Coconut sugar is marketed as a healthier sugar alternative because it is less processed, more nutritious, and low on the glycemic index.
Coconut sugar may be more environmentally friendly as well.
The impacts of large-scale cane sugar production include the destruction of ecosystems to clear land for single crops, excessive water consumption, water and air pollution, and soil degradation.
Coconut palms, by contrast, grow in diverse ecosystems, have positive environmental impacts, and produce more sugar per acre than sugar cane plants while making fewer resource demands.
However, concerns were raised when Tropical Traditions (2012), a producer of coconut oil, posted an article asserting that collecting sap to make coconut sugar destroys the trees’ ability produce coconuts, and therefore other valuable products such as coconut oil and dried coconut. The company also notes that there has been little research conducted to verify coconut sugar’s health claims.
Are these concerns valid?
The coconut supply was tight in 2011, but seems to have recovered fully this year (Galvez, 2012). Furthermore, a well-researched article by Dalibard (n.d.) indicates that trees used for coconut sugar production can still produce coconuts, though at reduced yields.
Research has also shown that coconut sugar farming does provide environmental benefits in terms of carbon sequestration with minimal resource use (Magat, 2009).
In addition, an article in the Chicago Tribune (2012) cites a study in which coconut sugar was found to be higher in antioxidants than regular cane sugar, though no significant research has been conducted to assess the effects of coconut sugar on blood sugar regulation.
Overall, the evidence appears to be weighted in favor of coconut sugar, at least in terms of sustainability.
Dalibard, C., The Potential of Tapping Palm Trees for Animal Production, n.d. http://www.fao.org/ag/AGA/AGAP/FRG/conf96.htm/dalibard.htm
Galvez, J.K., “Coconut Oil Exports up by 43 Percent in July,” The Manila Times, 15 August 2012. http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/business/top-business-news/28942-coconut-oil-exports-up-by-43-percent-in-july.
Magat, S.S., Phd, Productive and Sustainable Coconut Farming Ecosystems as Potential Carbon “Sinks” in Climate-Change Minimization: A Review and Advisory Notes, Philippine Association of Career Scientists, Inc. 4th Scientific Symposium. “S & T Challenges and Opportunities in the Midst of Climate-Change,” 2009.
“Environmental Impacts of Sugar Production,” 2012. http://www.sugarcoconut.com/blogs/environmental-impacts-of-sugar-production.html
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