Q. Makers of coconut sugar claim that it has a low glycemic index and is high in potassium and some other minerals. Would using coconut sugar make my cookies the healthiest on the block?
A. Replacing cane sugar with coconut sugar might make your cookies a little higher in potassium. And to the extent that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, the cookies might not cause quite as high a bump in blood sugar–although I’m sure it would still be significant.
But here’s the thing: The fact that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index is a tip-off that it has a high fructose ratio. (Same is true of agave nectar.) There’s been a lot of buzz about fructose lately: how fructose doesn’t stimulate the release of hormones that signal satiety or fullness, leading to over-consumption and how over-consumption of fructose triggers fat storage or even liver damage. Most of the hysteria, of course, has been focused on high fructose corn syrup. Ironically, high fructose corn syrup is a lot lower in fructose than “healthy” sweeteners like coconut sugar and agave nectar.
Here’s what often gets lost in the hub-bub: The real problem here is not with fructose (or even sugar) but excessive consumption! In other words, all concentrated sweeteners–cane sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, honey, coconut sugar, palm sugar, date sugar, and fruit juice concentrate–should be consumed in moderation. Furthermore, none of these sweeteners–including the dreaded high fructose corn syrup–would be that big a problem if consumed in small amounts.
The first order of business is to reduce added sugar consumption to reasonable levels. (Five to ten% of total calories is a reasonable goal.) Then, if the idea of a more natural sweetener, or a few extra milligrams of potassium, turns you on, go for it!
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