by Kris Parfitt
- The Capitol Hill Times -
I keep reading that coconut oil is the new “thing” to take for optimal health. I don’t like the intense taste and want to know if other coconut products like water, milk or the meat of the nut is just as healthy as the oil. – Pam
The media is coo-coo for coconuts because they provide a long list of health benefits. But they’re not a “super food,” or even considered on George Mateljan’s list of the worlds healthiest foods. But before we judge this exotic fruit, let’s learn more about what it does and doesn’t offer.
Coconuts come from the coconut palm, which is a tree common to many tropical and subtropical areas around the world. It is not a nut, but it can be considered both a fruit and a seed – a fibrous one-seeded drupe, which is a fruit with a hard covering and a seed within. Similar examples include olives, cherries and peaches. All drupes have three layers, which include an outer layer, the fleshy middle layer, and the hard wooden layer surrounding the seed. The difference between the round coconut borne from the palm tree and other fruit is the quantity of drinkable water contained within.
Beyond health benefits from the coconut meat and water, the entire coconut holds a bounty of uses. The tree itself – the roots, trunks, palm fronds, and fruit – is considered usable. When harvested from unripe coconuts, fibrous husk (called coir) is used for string and rope. And when harvested from ripe coconuts, it’s commonly used as upholstery padding. Dried coir is used to make floor and door mats. Then, the middle layer (mesocarp), is fibrous and often used as mattress padding and water filters. And the hard shell of a coconut (endocarp) can be used as water tight containers, charcoal briquettes, and utensils. The list is endless.
The two edible aspects of the coconut begin with the meat, which is the white fleshy layer between the endocarp and the seed (endosperm). When it is dried it is called “copra” and used to extract coconut oil. The second is the water found inside of the seed (liquid endosperm), and when mixed with the seed produces coconut milk.
The variety of consumable coconut-derived products include coconut water, milk, coconut meat, and coconut oil. While each product has its own uses, here are a few of the overall health-related benefits of all edible coconut foods:
- Speeds up metabolism by supplying energy with few calories than other fats.
- Decreases sweet cravings while improving insulin secretion.
- The healthy fat in coconut utilizes blood glucose, slowing down blood sugar fluctuations.
- Coconut has a low glycemic index (GI), slowing the release of glucose, which assists relieving stress on the pancreas and reducing some risks associated with diabetes and hypoglycemia.
- The body uses the immediate energy attained from eating coconut rather than storing it as body fat.
- Promotes healthy thyroid function.
- Improves heart health due to the abundance of short- and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). Long-chain fatty acids demonstrate a negative impact on heart health, whereas MCFA show little negative impact on cholesterol ratios, help lower the risk of atherosclerosis, and protect against heart disease.
- Contains a similar amount of lauric acid as the common fatty acid found in mother’s milk.
- Improves digestion and decreases common inflammatory conditions in the bowel such as IBS.
- Aids in the absorption of nutrients in the digestive system.
- Is high in dietary fiber (60 percent).
- Contains anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral healing properties.
Listed below are common food products derived from coconuts, what they are used for and the health-related considerations, if any.
Uses: cooking, eating, lotion, makeup remover, and personal lubricant (organic unrefined preferably).
Considerations: While the short and medium-chain fatty acids increase beneficial HDL (good) cholesterol, it also increases LDL (harmful) cholesterol.
Considerations: Marketed as an electrolyte replacement, it’s actually lower in sodium than sports drinks and isn’t an adequate replacement for electrolytes after a sweat-intense workout. However, it’s high in potassium, and high enough in sodium to be an adequate hydration method for light workouts.
Uses: Cooking, drinking, lactose intolerant alternative to dairy milk.
Considerations: One cup is over 440 calories with 43 grams of saturated fats.
Comes in chunks, shredded, flaked, as flour, and butter.
Uses: Eating, cooking, and baking.
Considerations: While coconut meat is low in carbs and high in fiber, it’s high in calories and a mix of healthy and unhealthy saturated fat.
The coconut currently sits on the throne of healthy foods despite its high fat and calorie content. But like anything good for us, moderation and mindfulness is the key to sustainable wellness.
Have a nutrition question for Kris? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org