The coconut is one of the world’s most nutritious and health-promoting foods.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, it has traditionally been used as both a food and a medicine to treat a broad array of illnesses.
According to the Coconut Research Center (2004), recent research suggests that coconuts do indeed have many health promoting benefits, including:
Helping to protect against disease-causing organisms (viruses, bacteria, and fungi); improving digestion and nutrient absorption; reducing the risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, bladder and kidney problems, liver disease, and dental disease; reducing seizures among epileptics; supporting thyroid function; reducing skin problems associated with various conditions such as psoriasis and eczema; and promoting weight loss.
Coconut was once vilified because of its high saturated fat content. However, some types of saturated fat are more harmful than others. Coconut is high in fat, but it is an unusual type of saturated fat (a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid) that is actually healthier. Unfortunately, many early studies of coconut’s health effects used partially hydrogenated coconut oil. Negative outcomes likely resulted from the hydrogenation, which creates unhealthy trans fats while destroying antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other health-promoting ingredients.
Coconut products available in supermarkets include coconut meat, milk, cream, oil, and juice. Coconut juice (also known as coconut water) is the liquid inside a coconut. Coconut oil is extracted from coconut meat, and coconut milk is produced by simmering shredded coconut meat and water together and then extracting and straining the liquid that remains. While coconut milk is created using equal parts coconut meat and water, coconut cream is made by brewing a mixture of one part water to four parts coconut.
Coconut milk is a staple in Thai curries and other Southeast Asian dishes, though it can also be used in baked goods for a richer flavor and moister texture. Coconut oil is good for baking and for sautéing vegetables and meats, and shredded coconut is wonderful in baked goods as well. In recent years, coconut water has become a popular health beverage in many countries throughout the world.
Clark, M., “Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World,” The New York Times, 1 March 2011.
Coconut Research Center, “Coconut (Cocos Nucifera): The Tree of Life,” 2004.
Food.com, “Kitchen Dictionary: Coconut Milk or Cream,” n.d.
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