Someone asked me for my opinion on the health benefits of coconuts, the latest hype in the nutrition world. That’s how I’ll start….“It’s Hype!” After being focused on nutrition for years, I’ve seen so many “miracle foods” come and go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these foods aren’t good for you. I’m just always amazed at how something is now suddenly the cure of all that ails you when it becomes the latest fad.
Coconut trees are called the “Tree of Life” by Pacific Islanders. Coconuts have historically been a staple food and known to be nutritious and potentially medicinal. There are, in fact, many good things that coconuts bring to the table (no pun intended). They are fairly low fat and low sodium, contain a fair amount of fiber and protein besides having a healthy form of carbohydrate. There is also quite a list of nutrients which includes calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and even copper and selenium. There are multiple ways to have coconut. You can eat the flesh like you would find in a Mounds candy bar, drink the milk, the water, or use just the oil.
I’ve always been fond of shredded coconut. Mounds is one of my favorite candy bars. I have a recipe to make them at home that I’ll share with you later.
The latest fitness craze is to drink the extracted water from young coconuts. The high electrolytes found in the water are considered hydrating and compare to fitness sports drinks. It’s also natural versus chemically manufactured. That reminds me of something. I was on a tour in Tasco Mexico when our bus broke down and we were overheating in the sun. A local family owned convenience store sold us all the drinks they had in their ice chest which was mostly beer. Unfortunately that caused us to quickly dehydrate. The entrepreneurial father knocked coconuts down from the trees, punched holes in them for us to access the water. It was quite refreshing! If I was a serious athlete and had my sports drink of choice, I wouldn’t just switch it out for coconut water just yet. There hasn’t been enough research to prove any of the claims coming out of the “hype”. There is nothing wrong with giving it a try, just keep in mind when something is in hype, it may not work and it usually costs more.
Coconut milk is becoming popular as a substitute milk for people with milk allergies, lactose intolerance or vegans. After all, it has carbs, protein and calcium! Lucky for me it’s commonly found in Thai food which is where I get my regular dose. Remind me to give you my Thai Chicken Soup recipe that contains coconut milk.
The oil is used like other cooking oils or as medicine. Make sure it’s not hydrogenated which is an unhealthy form of fat. It’s also used externally for such things as the skin and hair.
The reason why the coconut hype is only recent is the long running concern over the saturated fat content. Finally, someone pointed out that the overall benefits outweigh the relative nature of the fat. There are long chained, medium chained and short chained triglycerides and the long are the worst. Coconut fat is medium chained which means it’s relatively better than most saturated fats. Plus, one the main components is Lauric Acid which some believe can help fight bacteria and viruses.
Unfortunately, the hype has led to a huge list of claims of which most have never been proven. The list includes prevention of and assistance with heart disease, osteoporosis, liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and digestive disorders. Some go as far as saying it promotes weight loss, fights HIV and cancer. As you can see, there are a lot of good nutritional benefits from coconuts but watch the claims. Are they coming from an MD or Dietician? If so, do they work for a coconut company which may result in bias? Are they quoting research done by the coconut company or an unbiased party that may prove results?
Try to not get caught up in hypes. If you see something you want to try, do so, but make sure any results can be duplicated by starting and stopping periodically to see if the results are consistent. I am going to try using coconut milk more often to see if it helps some issues I currently have and will report back on my findings.