Coconut Sugar: Healthy Alternative to Agave Nectar

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist January 11, 2011

Field of Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)

Agave nectar has taken the health food world by storm over the past few years.    Touted as a healthy, natural, low glycemic sweetener that is helpful for those with blood sugar issues, in truth, agave nectar is nothing more than another highly processed sweetener with no redeeming nutrient value whatsoever.

The list of problems with agave nectar is long.   Here is a brief compilation:

  • Contrary to popular belief, agave is not made from the dried sap of the agave plant but rather the starchy root bulb.   (A natural agave syrup made from the sap is indeed made in Mexico, but it is very expensive and availability limited).
  • Conversion of the starchy agave root bulb into “nectar” requires a highly chemical process using genetically modified enzymes.   This process is very similar to the production of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  • Amber colored agave nectar is made by burning the fructose (above 140F) as it is being refined.   There is no gourmet quality to it and it certainly does not contain more minerals that the clear, light agave syrup.
  • Agave nectar is not raw even if labeled as such.   Perhaps the reason is that the heat required to produce agave is below pasteurization temperature (161F) which then allows a misleading, untruthful “raw” label via a USDA loophole.   Similar deceit is used by Organic Valley in the labeling of some of its cheeses which are labeled raw but, in fact, are not raw at all.
  • As consumers are becoming more aware of the problems with agave, manufacturers are starting to use the pseudonym “chicory syrup” on labels of the amber colored agave nectar to further mislead and deceive.
  • Saponins are present in the agave and yucca plants in large amounts.   This toxic steroid derivative disrupts red blood cells and should be avoided during pregnancy as it can induce miscarriage by stimulating uterine blood flow.      Beware of industry propaganda which suggests saponins increase hydration and cellular uptake of water.     Saponins have no beneficial effect when consumed and any suggestion to the contrary is simply a marketing ploy.
  • Agave nectar labels do not conform to FDA requirements and the FDA has so far made no attempt to enforce violations.   Hence the consumer is led to believe that store bought agave is an unprocessed and traditional Mexican sweetener which couldn’t be further from the truth.
  • The fructose in agave nectar is not L-fructose which is the primary fructose molecule in fruit or honey.   Rather, it is D-fructose which is a reverse isomer with reverse polarity to the small amounts of natural D-fructose found in fruits.   Alarmingly, this means that the D-fructose in agave is not recognized by the human body as are natural forms of fructose that are used for energy utilization.  Instead, the unnatural form of D-fructose in agave primarily raises triglyceride levels and increases adipose (fat) tissue.

The bottom line?   Agave syrup is a man made sweetener with no beneficial or redeeming qualities whatsoever.    Period.

Coconut Sugar: Healthy Alternative to Agave Nectar

Cactus Island Nursery golden spicata dwarf coconut palmCoconut sugar, also referred to as palm sugar, is a truly natural, low glycemic alternative to agave nectar.    Made from the sap of the coconut palm, coconut sugar is a source of minerals, vitamin C,  B vitamins, and some amino acids.

It is also a sustainable sweetener contrary to rumors to the contrary swirling on the internet.

The glycemic index of 2 TBL of agave is about 30 whereas that of coconut sugar is slightly higher at 35.   The good news is that coconut sugar is not super high in fructose like agave and as such, will not primarily contribute to fat tissue storage and high blood triclycerides.

It seems that coconut sugar is truly a wonder sugar:   it does not overly stress the pancreas nor the liver such as what would happen with cane sugars and agave, respectively.

Of course, moderation is key as with the use of all natural sweeteners.    No more than 3 TBL per day (or 5% of total calories) of even a natural sweetener is a good rule of thumb.

The brand of coconut sugar I buy uses low temperature processing  that simply involves evaporation of the sap from the coconut blossoms into crystals.   Evaporation temperature is about 100F for an hour or two.    As a result of this low temperature, enzymes remain intact.

Other brands of coconut sugar boil the nectar down to crystalize it, so check labels carefully or contact the manufacturer first if you desire raw coconut sugar.

Coconut sugar is mildly sweet and has no coconut flavor.   It can be a healthy addition to any of your traditional dessert recipes!

Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist.com

Source:  Agave Nectar:  Worse Than We Thought

Agave Nectar Scam

Picture1 Credit
Picture2 Credit

 

Comments (81)

  1. Pingback: Healthy Recipes With Agave Nectar What Your Healthy | What Your Healthy

  2. Ladonna Beals via Facebook March 18, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I will stick with SweetLeaf Stevia distilled with pure water and zero glycemic. For those if us with autoimmune disorders we are very thankful to be sugar free and have a zero glycemic sweetener that does not feed the fungus that causes our pain.

    Reply
  3. Why would something that grows on a tree not be sustainable? It’s not like you have to cut down trees to get coconut sugar. Wouldn’t that be like saying apples and oranges aren’t sustainable. Perhaps what is need is some coconut tree farms. It sounds income and job opportunities in coconut growing areas.

    Reply
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  6. I frequently buy and use palm sugar from an Asian market in my area. It is quite inexpensive there, and I make sure to buy the pure, unprocessed stuff. I use it in the majority of my baked goods because, at least for me, it is the least expensive of the unrefined sweeteners and has a lovely light caramel taste. Unfortunately, most of the palm sugars contain potassium sorbate as a preservative. Does this negate the positive elements of the palm sugar, or is this fine in small amounts?

    Reply
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  8. Sara, I read your link re Agave and then I went to the Wholesome Sweeteners website and read how the Organic Raw Agave is produced and the only thing used is LOW heat… I am wondering if the procedures for making it may have changed from the days of using chemicals? The other thing I wonder about is the making of maple syrup also uses heat to concentrate the sap, isn’t that very similar to or the same as low heat being used to concentrate the Raw Agave nectar?
    This is the link to the info: http://www.wholesomesweeteners.com/AgaveFactsVSFiction.html
    I do use maple syrup for some things and very little honey because it’s ‘sweet’ factor in my body doesn’t do well with more than very little bits… but the Organic Raw Agave works really well for applications when I need a liquid sweetener. For baking I use Organic Rapadura sugar.
    With Grateful Appreciation for all the really great info and recipes that you share with us.
    Marie

    Reply
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  10. This is great! We have a new Asian supermarket in our town and I saw Palm sugar there today and wondered if it would be ok. I am definitely going to buy some now!! Thanks for posting that great information :)

    Reply
  11. Okay, I haven’t bothered with the agave syrup craze, because I saw the info against it about the same time I noticed it at all. BUT the place we are living in now has a GARGANTUAN agave patch growing in the backyard–the thing is about 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and at least 12 feet long–of solid agave plants. So…has anyone seen directions on how to do the agave sap-to-syrup thing? Coconut sugar is yummy, but I have free agave, even if I take advantage of the saponins for soap use.

    Reply
  12. Have you ever tried date sugar? It’s sugar made from 100% dried dates. I found it at my local Whole Foods. Just curious your thoughts on that?

    Reply
  13. This is rather long, but please check it out. I think using coconut palm sugar is not a good plan.

    As it stands now, coconut
    palm sugar is not a sustainable industry. High consumer demand for coconut palm
    sugar is competing with increased demand for coconut oil and other coconut
    products. There are also no standards for coconut palm sugar production, and
    many of the nutrient claims are unfounded, as the quality of the coconut palm
    sugar will vary greatly depending on the type of tree the sap is collected from, the age
    of the tree, the time of year (rainy season or dry season), etc.
    So the next time you think
    about purchasing some coconut palm sugar, you need to ask yourself, “Do I need
    this more than I need coconut oil, dried coconut, or coconut flour? Am I willing
    to pay a higher price for coconut oil and other coconut products so that more
    trees can be sacrificed for coconut palm sugar production, or at some point even
    go without these products just so I can have coconut palm sugar?” The Philippine Coconut Authority in the Philippines is wisely
    recommending people to plant coconut trees especially for coconut sugar
    production, particularly the “dwarf” breeds that are shorter and can grow faster
    (average of 5 years instead of 10 years.) But as long as consumers continue to
    demand coconut palm sugar at the present time, you can be sure that growers and harvesters in the
    Philippines will not wait many years to allow the supply to catch up when they
    can make a greater profit now. If
    current trends continue, coconuts will soon be so scarce and the price of coconut
    oil will be so high that only the rich and famous will be able to afford it.
    There is a reason why the
    coconut sugar is so nutritious. It feeds the coconut flower that grows into a
    wonderful coconut, from which we get such healthy products like coconut oil!
    Coconut oil is unique in nature because of its fatty acid structure. Only human
    breast milk contains similar amounts of medium chain fatty acids. Healthy
    sugars, on the other hand, abound in nature. Honey is among the healthiest, and
    honey production is much more sustainable than coconut palm sugar. The Philippines and other tropical
    areas are rich with native flowering tropical plants that could be utilized for
    wonderful tropical honeys. So please, let’s NOT sacrifice our coconut oil for
    coconut palm sugar!

    Here is the link to the article… http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/coconut_palm_sugar.htm

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Hi Ruth, this link to the Trop Traditions article does not tell the whole tale. There are sustainable ways to get both coconut sugar and coconut oil from a tree without killing it. I think the key is to make sure the source is sustainable. There is a comment above that explains this pretty well.

      Reply
  14. Hi there,

    When buying palm sugar, pls look at its source- it must also say coconut sugar to ensure the harvest is not harming the environment.

    Also, with the agave nectar/syrup being bad – it actually isn’t harmful if processed without the high heat, ie, cold-processed. You can find this info buy checking out how your brand processes it.
    Anyway, here’s a link to an article:
    http://www.embracinghealthblog.com/agave-healthy-or-harmful/

    Hope you enjoy the read :)

    Reply
  15. What are your thoughts on stevia? Maybe it’s a terrible sweetener and everyone knows it but me! Sorry if that’s the case…..I’m new to all of this!

    Reply
  16. Hi Sarah, I was wondering what your thoughts on the sugar alcohol erythritol is. As far as I know it is natural, safe, and has a very low glycemic index and is very unlikely to casue stomach upset. I would really appreciate hearing your take on it though. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 19, 2011 at 9:00 am

      HI Kathy, I would avoid erythritol for 3 reasons: first, it is derived from corn and secondly it is most likely derived from GMO corn unless the label says “organic erythritol” which seems highly unlikely.

      Lastly, I would avoid it as it is simply not natural. It has to be manufactured after all and is not something you would encounter in nature in its basic form like honey, stevia, or cane sugar, or maple syrup.

      Reply
      • Sarah, Thank you for the information. I am saddened to find out that it is derived from corn and that it probably is GMO.

        I understand how honey is natural because it’s just found in the hive that way, but my understanding is that stevia and cane sugar do go through heavy processing as well to become the products that we use. I even looked up the processes by which they are all made. So I guess I don’t really understand the difference when you say that erythritol is manufactured and the cane sugar and stevia are natural. Erythritol seems to be made through natural processes to me using things such as enzymes and fermentation.

        Reply
        • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
          Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 23, 2011 at 9:27 am

          Sucanat and rapadura are simply cane juice that is dried. White sugar is of course highly processed.

          Green stevia powder is unprocessed. Other forms of stevia are processed rather highly processed from what I understand, so try to stick with the green powder.

          Reply
  17. frederick schilling January 13, 2011 at 3:54 am

    Great dialogue on coconut sugar. There are a number of issues that need clarification on this. And for full disclosure, my company produces coconut palm sugar under the SweetTree brand and my company is Big Tree Farms.

    1) Producing coconut sugar, instead of coconuts, is not a negative. If anyone has ever been to the tropics, you’ll know that coconut trees are prolific. Like dandelions in spring time. In many tropic countries, there are so many, that many of the coconuts just go to waste. The coconut tree produces inflorescences every 3-4 months and coconuts are always growing these. And again, if you’ve every seen a coconut tree, or even a photo, you’ll see there are multiple inflorescences. There is no shortage of coconuts in the world, i can assure you.

    2) Because the tree is continually producing these multiple inflorescences, the tree is continually producing nectar, that ultimately will feed the fruit that will make it grow and also produce the meat inside the fruit and also the water. This nectar is very very very high in nutrients. All the health benefits you hear about of coconut water and coconut oil are a direct result of the nectar. These multiple inflorescences can either be used for the fruit or for producing nectar; it’s really up to the farmer. Yet, in my experience, the farmers make a lot more money collecting the nectar and processing into a sugar than just selling coconuts to middle men who then sell them to larger processors for copra. These farmers, can in fact, produce coconuts and nectar at the same time from the multitude of inflorescences that continually emerge from the tree.

    So, the rumor that producing nectar is a negative to the tree is grossly false.

    3) The way the nectar is collected is not like maple syrup. The tree is not “tapped” the way the maple tree is. The inflorescences (flower buds) are trimmed twice a day and the nectar oozes out and is collected. It’s like trimming your hair; even though it’s cut, it’s going to keep on growing. You can see images of this process at http://www.sweet-tree.biz or http://www.bigtreefarms.com

    4) Based on my experience and knowledge of manufacturing coconut sugar, of which i have a lot, I have never seen coconut sugar be able to be produced “raw”. The coconut nectar is 16% sucrose when it comes from the tree and it will ferment within 12 hours and turn into palm wine; which is commonly consumed in producing countries. The way to stabilize the nectar is to boil it. To produce coconut sugar, the 16% sucrose solution needs to be concentrated to about a 75% sucrose solution and there is just no way to do this without boiling the nectar, to avoid fermentation. Now, it can be achieved for a liquid nectar through a very very very long process (which makes it very expensive and my company has produced this), yet, in order to produce a granulated sugar, it needs to be boiled above 200ËšF and then ground into a granule.

    All in all, this is an amazing product and we’ve been working with about 3,000 farmers in Indonesia for over 8 years. We were the first ones to bring a certified organic coconut sugar to the international market and based on the response we’ve seen over the last year, in particular, coconut sugar is here to stay… which is great, because it really is a wonderful alternative sweetener.

    thanks for blogging about it!
    frederick

    Reply
  18. Thank you for the information about agave. I was introduced to agave by a naturopath when I was cleansing Candida. She told me because it was low glycemic it wouldn’t feed yeast. I used it very moderately to help with sugar cravings. We liked it alot. Unfortunately, I have slowed my use of it because of all the info coming out about it. What is most frustrating for me is that my 3 yod is allergic to coconuts. He can’t have anything related to coconut at this point. I guess I’ll just sticking with my raw honey and maple syrup. :)
    Karen\’s last post: Win Rosetta Stone Language Software

    Reply
  19. Pavil, The Uber Noob January 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

    This business of extracting sap from the coconut blossom is intriguing. If in fact, the sap is drawn from the tree, it would appear that the blossom is a conduit for bleeding of the sap. I was initially under the impression that the blossom itself could be harvested for its sap content, like a nectar. The sapping process seems to be more like sapping a maple tree than the simple harvest of nectar from a blossom.

    Is Nature once again the victim of our own hubris, ignorance, and greed?

    Ciao,
    Pavil

    Reply
  20. Sarah, This is completely off topic but I just wanted to say I feel horrible for all the animosity that has taken place in my interactions with you on this blog. I would have preferred to write this to you privately but I can’t seem to find an e-mail address. Any way I know that your husband is from Australia from the video he made, I hope his/your family over there is safe.
    Please can everyone who is Australian or knows an Australian copy and paste this to their status and keep it there until an hour has past. We wish and pray for relief for all Australians who are currently under threat, have been under threat or continuing threat of flood waters throughout Queensland and Northern NSW, also those affected by the bush fires in WA. We stand by you in this your hour of need.
    I mean this sincerely. God Bless all of you.
    Cindy

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

      Hi Cindy, thank you for the kind words. Richard’s family are all safe thank goodness .. his parents/sister are in Melbourne which is a long ways away from Queensland. He does have an Uncle in Queensland, but he is near the beach so is fine last I heard.

      Aussies are a strong bunch so they will pull through this as they always do. But, it is a devastating flood that will take a long time to recover from both financially and emotionally.

      Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Oh, and no worries about any animosity that pops up on the blog from time to time. It is par for the course when such controversial topics are discussed and very much to be expected. I am glad to have such passionate readers! :)

      Reply
  21. Thanks for the information about agave.

    Palm sugar may come from different palms: palmyra palms, arenga palms and coconut palms. They may have different Glycemic Indices and nutrients. It may be important to see that label specifically says coconut sugar, not just palm sugar.

    Re: coconut trees dying: Most coconut producing countries – Thailand, Philippines, etc. have different varieties of coconut. Different farms also produce different products.

    Traditionally, there are products that come from the coconut – producing the fruit, oil, dried coconut, flour, etc. There are also farms that take straight from the sap – they make coconut vinegar, coconut wine – also a staple for these countries. Taking from the sap does not kill the
    tree. It is a sustainable product.

    Reply
  22. I grumbled when I saw that picture, as if we need another field filled with something new and brilliant and so called healthy, just wish fields could be more diverse…

    Agave didn’t sit right with me when I first heard about it and it only got confirmed when I researched it, wish that some brands that I like would just take it out of their products already…

    Love, Jules

    Reply
  23. I too love the coconut palm sugar. I was a great agave fan but after seeing the negatives, stopped getting it. One of the things I missed most was the easy to dissolve liquid. I don’t know if this is acceptable or not but I make a simple syrup with it and store that in my fridge for making the protein cookies that call for agave. I take twice as much coconut palm sugar as filtered water and bring it to a boil. I take off the heat immediately. This is what I use in my minty lemonade and recipes that call for agave.
    As to xylitol……..it is touted as being the best since it is basically no calories… no chemicals…. natural etc. but you really have to be careful with it as it works like a laxative on many and I am one of the many. :-)

    Reply
    • Pavil, The Uber Noob January 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      How does processing a blossom impact the health of the tree in any way? I can see how the blossom is impacted, but the tree?…

      Ciao,
      Pavil

      Reply
  24. I love coconut sugar and wish I could find a source for the paste kind locally. The granules are convienient but have a much more caramelized flavor. And the lumps are really difficult to grate. I have read conflicting reports on the sustainability of harvesting coconut sap for sugar. Some say it can damage the coconut trees from which it is harvested, reducing new trees and coconut products. Then the traditional harvesting methods are supposed to actually improve the yield of coconuts. I guess it goes along the lines of know your producer, but with something that almost always is a long distance import, it can be difficult to find out what’s really going on. What do you think? I don’t think big ag has jumped on that production yet to ruin it. I do know that Coconut Secret’s Coconut Aminos have been a life saver for replacing soy sauce for my daughter. They need a little more salt to have a good approximation of “soy” in recipes but it’s been wonderful to bring back some old favorites that were banned because of the soy. And the health benefits make it even better!
    Kelly\’s last post: Post holiday diets – Almost sugar free almond joy bars

    Reply
  25. Great Information! Thank you! In general, I try to steer my clients to eating sugar in its natural whole state form, like having a piece of fruit. I treat fruit as a dessert. However, I understand that people like having treats and I think it’s great for them to have an all natural alternative. Sarah, this is really tremendous information. Do you by chance have the same amount of detailed information for Stevia (in liquid form) and Maple Syrup. I think Maple Syrup has a high glycemic index and heavy in calories, however, it is supposed to have a great level of nutrients if you buy Grade B. The Master Cleanse uses Maple Syrup because of it’s nutrient value. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm

      HI Jackie, as I was writing this article (a couple of weeks ago), I researched the glycemic index of maple sugar and sucanat. I seem to remember Grade B maple syrup being somewhere in the 60′s and sucanat being even higher than that. Neither could be considered low glycemic even though they are whole natural sweeteners with high mineral content. If anyone can confirm this either way, please do.

      Reply
  26. Rebecca in Michigan January 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I just made browies with coconut flour, coconut plam sugar and Wax Orchards Fruit Sweetner and other ingredients. This is the first time I have made this brownie, so, I am not sure how it will tastes. It wanted me to us Agave Nectar, which I don’t have.
    Anyway, here is a link for the Wax Orchards Fruit Sweetner. http://waxorchards.com/sweeteners.htm I am not sure if this is a safe product, but it claims it is good for diabetics.

    Reply
  27. Can you use coconut sugar to make kombucha with? i’ve heard that the SCOBY needs regular white cane sugar rather than mineral loaded succanat and the like… is this true? do you know what would happen to the mother if palm sugar was used?

    Reply
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  29. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama January 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I knew agave was bad, I stopped using it almost 2 years ago. I was sad, too, because I liked it. I even [ugh] used it while pregnant with my son! I suspect my third baby will be the healthiest yet because I know better on all this junk….

    “The fructose in agave is not L-fructose which is the primary fructose molecule in fruit or honey. Rather, it is D-fructose which is a reverse isomer with reverse polarity to the small amounts of natural D-fructose found in fruits.”

    THAT is the most critical piece of information in this whole post, if you ask me. I’ve seen several people, especially Mercola, criticize raw honey because of its “high fructose levels, even higher than HFCS.” But I knew there absolutely had to be more to it than that! THAT is the missing piece of information. Clearly natural, raw honey is far superior to HFCS! Comparing raw levels of fructose while ignoring their source and form is ignorant. So, you’ve finally answered that problem for me. Thanks!
    Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama\’s last post: Baby Holders

    Reply
    • I also read this article. I’m beginning to think that sugar, no matter the form, is just not that healthy for us and shouldn’t be eaten.

      Reply
      • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
        Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

        Hi Lori, Lisa, and Flip Tiffy, this is concerning information about coconut trees that produce coconut sugar can no longer produce coconuts. I have found conflicting info .. that perhaps with a 4 month rest period each year, the tree can produce both if the farmer is careful and tends his trees wisely:
        http://coconutsugar.org/makingofcocosugar.php

        That being said, there’s no doubt that there would be abusive practices that would sacrifice trees which is not good. However, there is additional environmental benefits to coconut sugar:
        Coconut trees produce an average of 50-75% more sugar per acre than cane sugar and require much much less pesticides, fertilizers etc.

        Reply
  30. I used the last of my agave several months ago and have not bought any. Right now I use Rapadura, maple syrup, raw honey and some stevia. Occasionally I buy regular brown sugar but rarely. I’ve been reading great things about coconut sugar and I’m definitely getting some soon. Kelly at The Spunky Coconut blog posted some great info on it. Thanks Sarah.

    Reply
  31. Thanks for the information on coconut sugar. I will look for it at the health food store.

    My friend asked me if she would get the same sort of benefit from eating the meat of a ripe coconut that one gets from coconut oil. I imagine not, but I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Maybe you would like to do a post on fresh coconut.
    P.S. I’m finally going to try making my first batch of beet kvass tonight.

    Reply
  32. Sarah, I forgot to ask you about this when I commented earlier–to substitute coconut sugar for regular granulated sugar — would the amount be the same?

    Reply
  33. I was wondering if you had any experience or knowledge with xylitol. It has a low glycemic index, but I don’t know anything about how it is made or anything else really.

    Reply
    • Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a low glycemic index. It can cause gas, because it draws water into the intestine. I can’t tolerate them (sugar alcohols) personally. I also think they have a somewhat “artificial” flavor.

      Reply

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