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Ask Tufts Experts May 2011 Issue

Q: Our local co-op has started carrying coconut palm sugar, saying it contains many more macronutrients than other sweeteners. Is coconut palm sugar really better than regular sugar or honey?

Answer :  Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, says, “To my knowledge there is no significant advantage to using coconut sugar rather than other caloric sweeteners. There are likely flflavor differences.”

It may be true, as your co-op claims, that coconut palm sugar is higher in phosphorus, potassium, iron and some other minerals and nutrients than other sweetener options. But the values listed are for milligrams per 100 grams of sweetener—nearly 24 teaspoons. Do the math per teaspoon instead: Getting 0.083 milligrams of zinc per teaspoon of coconut palm sugar, for instance, instead of 0.001 milligrams from regular sugar is unlikely to benefit your health. (Especially since the RDA for zinc is 11 milligrams for adult men and 8 milligrams for adult women.) The research cited, by the Philippine Food and Nutrition Research Institute, fails to include the most important fact about any type of sugar: How many calories does it contain?

In general, pick whatever sweetener tastes best to you—then use it only in moderation.

Correction: Although the conclusion remains the same, the units of measurement in the March “Ask Tufts Experts” Q&A about luncheon meat were misstated: One ounce of ham contains 365 milligrams of sodium, compared to 20 milligrams in an ounce of turkey you cook yourself.

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