various types of sugar in ceramic bowlsI was recently asked, after giving a talk on healthy eating, whether there were any good kinds of sugar. I have often heard people say with pride that they use “coconut sugar only” or “just honey, never table sugar”.

Does it make a difference?

The short answer is – not really.

Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm. It provides the same number of calories and carbohydrates as regular cane sugar. It is, however, less refined than regular table sugar and retains some nutrients, in particular, potassium, and to a lesser extent magnesium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.

Coconut palm sugar contains anywhere between 38-48% fructose and the remainder is glucose. Regular sugar (sucrose) is 50% glucose 50% fructose. So it is really not Coconuts whole and halved on a graduated blue studio backgroundthat different. One study that used 10 people only, which in the scientific world renders it almost obsolete, showed that coconut sugar elicited a low glycemic response in these 10 subjects.The researchers gave coconut sugar a low GI rating of 35*. It should be mentioned that the international GI database, which is based out of the Human Nutrition Unit at the University of Sydney, has not added the GI rating of coconut sugar to its database based upon this tiny study.  The results are far from conclusive.

However, when a sugar gets some media attention for being “low GI”, people pay attention. I even heard a TV doctor stating that this sugar could help “regulate your blood sugar”. I have one word for that: malarkey!

The best way to moderate your blood sugars is to eat a diet rich in fibrous vegetables, lean protein, intact grains, low-sugar fruits like berries, avoid sweeteners and be active.

Honey is a much less processed product than regular table sugar.  It also provides us with some antioxidants, and trace amounts of certain minerals.  But let’s not start thinking of honey as a health food.  For example, 1 tablespoon of honey has 1mg of honeyjarcalcium and 11mg of potassium whereas 1 small orange has 60mg of calcium and 232mg of potassium.

Honey has a higher proportion of fructose than many other sweeteners, such as maple syrup. Maple syrup has a relatively low fructose to glucose ratio and, similar to honey, contains some antioxidants and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Agave syrup, a dietary fad a few years back, contains the highest amount of fructose of all these sweeteners, ranging from 55-97% depending upon its processing.

Fructose is metabolized differently than glucose and while it does not raise our blood sugar as much as glucose or sucrose, it has other deleterious effects.  Regular consumption of fructose may raise triglyceride levels, increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), lead to the accumulation of abdominal fat and may contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well as insulin resistance.

All these sweeteners are simply sugar by another name. They range in having zero nutrients (table sugar) to trace amounts (honey, maple syrup and coconut palm sugar). Some spike our blood sugar more than others. But beware, the ones that don’t spike blood sugar is due to their high fructose content, something to be avoided.

The bottom line:USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Young woman choosing between donut and apple. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.

  • Avoid agave syrup
  • Avoid high fructose corn syrup
  • Honey, maple syrup and coconut palm sugar contain small amounts of nutrients, but are still simply sugar and should be used with moderation

The best option?

Try to train your taste buds to enjoy less sweet foods and lose those sugar cravings. It can be done.

Challenge yourself to go sugar free for 21 days to break the habit.

Because, after all:



* Glycemic Index:

Low = GI value 55 or less

Medium = GI value of 56 – 69 inclusive

High = GI 70 or more

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  1. As always All great tips thanks Haley. I had a friend recently tell me Agave syrup was a good substitute for sugar, I had never heard of it before but it sounded like a version of Splenda to me.

    • Yes, everyone was very excited about agave syrup for awhile as it did not spike blood sugar and tasted pretty good. However, now we know more about the deleterious effects of fructose so it is wise to avoid such a concentrated source like agave.

    • Good question.

      Stevia is made from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana. Once it has been processed into the extract, it is close to 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so it only takes a tiny amount to sweeten food.

      The sugar molecules in stevia are called steviol glycosides which do not contain any fructose. Stevia contains zero calories and does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels; so in that sense it IS preferable to sugar. However, keep in mind that it is a highly processed product and continuing to feed your sweet-tooth will not make your sugar cravings go away.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Wow, I thought agave was magic. Never tried it but thought I may be missing something. Glad to know I am not! Thanks for the info Haley.

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