Palm Sugar In Indian Food: 8 Health Benefits Of This Sweetener
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India has a vast coastline lined with lush palm trees, so it is quite natural that resourceful Indians have, over the centuries, learned to get the best out of these natural resources. From Gujarat and Maharashtra, all the way south to Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, and then to the east with Odisha and West Bengal, various parts of the palm tree are used in culinary creations—and often, it comes in the form of palm sugar. Call it Khand in Gujarati, Panam Kalkandu in Tamil or Tal in Bengali, but the use of palm sugar is prevalent throughout the country. 

For those unaware, palm sugar, which is also known as palm sap sugar and coconut sugar in many parts of the world, is a natural sweetener derived from the sap of different types of palm trees. In India, palm sugar is produced from the sap of two predominant types of palm trees: the Palmyra palm (Borassus flabellifer) and Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). The sap collected from the former is known as toddy and is more popular in the South Indian states. The sap from the latter is more popular in the East Indian states. 

The sap from palm trees is not just used to make palm sugar, but also traditional alcoholic beverages like toddy. The same toddy is also used to ferment rice batters in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—and this is the secret behind the fluffiest Appams, Uttapams and Dosa of course. When it comes to palm sugar’s culinary uses across India, you might think it is only used to create sweet dishes like Payasam, Payesh and maybe even sweet fritters. The fact is that palm sugar is also used extensively in South Indian cuisines to balance savoury dishes which include the use of tamarind and kokum too.  

Given the fact that palm sugar is so widely used in India, you might easily ask if eating it is beneficial. After all, the global concern with consuming sugar as a cause of weight gain, metabolic disorders, diabetes and even heart diseases are quite well known. Yet, it is important to note that palm sugar is a natural sweetener and has many health benefits to provide. Here are some such health benefits of palm sugar you should know about. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Kannamma Cooks

1. Not A Refined Sugar 

The process of making palm sugar involved driving the sap from palm trees, then boiling the toddy to get a concentrated sugar. This process is clearly much less refined than those of white or even brown sugar production. So, palm sugar is much more of a natural sweetener with essential nutrients and compounds intact to a large extent—making it a good sugar substitute for all. 

2. Low Glycemic Index 

Palm sugar has a lower glycemic index compared to refined sugar and other added sugars, which means that when consumed, it metabolizes slowly and leads to gradual and controlled increase in blood sugar. So, eating palm sugar can reduce the risk of sudden blood sugar spikes and crashes. This means that palm sugar is not only safe for diabetics and those with borderline high blood sugar, but also for those hoping to eat healthy to stay fit. 

3. Rich In Nutrients 

You might think of palm sugar as just a sweetener, but the fact is that it is just as nutrient dense as other beneficial foods. Packed with vitamins such as B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B6 (pyridoxine), as well as minerals like potassium, iron, and zinc, eating palm sugar in moderate amounts can help you boost your immunity as a part of a healthy diet. Note here that these nutrients are available in very small amounts in palm sugar, so do not overconsume or substitute for a balanced diet.  

4. Antioxidant Benefits 

Palm sugar contains good amounts of antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols. You might already be aware that antioxidants help immunise the body against oxidative stress and free radical damage, and can be very beneficial for heart health. It can also reduce the risk of inflammation, so add palm sugar to your diet for its antioxidant benefits too.  

5. Circulation Support 

As mentioned before, palm sugar is quite nutrient dense and has B vitamins that help in maintaining blood circulation, nervous system circulation and even brain health. The potassium present in palm sugar can also help maintain fluid balance in the body, preventing water retention and aiding circulation. So, palm sugar benefits the entire body. 

6. Digestion Aid 

Everybody knows the role dietary fibre plays in aiding digestion, and palm sugar has plenty of this nutrient to help your bowels along. What’s more, given that palm sugar is sourced from toddy, it also has a probiotic effect on the digestive tracts. So, consuming palm sugar in moderate amounts with a healthy diet can help regularise your bowel movements, prevent constipation and support gut health. 

7. Bone Health 

Though low in amount, palm sugar has nutrients like calcium and magnesium. These minerals play a crucial role in maintaining bone health, bone density (especially as you age) and reducing the risk of conditions like osteoporosis. This is the reason why moderate amounts of palm sugar is considered especially beneficial for women and their bone health. 

8. Blood Pressure Control 

As mentioned before, consuming moderate amounts of palm sugar can help minimise sudden sugar spikes and crashes. Along with that, the potassium in palm sugar aids fluid balance, blood circulation and heart health. Overall, these functions can help you keep blood pressure in check. So, eating low amounts of palm sugar as a sugar substitute if you suffer from high blood pressure is safe.