When you think of coconuts, it's hard not to imagine palm trees and sandy white beaches. This tropical staple is widely regarded by the Western world as an exotic ingredient but has recently become even more popular among natural-food lovers, who tout the benefits of coconut for several reasons. Nowadays, we use products made from coconuts in our daily lives, where it plays a role in everything from our beauty regimens to our kitchens.
The benefits of coconut
In some parts of the world, people call the coconut palm the tree of life because they provide such an array of useful products. We can get so much out of a coconut – they can be a source of food, a refreshing beverage, a nourishing oil or material for making utensils.
While there's no denying how incredibly useful coconuts are, they still manage to split opinions among nutritionists and dieticians. On the one hand, coconuts are very high in fat and calories, yet at the same time, yet they're also brimming with vitamins and minerals. What do we think about it? Let's dive in.
High in fiber: Coconuts boast a significant amount of fiber, an essential component to any healthy diet. Fiber keeps us full, but it also shows promise for disease prevention as well as for maintaining your health in general.
High in saturated fat: This may sound like a negative, but saturated fat from good sources (like coconut) can be beneficial in moderation. They can help to increase the body's levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is often known simply as good cholesterol. Additionally, the saturated fat in coconut are medium-chain, which mean they break down more quickly than other types of fat.
A rich source of protein: One of the most overlooked benefits of coconut is that it's a fantastic plant-based protein source. The impressive protein content can make a great addition to your diet, especially if you want to gain muscle.
Full of folate: Coconut is packed with the B vitamin folate, which is a necessary vitamin for red blood cell function and can help contribute to a healthy metabolism.
Health benefits of coconut
Although we've outlined some of the overall benefits of coconut, how exactly does that translate to your health? Well, the benefits we mentioned above can affect us in several ways. First of all, coconuts contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) as opposed to long-chain triglycerides, which appear more often in our diets. Because these fats are shorter in length, they're much easier to break down in the liver, releasing quick energy that your body can use right away.
Some athletes use MCTs as an efficient energy source to supplement their diet and improve their performance. In one study, participants added 15-30 grams of MCTs to their diet, which resulted in a five-percent increase in the calories they burned within 24 hours with long-chain triglycerides.
The presence of potassium in coconuts adds to its relative health benefits. As a mineral, potassium can help reduce high blood pressure as well as balance the water content of the body. Although most of us think of bananas when we think of potassium, coconuts deserve a little love too!
Coconuts: A breakdown
If you're looking to add more coconut to your diet, you're in luck! There are plenty of fabulous options available in your local grocery store.
Let's start with one of the most incredibly versatile products made from coconuts: the oil. You can use coconut oil in many different ways like for cooking, baking, hair care and oral hygiene.
One popular way to use coconut oil is as a moisturizer for hair and skin – it's a staple in beauty regimens around the world, like in India where it's been a hair beauty secret for centuries. Fans of the oil claim that combing a small amount of oil through your hair can help avoid protein loss, helping to prevent damage and strengthen the hair.
Ever bought a can of full-fat coconut milk and noticed that the liquid at the top of the can had hardened up? The dense solid part is known as the coconut cream. This ultra-rich cream is the perfect ingredient for thickening up curries and working as a non-dairy cream that's almost as rich as what comes from the cows. And, for vegans and those with lactose intolerance, coconut cream is a godsend, especially for desserts.
The benefits of coconut cream are plentiful, not unlike the other coconut products we're going over. The cream has a high lauric acid content which, in small trials, has shown promise in combatting cancer cells by signalling prompts for apoptosis (cell shrinkage and death). Although much more research is necessary, it's clear that coconut cream plenty of potential when it comes to promoting health.
In recent years, more and more people have been making the switch to non-dairy milk. Coconut milk has become a popular ingredient inside these milk analogs, yet it's usually just one of many components that make up the beverage. Pure coconut milk, on the other hand, has a very distinct coconutty taste. Made by blending the white flesh (from brown coconuts) with water, this non-dairy milk is thick, creamy and rich.
Although coconut milk is healthy, it's important to remember that it has a high fat content, so enjoy it in moderation as part of a balanced diet instead of indulging in it all the time. This creamy ingredient is popular with proponents of the ketogenic diet because it's low in carbs but high in saturated fat, all the while boasting an impressive nutrient profile.
As we mentioned earlier, coconut contains the MCT lauric acid, which is made with the compound monolaurin. Some researchers believe that monolaurin may have disease-fighting properties, but more testing needs to happen to determine if that's the case.
When we talk about coconut water, we're talking about the liquid found in the center of the coconut. It has become a firm favorite in health stores and supermarkets because of its natural thirst-quenching properties. This tasty liquid is 94% water, making it perfect for hydrating after exercise. Better yet, coconut water is teeming with electrolytes, which means you can use it as a nourishing sports drink that's natural and free of added sugars or colors.
Coconut water is also low in calories, sugar and carbohydrates. Try it in place of juice and soda for a healthier – and just as tasty – alternative.
So, are coconuts healthy or not? Absolutely – but in moderation! If you're trying to lose weight, eat coconut products in moderation so that you can reach your goal and not go overboard on calories. As long as you're mindful of your eating habits, coconut can be a delicious and healthy addition to your diet.