Loco for coco
Has our love of the tropical stuff gone too far? Nutrition Editor Eve Kalinik fleshes out the story of our favourite drupe
The world has gone coconut crazy. From its naturally sweet water to the oil and creamy flesh, every part of it is eaten and it seems we cannot get enough – but what is the real deal when you crack the surface?
Coconut can be consumed in various ways and its different parts have varying nutritional benefits. Firstly, there’s the ‘flesh’ or ‘meat’, which tends to be more abundant in a mature coconut, as opposed to the younger ones that generate extra water. The meat is typically blended with the water to create coconut milk and, depending on the number of times it’s strained, can have a thicker or thinner consistency. The meat and milk provide good sources of iron, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, as well as a bank of B vitamins, fibre and healthy saturated fats. These nutrients help to support energy levels and nourish the lining of the gut.
However, it is the high saturated fat content that has made coconut oil somewhat controversial with regards to cholesterol. The point is that coconut oil increases HDL, which is the ‘good’ type of cholesterol and that, ironically, protects against heart disease. It also contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) that are metabolised rapidly by the liver for instant energy, rather than being stored as fat. One of these MCFAs is lauric acid that has anti fungal and antimicrobial properties, which can support the gut micro biome and gut health. So, the moral is: don’t take things on face, or as the case may be fat, value immediately.
Nevertheless, that’s not to say we should be spooning in or swigging back tons of coconut milk or oil, even the water is pretty high in natural sugar content, but it’s like everything when it comes to food – a little overall and as part of a diverse and inclusive approach to diet.
Coconut has been a mainstay in Eastern cuisine and, when you look at how it has been consumed in these cultures – as the base of a fragrant soup or curry with its milk, oil to heat, or water to rehydrate – let’s remind ourselves that we can continue to enjoy its taste and health benefits, mindfully and delightedly.