The coconut is grown mainly in tropical climates on a species of palm tree. They are harvested for their flesh and the water inside the nut. Well known for their versatility, coconuts are used for a wide range of culinary and cosmetic uses. Coconut oil can be used in both cooking and for your hair and skin, coconut water is a nutritional hydrating alternative to water and the flesh can be used in a whole host of recipes, as well as eaten raw. The shells, husks and leaves are also used in furniture and decoration.
It already sounds like an exceptional gift from nature, however the media has given us varying conclusions as to the health benefits of the coconut, so let’s take a closer look at this controversial drupe.
We have all been duped into believing that the consumption of fat is bad for us and must be avoided, but in actual fact there are certain types of fat that we need to add to our diets in order to make the most of our foods. There are two types of vitamins, water-soluble and fat-soluble. If we do not ingest fat alongside our vitamin enriched diets we will not be able to absorb any of the fat-soluble vitamins (Vitmains A, all the B vitamins, E and K) into our bodies, they will simply go to waste, literally! Coconut oil (raw, cold-pressed, virgin is best) is a prime choice to aid the absorption of these vitamins as well as antioxidants and other nutrients.
Often we are warned that the coconut is high in saturated fat and to avoid or keep to a minimum if watching your calorie intake. However, we need to analyse and understand fats in detail in order to make an educated decision about our diet. Often this information is based on desiccated or processed coconut goods which have added flavouring and sugars.
All types of fat have the same number of calories. It’s only the difference in the fatty acid make up that distinguishes them – raw coconut and virgin coconut oils are rich in medium-chain triglycerides which convert into mono-glycerides and medium-chain free fatty acids during digestion. These two substances are not stored in the body as fat but rather used immediately for energy. In addition, medium-chain triglycerides are also known to boost your metabolism and may curb hunger more effectively than other forms of fat. They also contain antioxidant compounds that may help curb inflammation, a harmful process thought to worsen heart disease.
Cholesterol and heart disease concerns
Cholesterol is a big concern in western diets, coconut oil can raise levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol more than other fats as it is rich in lauric acid; a fatty acid that the body processes slightly differently than it does other saturated fats. It has also been claimed to reduce the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, although this is still under debate.
The media has previously acclaimed the coconut as being useful in reducing the risk of heart disease, it has also condemned it for being high in saturated fats and to avoid like the plague! Either way, too much saturated fat in your diet is unhealthy, and can raise the risk of heart disease. For this reason if you should incorporate coconut into your diet in order to reap the benefits be sure to avoid any negative effects by keeping the amounts regulated. I mean, if you drank a litre of processed coconut oil and ate six cheeseburgers with fries and cola every day, of course you would raise the risk of heart disease, it all depends how much, when and with what you consume everything within your daily routine.
The versatility of this complete food can provide almost all the daily-required essential minerals (copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium and zinc), vitamins (B-complex), and energy for an average-sized adult. It has so many health promoting benefits. Coconut water for example, is packed with simple sugar, electrolytes, minerals and bioactive compounds such as cytokinin, and enzymes such as acid phosphatase, catalase, dehydrogenase, peroxidase, polymerases, etc. Altogether, these enzymes aid in digestion and metabolism. It is also excellent for hydration and shows significant anti-ageing, anti-carcinogenic and anti-thrombotic effects.
Obviously we’re not suggesting that you pour coconut oil over everything you eat, fry everything in it, drink litres of the water nor eat an entire raw coconut every day, but when consumed in moderation and in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet, the coconut can benefit you greatly.
Ways to add coconut to your life
- Add coconut water to your daily juice or smoothie.
- Add shavings of raw coconut to breadcrumbs to go on chicken or fish.
- Add coconut milk to curries or marinades to provide a creamy texture and unique flavour.
- Roughly blend grated coconut with red chilli flakes, salt, finely chopped red onion and dried fish flakes (optional) to make an amazing condiment for almost any food.
- Use grated coconut as a topping for ice cream, cereal, cakes or puddings.
- Stir fry vegetables using coconut oil.
- Add blended coconut oil to your coffee.
- Use virgin coconut oil as a massage oil, hair treatment or skin cream.
- Pull a teaspoon of coconut oil through your teeth for ten minutes a day to improve oral hygiene.
Become a qualified Nutritional Therapist
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer seven courses for those interested in nutrition – Clinical Nutrition, Advanced Nutrition, Child & Adolescent Nutrition, Ethical & Sustainable Eating, Nutrition for Aged 50 Plus, Sport & Exercise Nutrition and Vegan & Vegetarian Nutrition. All these distance learning diploma courses are accredited in 26 countries worldwide, meaning you can get into business as soon as you have passed your course!