule (sucrose), which makes it ok (see my post). The exact composition of the sugar in coconut water is:
    glucose 50%, sucrose 35%, and fructose 15% – which is a typical healthy distribution of sugars in fruit

  • Guest

    Fay, I’m sorry to inform you that dextrose is pure sugar (glucose). You’re better off using table sugar (which has a bound fructose component). As long as the fructose is bound and there is a glucose component in the sugar molecule (as there is in sucrose – table sugar) the fructose is actually health in that respect. Of course you want to consume all sugars in moderation.

  • Guest

    The bottom line is your body is best adapted to digest sugar in its natural form (sucrose, or table sugar). Ingesting dextrose (or glucose), will spike your insulin and can also cause adult onset diabetes as would ingesting free fructose (which is even worse). It’s true that your body breaks most carbohydrates down to glucose, but it wasn’t designed to ingest the glucose in pure form. It is optimal to consume sucrose as a fruit, as opposed to a sweetener, because consuming it as a fruit will include a fiber component for a lower glycemic index

  • FRED


  • Chris

    It’s worth noting that the study which showed a GI of 35 for Coconut Sugar was done with just 10 patients, who were fed Coconut Sugar as a dried crystal, and the normal sugar was fed as a sugar syrup – much faster to absorb, and hence by comparsion a much higher GI.
    More study needed…but regardless it’s Fructose.

  • Bonny

    What about rice syrup? I recently read that rice products but especially brown rice and it’s derivatives contain arsenic. This I found after I had made ice lollies and chocolate and cookies with it. Gutted. So I threw it all away. Does anyone know if it is safe? I tried to contact pure harvest but no reply.

  • Meagain

    This is an old post I am adding to . . . but wanted to ask about the coconut palm sugar I bought which says it’s made from the flowers of the plant. Not the sap as you have described. Is this a different version? And is it a good thing to use?

    • riaharris

      Hi Meagain, I know your question is really old now! But yes I believe it’s exactly the same thing. I’ve been sugar free (apart from whole fruits) for 2 months and just had a really disappointing experience. Came across a sugar free bakery in London and after scoffing a crossaint looked up their sweetner – coconut blossom nectar – and was led here! Gutted but also more informed which I know is great. Weirdly I now have a strange fake sweetness taste on my tongue like ice just gulped a huge amount of orange squash!

  • james

    I ate a small amount of coconut sugar today and felt very ill for several hours. Not good.

  • Cheryl Van Rooy Tyrkalo

    I was getting excited about coconut sugar. So glad the sugar police are hard at work. Thank you Sarah.

  • Noname

    At least the coconut sugar is way better than any sweetener available in the market. I am also in search for good alternative sweetener and I think this could be a lot better. I found this site with more information. http://www.cocoessentiails.com

  • tara

    so when they say “unrefined” which most coconut sugar is, it is actually a boiling process? how can it be called “raw” in some cases?

  • Well Said ! Coconut Sugar is a good alternative of white sugar. Because Coconut sugar is low glycemic(35), which is a measurement of the impact on blood sugar. Low GI means organic coconut sugar absorbs slowly into the blood stream. One important thing is that, it very much beneficial from the health point of view.

  • MapRef41N93W

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with coconut sugar. It’s a very good and healthy replacement for table sugar. Maybe you aren’t aware, but fructose is simply sugar from fruit (yes I know its present in non “fruits” like honey but that’s generally what fructose is). There isn’t anything inherently bad about it. I use sugar all the time (in the form of either raw organic sugar or organic coconut sugar) and I am in about as good of health as you can be. Just don’t put 20 tablespoons in your coffee or eat an entire batch of gluten free cookies/sweets etc. in one sitting and there is no issue.

    Simply avoid bleached and dedorized table sugar and HFCS and you will find yourself in much better health. Sugar doesn’t cause health issues. Excess amounts of it does. As well as the bleaching process in table sugar and the process of making HFCS (which is high in mercury and a huge source of many issues facing Americans today).

  • Nicci B

    Thank you SO much for this, I just arrived back from my local farm shop which had coconut blossom nectar in stock (I ran out of brown rice syrup which has been my savior for a long time, which they didn’t have… I told them they need to get on it). Anyway, I looked up your article and although it might slightly differ from coconut sugar, after reading your comment, I don’t trust it and will leave it. Hooray for IQS, again

  • Anjala Devi

    what works for me, when I have cravings, is cashew nut butter, which has a sweet taste. Nice on toast with sliced strawberries (if you allow them in your diet)

  • Eden

    Hello 🙂
    What about coconut blossom nectar syrup? Syrup that is solely from the blossom, not the sap. Also how is sucrose metabolized/digested in our bodies? Does the fructose separate from the sucrose (bad) in the body? Or not, which would be good, right?