Food Star of the Week – Coconut

This week’s Food Star might take you by surprise – the coconut!

I simply cannot say enough about the coconut! Not only is it an amazingly versatile food in which the meat, juice, milk and oil can be used in a variety of dishes which reap a number of wonderful health benefits, but coconut has fed and nourished populations around the globe for generations. Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. I want to start this post by quickly clarifying the difference between a mature versus younger
coconut as they each serve different purposes. Young coconuts tend to have green shells with a whitish husk whereas mature coconuts have the traditional brown furry-looking shells. Young coconut is better for those who are looking to add more carbohydrates to their diet and generally contain more water. Mature coconut is better for those who are looking to add more protein to their diet and contain more meat. The coconut, regardless as to if it is young or mature, is classified as a “functional food” because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.

Let’s start by first addressing coconut oil.  The oil of the coconut is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called “The Tree of Life.” Only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut’s amazing healing powers.  Many of the benefits of coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid (a medium chain fatty acid) and its healing properties which act as an antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, etc. Here is a list of the many modern medical and health claims for coconut oil:

  • Kills viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, and other illnesses.
  • Kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases.
  • Kills fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, diaper rash, and other infections.
  • Expels or kills tapeworms, lice, giardia, and other parasites.
  • Boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
  • Improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  • Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
  • Relieves stress on pancreas and enzyme systems of the body.
  • Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
  • Reduces problems associated with malabsorption syndrome and cystic fibrosis.
  • Improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth.
  • Helps protect against osteoporosis.
  • Helps relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease.
  • Relieves symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.
  • Supports tissue healing and repair.
  • Supports and aids immune system function.
  • Is heart healthy; improves cholesterol ratio reducing risk of heart disease.
  • Helps prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.
  • Reduces epileptic seizures.
  • Helps protect against kidney disease and bladder infections.
  • Dissolves kidney stones.
  • Helps prevent liver disease.
  • Supports thyroid function.
  • Promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.
  • Applied topically helps to form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward of infection.
  • Reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
  • Supports the natural chemical balance of the skin.
  • Prevents wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots.
  • Promotes healthy looking hair and complexion.
  • Provides protection from damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
  • Helps control dandruff.
  • Does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do.
  • Has no harmful or discomforting side effects.
  • Is completely non-toxic to humans.

Coconut oil is a saturated fat. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.  I bet you’re thinking, “but aren’t all saturated fats bad for my health?”  Culturally, over the past 50 years, there has been a widely accepted opinion that all saturated fats are bad for health but this misconception has to do primarily with “hydrogenated” fats. So, what is hydrogenation? Hydrogenation is the chemical process of converting liquid vegetable oils to solid or semi-solid fats, such as those present in margarine.  This process typically involves some sort of metal catalyst – gross, huh?  The end result is a hydrogenated oil – or more commonly referred to as a trans fat. These hydrogenated oils are what you should avoid at all costs as there is substantial research which proves how trans fats harm health in a number of devastating ways. But you can, and should, consume coconut oil!

In addition to the many benefits of the oil, I simply love fresh coconut meat…not the sugary sweet stuff you find in your typical grocery store. I’m referring to the actual meat of the coconut. And yes, it’s really good for you, too!  Did you know that coconut has one of the highest percentages of fiber among all plant foods? Seventy-five percent of the total carbohydrate content is fiber. In comparison, the carbohydrate in green beans is only 30 percent fiber, in okra it is only 25 percent, and corn it is 18 percent.  As you likely already know, fiber is particularly important for health. When we eat adequate amounts of fiber, good intestinal bacteria flourish. Harmful bacteria and yeast, such as candida, which compete for space in the intestinal tract, are kept under control.

I also love coconut milk. I use it in smoothies all of the time as it is a great alternative to dairy! The milk of the coconut is recommended for maintaining electrolyte balance and can be used in cases of dehydration. Coconut milk is also used in a number of ethic dishes such as Thai and Indian. Coupled with fragrant curry spices, vegetables and brown rice – you simply cannot go wrong! Additionally, coconut milk has a long-standing cultural association with health in the Ayurveda tradition, which is a holistic system of medicine from India.

If you haven’t yet opened your world to the versatile coconut, now is the time! I’ll also make sure to throw a number of coconut recipes your way which you and your entire family will love – my 10 year-old loves the curry I make with coconut milk…he asks for “2nd’s” every time! Nourish yourself and nourish others by sharing your new found love of the coconut!