The Health Benefits of Coconuts: The Complete Guide
It seems like there is a new super food every other day. Everytime I turn around I am hearing about the next big thing- berries from Brazil, a grain from China or a bug from who knows where!
New products seem to shoot up overnight and suddenly they are THE “it” food that absolutely needs to be part of our diet. It can be hard to get quality information about these new foods. Can they really live up to their hype and if so, how can you easily incorporate them into your diet?
While the coconut is not a new food (I mean, pina coladas have been around forever, right?), it has been getting a lot of attention lately for its many claimed health benefits.
Unlike some of the other mysterious new super foods, the coconut does have some research backing its claims and more research is coming out all the time. It is also super yummy and so versatile that it is easy to include in your diet.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is made from the meat of the coconut. It is 100% fat and most of that is saturated fat. While saturated fat is normally a bad thing, coconut oil is loaded with antioxidants and may even offer health benefits. It has a light flavor that makes it awesome for baking and cooking (try it with popcorn or roasted chickpeas- yum!).
Stress is (an unfortunate) part of our daily lives and over time high stress levels can do serious damage. Stress weakens the immune system and can cause or worsen health problems including depression, reduced immune function, hypertension and even endocrine disorders. Coconut oil may help you fight back by preventing stress from doing too much damage and keeping you healthy.
- Coconut oil has been shown (in mice) to negate the effects of stress on the body. It helps lower the levels of all kinds of baddies that accumulate in your body when you are stressed like serum cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and corticosterone.
- It decreases inflammatory markers, like interleukin-6. Inflammatory markers indicate inflammation and can cause serious damage if they stay high over long periods of time.
- Coconut increases the level of antioxidants in the brain. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and stop them from doing damage. Free radicals are a result of natural body processes, stress, and the environment (smoke, sun radiation, pollution, etc.). Neutralizing them helps keep the brain healthy and functioning at its best.
Coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are thought to provide some health benefits:
- Lauric acid (a kind of medium chain fatty acid) helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It has the ability to destabilize and destroy damaging bacteria.
- Its medium chain fatty acids help coconut oil to be rapidly metabolized in the body (also thanks to its medium chain triglycerides). This rapid metabolism means less is stored in the body as adipose (fat) tissue (yay!).
- A 2012 review of 14 different studies found evidence that medium chain triglycerides increase the body’s energy expenditure (the calories burned in the course of the day). Which could lead to weight loss and decreased body fat. The study’s authors concluded that more long term studies are needed, because the results were mixed.
How to Use Coconut Oil:
Because of coconut oils high saturated fat content (though most of that saturated fat is MCT), coconut oil is solid at room temperature and makes a great replacement for butter or shortening in baking, frying or pie crusts.
Virgin coconut oil has a medium smoke point, which makes it good for sautéing, stir-frying, using in sauces and baking a temperatures under 320F. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil smokes and burns, this creates toxic fumes and creates harmful free radicals. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point (around 400F) which makes it a great fat to use in high heat cooking.
Give Coconut Oil A Try With These Recipes!
Where to Find Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be found in large supermarkets in the all natural or specialty section as well as many health food stores. Or, check out Organic Coconut Oil on Amazon.
What is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is made by scraping the meat from the insides of an old coconut. The flesh is then pureed and strained and voilà- coconut milk!
Give it a Try: Crack a coconut (save the water), scrape out as much of the meat as possible. Combine the meat, the coconut water and another cup of water in a food processor or vitamix, then puree for about 5 minutes. The longer you puree the finer the coconut gets and the more liquid is extracted. When it’s thoroughly pureed, strain into a bowl with a double or triple layer cheesecloth. Squeeze the coconut meat (really, really squeeze!) until all the milk is squeezed out and the coconut meat is dry and crumbly. The milk should keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Why go to all this trouble? Coconut milk has some great health benefits!
- Coconut milk contains protein, is a good source of fiber (5.3g per cup!) most of which is soluble. Soluble fiber helps pull cholesterol out of the body, and helps improve cholesterol levels.
- A small 2013 study found that coconut milk, despite being high in saturated fat, does not have a negative impact on cholesterol levels. In fact, they found that coconut milk raises good cholesterol (HDL).
- It is a good source of “metabolically nuetral” lauric acid that is, it does not have as much of an impact on cholesterol levels. Furthermore, lauric acid is thought to mimic the healthier unsaturated fats by raising the HDL cholesterol levels.
How to Use Coconut Milk:
Try Dr. John La Puma’s Coconut-Banana Tapioca Pudding. Here is what he has to say about the recipe:
Check out our Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango Recipe!
Where to Find Coconut Milk
Most grocery stores carry coconut milk. Look for it with the other Asian foods.
What is Coconut Water?
Coconut water is the liquid that comes in a fresh young coconut. It is loaded with electrolytes and natural sugars which make it great for re-hydrating after a workout.
Here are a few more reasons to love it:
- It has 17.4 calories per 100 grams (or about 40 calories per 8 oz glass) plus, a host of health benefits. It is a source of glucose, lipids and protein. It is rich in the electrolytes sodium and chloride and has a good ratio of carbohydrates which help hydrate and support subsequent exercise and keep exercise performance at a high level.
- This study found that coconut water hydrated just as well as the leading sports drink, but without the added sugars, artificial flavorings or coloring.
- In a pinch, coconut water has successfully been used as a re-hydrating IV fluid and is good for re-hydration with diarrhea.
- Coconut water is rich in antioxidants which help neutralize the free radicals produced (naturally) by long duration/high intensity exercise. (The study did find that some people reported coconut water made them feel bloated).
- Coconut water is high in the antioxidants ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffic acid which have shown potential as anti-aging agents and may help prevent cancer. A Brazilian study on the phenolic compounds (antioxidants) in coconut water found that fresh coconut water is very high in caffeic acid and ascorbic acid but when bottled and processed the phenolic content goes down significantly, possibly a result of the high temperatures.
One note of caution- coconut water is very high in potassium, which is an important nutrient for most healthy people, however in high quantities it can be harmful. One 8-12 oz drink of coconut water is a great way to rehydrate, however in excessive quantities it can be harmful and even cause heart arrhythmia according to one case study of a man who presented in an emergency room after consuming 8 12oz drinks in a day.
Where to Find Coconut Water
Coconut water can be found at some supermarkets and health food stores. If you are feeling adventurous (and have a machete) you can simply buy a coconut, cut it open and drink straight from the coconut! If you are looking for something a bit easier and less dangerous then check out Coconut Water on Amazon.
Coconut flour is made from ground, dried coconut flesh. It absorbs a ton of water which means you can use less in recipes, just remember to give it plenty of liquid to absorb! It adds a light, nutty flavor to baked goods and is high in fiber and protein to boot! Thanks to the high fiber and protein content, coconut flour is very satiating (it fills you up and keeps you full). The fiber also helps lowers cholesterol levels and helps prevent blood sugar spikes.
- The high fiber content helps coconut flour to reduce cholesterol levels in the body. A 2014 study of people with elevated cholesterol found that the coconut flour lowered total cholesterol levels, lowered LDL cholesterol and lowered blood triglyceride levels.
- When coconut flour is used in place of all-purpose flour blood sugar levels won’t spike as much.
How to Use Coconut Flour:
When replacing flour in recipes with coconut flour the ratio is about 1/3 cup coconut flour for every 1 cup of flour and be sure to increase the liquid in a recipe as well. (Check out this extensive how-to guide)
Try Using Coconut Flour with These Recipes
Where to Get Coconut Flour
Coconut flour can be found in health food stores and at some large grocery stores. You can also find Organic Coconut Flour on Amazon.
Make Your Own
Grind unsweetened coconut flour in a vitamix or food processor for about 2 minutes or until coconut flakes are smooth. Use it like you would any other nut butter.
Try Coconut Butter in This Recipe
Where to Find Coconut Butter
You can find Organic Coconut Butter on Amazon as well as some health food stores.
It is important to remember that healthy eating is about looking at the whole diet and focusing on nourishing, healthy foods. There is no one magic food that keeps a body healthy, and even the healthiest food in the world can be detrimental if it is the only food you eat.
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