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Crazy for Coconuts
Crazy for Coconuts
Coconuts are tough nuts to crack—in more ways than one. Decades ago scientists sounded the alarm on coconut’s high saturated fat content and labeled it one of the unhealthiest foods to consume. Today’s scientists are singing a different tune as they publish considerable data describing the many health benefits of coconut water and coconut oil.
Turns out most of the saturated fat in coconuts is in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are easily broken down by saliva and gastric juices. MCFAs help the body produce energy and provide health benefits, such as improving cholesterol levels.
Now that past fears have been calmed, two forms of this wonderful health-promoting food can be truly appreciated. From the young green coconut we have mineral rich, refreshing coconut water. From the mature brown coconut we have healing, enriching coconut oil. Each offers its own health benefits and ease of application in the kitchen.
Water in older, mature coconuts is not as abundant as in young, green coconuts because the liquid is used during the fruit’s maturation to create its expanding meaty layer. Coconut water contains the healthy nutrients found in the “meat,” and even some of the beneficial properties of the oil’s MCFAs.
Because coconut water is sterile, isotonic and has an electrolyte balance that mirrors that of human blood, it was even used for blood transfusions in the Pacific during World War II. Coconut water is still routinely used in hospitals and infant wards to provide extremely weak and sick patients life-supporting nutrients.
The water is typically packaged in tall, slim and brightly colored cans that are now abundantly displayed in their own sections in health food stores and supermarkets. Coconut water’s promise is nutritional replenishment for everyone who perspires.
A study published in the Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health in 2007 set out to see if coconut water lives up to that promise. The study showed that sodium-enriched coconut water provided the same rehydrating benefits as sports drinks and even outperformed plain water and sports drinks in limiting the rehydration side effects of nausea and stomach upset.
Plain coconut water contains critical electrolytes for rehydration, but it needs added sodium for the most effective potassium/sodium balance to counter extreme dehydration. It has the benefits of a sports drink without any of the undesirable ingredients such as sugar.
How to use it: Adding coconut water to your diet is as simple as opening a can and drinking it. You can also blend it into fruit or vegetable smoothies or add it to protein shakes. Try blending the meat and water of a green coconut with a cup or two of ice for a refreshing whole-coconut smoothie. Add pineapple for a virgin piña colada!
If you have leftover coconut meat, try this recipe for Coconut Shrimp With Mango Sauce.
Coconut oil is mild, sweet and rich in texture. It has a high heat threshold or “smoke point”—higher than that of sunflower, safflower or peanut oil—which makes it a good cooking oil. Although its flavor is mellow, a little coconut oil goes a long way, so be sure to take that into consideration when adding it to recipes.
Solid when stored below 76 degrees Farenheit, coconut oil is most commonly available as organic, extra virgin and cold processed. There are also refined, flavorless versions. According to Bruce Fife, ND, author of The Coconut Miracle (Avery, 2004), virgin coconut oil is minimally processed and as close to natural as it can be produced, but even the refined version confers the same health benefits.
How to use it: Here are some great ways to add more coconut oil into your daily diet:
- In stir-frys
- For baking fish or sautéeing shrimp
- Drizzled on warm vegetables
- In place of vegetable oils in baked goods (be sure to experiment, because you will need less)
- In homemade soups
- In smoothies
- Spread on toast, in place of butter
- As a hard-shell topping for ice cream
The health benefits of coconut water and oil, coupled with their palate-pleasing qualities can inspire new cooking adventures. Experiment with your favorite dishes and see why other health enthusiasts are going crazy for coconuts.
By: Susan Mesko
Susan has been involved in the natural health industry for 33 years. Presently she is Chief Operations Officer at Rejuvila LLC. and also does freelance writing. Prior to joining Rejuvila, she was Chief Operations Officer of Mychelle Dermaceuticals. Susan is presently pursuing her Health Coach Certification with the Institute For Integrative Nutrition.
August 2nd, 2012