This week we have another nutritional powerhouse to discuss: COCONUT, and it is truly the fruit of life. Read on to discover more about why this fruit is so life giving and more ways to include it in your diet.
The coconut is very trendy among the health conscious community right now. It is readily available in all kinds of various forms and products, and the health benefits seem to be reported everywhere, with more and more continuing to emerge. Coconut has been used in everything from cooking and baking, to essential oils, to beauty products for the skin and hair. The fruit is so versatile that literally every part can be used, which eliminates waste, and really shows just how nutrient dense this fruit is. The meat of the fruit can be used for food in various forms when processed in different ways. The liquid found inside the fruit can be harvested to provide hydrating drink. The sap from the blossom of the plant can be harvested to use in cooking. Even the shell of the coconut can be used as a bowl.
Health Benefits of the Coconut
We are really going to delve into the health benefits of the fats that are present in the coconut as we go on, but first let’s quickly touch on the other numerous health benefits that this fruit provides.
- Coconuts are rich in electrolytes like potassium, which our bodies need to efficiently send electrical signals containing important biochemical information throughout our bodies and maintain fluid balance.
- Coconut contains medium chain triglycerides (or MCTs) that are more readily broken down for energy than longer chain fats and may have weight loss and metabolic benefits.
- Coconut contains lauric acid, a kind of saturated fat that has strong antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties
- In addition to being energy dense, coconuts are rich in the minerals phosphorus and manganese, which are important for maintaining bone density.
Coconut Oil and Saturated Fat
Now let’s talk about the fat. Coconut oil is actually comprised of 80-90% saturated fats, which have long been touted as “bad fats” whose intake leads to increased risk of heart disease. It is for this reason that coconut oil has received some negative press in regards to its fat content. In fact, both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) still recommend avoiding coconut oil in the diet. However, when we talk about fats, we have to consider the SOURCE of the fat. The saturated fats in coconut oil are slightly different than the saturated fats from animal fats or from processed fats.
Half of the saturated fat content in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT). MCTs are shorter chains of fatty acids than the long chain triglycerides (LCTs) that are present in most animal sources of fats. MCTs, specifically the lauric acid in coconut oil, are responsible for increasing the HDL concentration in the body. HDL and LDL are acronyms to describe proteins, known as lipoproteins, which transfer fats and cholesterol throughout our body. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) are large, less dense molecules that are responsible for holding and delivering fats TO cells throughout the body. Conversely, high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are relatively small, compact, highly dense molecules that are responsible for traveling throughout the body and transferring fat molecules OUT of the arteries. Therefore, increasing HDLs in the body by ingesting coconut oil results in a healthier cholesterol level because they help reduce the fat stores that accumulate in the arteries. If you want to learn more about saturated fat and heart disease, read our blog about the topic!
A note: Because coconut oil does raise both HDL and LDL cholesterol (though in a positive way), it may be prudent for those who have a strong familial history of heart disease, are taking a statin medication, or have had a heart attack to use coconut oil in small amounts as changes in cholesterol will likely cause your MD to want to increase medication dosages.
As with most things, we believe that moderate intake of high quality saturated fats like coconut oil are a healthy addition to the diet for most people. However, if you have a medical condition, we always recommend working with a trusted healthcare provider on any dietary changes.
Theory Behind the Health Attributes
Something that I find particularly fascinating is the concept of including “exotic” foods in our diets. Coconuts are grown in tropical environments, and there is an emerging school of thought that considers plants that grow in more harsh conditions to develop more resilience and health benefits as a response to their environment. An article published in March 2008 in the American Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology discusses xenohomesis, which suggests that plants that are grown under conditions of stress produce higher concentration of beneficial chemicals. The environment in which the coconut is grown may contribute to its vast array of health benefits.
9 Ways to Incorporate Coconut in your Diet
I think we can all see why the coconut has gained popularity in the health community. Read on to discover 9 different ways that we can incorporate this fruit into our diet!
- Coconut oil is probably the most readily available source of coconut used in cooking and baking. It is made when meat of the coconut is dried and pressed to extract the oil from the fruit. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point than virgin coconut oil, so is a better choice to use for frying. Virgin coconut oil has a milder taste so may be a better choice for baking when you do not want the flavor of coconut to be too strong. Swap coconut oil when sautéing meat or vegetables for a dish, and use it in place of butter in baked goods! The flavor is especially delicious in baked goods as it adds a subtle sweetness.
- Coconut water is the liquid found inside coconuts that have not been given time to mature, and is a great hydrating source for balancing electrolytes in the body. There are numerous commercially available sources of coconut water for drinking. Have you tried it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
- Coconut milk is made by simmering the grated meat of the ripe fruit in water and is used in many recipes; traditionally it is used in a lot of Asian cooking. Use this as the basis of casseroles instead of cream based soups. It still provides the creamy consistency, with much greater nutritional content.
- Coconut sap is extracted from the blossom of the fruit and is a more nutrient dense choice of sweetener. Use coconut sap as you would honey to receive additional health benefits.
- Coconut aminos is a sauce that is made from coconut sap. Once the sap is extracted, it is mixed with sea salt and aged to produce a sauce that is salty and sweet, and resembles soy sauce. Try swapping coconut aminos as a direct substitution for soy sauce in recipes without drastically changing the flavor, and adding numerous health benefits. This sauce is rich in amino acids, as the name suggests, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
- Coconut sugar is also made from the sap of the coconut. Once the water is evaporated off of the sap, the sugar that is left behind can be used in baking as a more nutrient dense source than refined sugar, and has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar as well.
- Coconut flour is made from the meat of the coconut and therefore very absorbent of liquid. This adds great moisture to baked goods. One of our favorite ways to enjoy coconut flour is the coconut tortillas made by Siete. Try them out instead of traditional corn or flour tortillas for a much more nutrient dense option.
- Coconut flakes are made by drying and grating the meat of the fruit, and add great texture and flavor to baked goods. If you are looking for a great healthy breakfast or snack, try making your own homemade granola and include a generous amount of coconut flakes!
- Coconut butter is made by simply blending the dried meat of the fruit, so is quite different from coconut oil as it includes tiny shreds of the fruit. Coconut butter can be enjoyed by spreading it on toast or your other favorite breakfasts, including pancakes or waffles!
Our Favorite Coconut Recipes
As mentioned above, there are so many versatile ways to embrace coconut. Check out some of our favorite recipes that feature coconut!