Coconut oil… Coconut body soap…Coconut milk ice cream…Coconut water…Coconut beer (really!)… has anyone heard? Coconut is trendy.
Coconut has been labeled an unhealthy food by many mainstream health experts for decades, but recently it has emerged as one of the latest trends in nutrition. It’s likely that your doctor would advise against including it in your diet, yet you’ll currently find quite a bit of positive press about this tropical fruit on the internet and in the media. With so much conflicting information floating around, it’s no wonder that I often get asked the question ‘should I eat coconut, or not?’
My answer is a wholehearted ‘yes!’ and here’s why:
- The fat in coconut is a unique energy source. Coconut is comprised of almost all saturated fat, which is why many doctors advise against eating it. But the saturated fat in coconut is different than the saturated fat from animals, being mainly medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s). MCT’s don’t require bile acids for digestion, making them easily absorbed by the body for fuel. The body actually uses MCT’s preferentially as an energy source, so burning them increases the metabolic rate. So your body treats the calories from coconut oil more like carbohydrate than fat, which makes coconut a great source for quick energy.
- Coconut is antibacterial. Around half of the MCT’s in coconut are in the form of lauric acid, which the body converts to a compound that is antibacterial, antiviral, and antiprotozoal. Interestingly, human breast milk is the only other significant source of lauric acid found in nature. Finally, because it’s saturated, coconut oil is very stable and will not go rancid easily.
- Coconut is a traditional food. Coconuts grow on the coconut palm tree, one of the oldest known food plants. The coconut has been a dietary staple and used medicinally in many tropical regions and cultures for centuries. Even if there were no science supporting the health benefits of coconut, there is still a long-standing tradition to consider.
- Coconut is a good source of fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. In its whole form, coconut contains manganese, molybdenum, and copper as well as selenium and zinc. A quarter cup of dried unsweetened shredded coconut contains about 2.5 grams of fiber.
There is another ‘food rule’ that I follow, and advise my clients to think about. If a food grows from the ground, tastes amazing in its whole, unadulterated form, then why wouldn’t it be good for us? Diet should follow nature’s wisdom. And that’s no trend… that’s just plain delicious sense.
We want to know – In what ways have you used Coconut in your diet?
Stay tuned for Part 2, when we talk about all the delicious ways you can use coconut in the kitchen!
Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. (2005) The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.
USDA National Nutrient Database. Accessed July 5, 2012 from the Agricultural Research Service USDA website: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/
Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.