The first thing you need to know about coconuts is that they’re not in fact nuts. Fresh coconut meat contains some protein, carbohydrates and fiber but is predominantly made up of fat, and it’s that fat that’s responsible for giving coconuts their bad reputation.
One of the major controversies that erupts when discussing coconut is the involvement of saturated fat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture still recommends keeping saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But what the USDA will not tell you is that a growing body of research suggests that it may not be saturated fat that’s detrimental. A more likely culprit is all the other junk that hitches a ride with saturated fat. For example, we are highly unlikely to benefit from eating a diet high in saturated fat sourced from frozen pizza and Oreo’s. We are also less likely to improve our health by consuming lots of saturated fat in addition to unnecessary amounts of processed carbohydrates and sugars. However, a diet full of quality, grass-fed meats and coconut fats can work wonders for your health.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that the fat in coconuts is saturated. In fact, pure, virgin coconut oil contains more than 90% saturated fat. Don’t be alarmed! It’s actually the unique composition of fats that sets coconut oil apart from other harmful sources of saturated fats, like those Oreos. Interestingly, it’s the saturated fats in coconut that have been recognized for making it healthy. Healthy fats get processed in your body in different ways and it’s because coconuts don’t get metabolized the same way that they are considered the one of the healthiest fats. Coconut can increase energy expenditure, promote satiety and support healthy weight control because they are a great source of quick energy and a poor source of stored fat. This doesn’t mean that you should start eating coconut oil straight from the jar everyday, but it does mean that researchers have recognized it’s potential as a weight control tool compared to other forms of fat.
Coconut Flakes/Coconut Chips/Shredded Coconut-This is dried, unsweetened coconut meat, and it’s a great addition to any trail mix. Bring some with you when you travel or use it in your next baking recipe. But make sure to buy the natural, unsweetened kind rather than the sweetened kind rather than the sweetened stuff that tends to sneak into the baking aisles of local grocery stores.
Coconut Milk- Among the most common coconut products, coconut milk is a hearty, satiating source of good fats. The canned stuff can be found in the ethnic section of most stores and makes a great addition to smoothies and sauces. If you’re looking for a healthy addition to your morning cup o’ Joe or you’re sick of drinking black coffee, add a little coconut milk as a healthy alternative.
Coconut Butter/Coconut Concentrate/Coconut Manna- Coconut butter is just ground up coconut meat, and the stuff is delicious! Use it in place of nut butters or for baking.
Coconut Oil- This is 100% fat extracted from coconut meat. The high saturated fat content of coconut oil make the substance solid at room temp. But don’t be alarmed-saturated fats are stable fats. This means that, in the context of heat or cooking, coconut oil is a better choice compared to less stable unsaturated fats like olive oil. If you’re looking for a quick, delicious source of healthy energy, try blending coconut oil into your morning coffee.
Coconut Water-Available almost everywhere, it has become nearly impossible to keep up with all the different brands and flavors of coconut water that has popped up in the last couple of years. Although coconut water is predominantly sugar and should be consumed in moderation, it can be a great choice in the right context. Coconut water contains more potassium than a banana, so if you find yourself dehydrated, sick or in need of replenishing after a tough workout, it’s a good choice. Fun Fact- doctors used coconut water in place of IV solutions during World War II and during the Vietnam War when availability of IV solution was limited.
Coconut Flour- After the oil is extracted, coconut meat can be ground up to make flour. Coconut flout is a gluten-free and relatively nutrient-dense alternative to flour. Coconut flour can be found in most stores and can be used in a variety of different foods. Next time you decide to make protein pancakes grab yourself a bag of coconut flour instead of those terrible Bisquick pancakes.