Coconut Sap: A Paleo Sweetener

Screen-shot-2011-04-13-at-10.58.25-AM.pngWe all know that sugar and Paleo don’t really mix well. Most people avoid the Paleo diet like the plague purely because they can’t have their sugar on the diet. The only sweets we get on this diet are fruits. I used to think that the only dessert worth having was bready and chocolate-y – certainly not fruity. Maybe if the fruit was accompanied by chocolate.

Anyway, all of us who eat on the Paleo spectrum probably indulge in sweets sometimes; after all, we’re genetically inclined to binge on sugary things.  And all sugars, regardless of their “low glycemic index” or fiber content are going to promote an insulin response and mess with our blood sugar for a while.  Don’t be fooled.  Even if the sugar I’m about to tell you about, coconut sap, has a glycemic index of “between 35 and 55,” it’s still not leafy vegetables or meat, which are in the 0-15 range on the glycemic index.

Those numbers just tell you how much a particular food affects your blood sugar on a scale from 0-100. Something like high fructose corn syrup is up at about an 87, and brown rice pasta is about the same. Refined honey is about a 75 and table sugar weighs in at around 80. Baked potatoes?  76. And plain glucose gets the gold star at 100. But that’s glycemic index, not glycemic load, and we’re not going to get into that right now. What you need to know is that the over-consumption of sugar leads to weight gain, inflammation, and blood sugar swings.  The lack of it in our Paleo diets is partly what makes us feel so much better than we used to.

The reasons I like using coconut sap in my coconut milk ice cream or in an occasional baked treat is that it’s full of nutrients — magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B’s, and because it’s about 80% inulin, a prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic means that it feeds the probiotics that are in your gut, which help keep your immune system and your digestive system strong. Coconut sap is also much lower in fructose (about 1.5% compared to 40-90% in agave)  and way less processed than agave.  It’s only simmered for about 40 minutes before it turns into the end product.  It’s also a sustainable food.  Once you “tap” the tree, the sap flows from it for another 20 years.

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Tapping the Coconut Tree with Bamboo Containers

I like the Coconut Secret brand, which also makes coconut crystals. The crystals are just made by dehydrating the sap. I’ve used both in baked goods and ice cream and they work well, although the sap is better for ice cream making.

So don’t use it all that often, but if I had to choose a Paleo sweetener, this would be it, right alongside honey.  Both could have been (and probably were) harvested by our ancestors, which to me is the ultimate test of whether or not something is Paleo.  Try it out and let us know how it goes!