Benefits of coconut include it being highly nutritious and rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It is classified as a ‘functional food’ because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.
Coconut oil 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, some of the uses being:
Antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic – athlete’s foot, thrush, fungal nail infections, dandruff
A natural and efficient energy source. – the fats in coconut are more easily broken down into energy than other fats
Improves digestion and nutrient absorption, and assists the pancreas and digestive enzyme functioning
Improves blood sugar and insulin management, preventing diabetes
Anti-inflammatory – both externally on inflammed skin, and internally to help painful joints
Supports in immune system and aids healing and repair – especially important when feeling run down
Protects against some cancers and heart disease – not at the exclusion of conventional treatments, but initial findings are promising
A powerful antioxidant – anti-ageing and anti-cancerous
Supports thyroid function and metabolism – which can go a bit haywire in some people
Promotes healthy skin, hair and nails by being a superb moisturiser from both inside and applied topically
Is non-toxic, has no side-effects, and does not produce harmful by-products when heated
Coconut water – Low in calories, and fat and cholesterol free, coconut water has more potassium than bananas and less sodium, so is dubbed nature’s sports drink. Super hydrating, the slightly sweet and nutty tasting watery liquid (not in any way creamy like coconut milk) makes a superbly nutritious drink, so long as no sugar or other flavourings are added. Be wary of fruit flavoured ones which, even when ‘natural’, may have sugar or fruit juice (which is naturally high in sugar) added.
Coconut milk – more of a creamy consistency than the liquid milk we drink, this is a common ingredient in many curry’s and other creamy Eastern dishes. Quite high in fat, but the saturated fat from coconuts is metabolised into energy rather than stored, and actually carries many health benefits. It can be used to make thick and creamy sauces or added to cooking (e.g. soups), added to smoothies and shakes, turned into ice cream, and instead of almost anything else that would otherwise require milk or cream. Rich in vitamins and minerals, it is lactose free so suitable for people with intolerances. You can also get powdered coconut milk which, like powdered cow’s milk, is a store cupboard replacement that can me mixed into a liquid or paste with water.
Reduced Fat coconut milk – as coconut milk, but with some of the fat removed, making this lower calorie gram for gram.
Coconut milk (drinking) – a thinned down (with water) coconut milk which gives the consistency of cow’s milk, so suitable for any of the uses cow’s would have – in tea and coffee, on cereal, in smoothies etc.
Creamed coconut – like coconut milk, but much thicker (and therefore higher in fat and calories) due to having less water content. Use in place of cream in cooking or with puddings. The fat is of a heart healthy variety and is burned as energy rather than stored, and is highly nutritious – just eat it in small quantities unless your calorie requirements allow it.
Desiccated coconut – Most people have come across this, the dried and shredded meat of the coconut. The high vitamin and mineral content supports, amongst other things, brain, nerve and healthy connective tissue, and is extremely high fibre so good for heart and digestive health. A useful ingredient in Asian cooking as well as in baking.
Coconut flour – made from coconut flesh once the milk has been removed, coconut flour is gluten free so great for people with intolerances. It is much lower starch and higher protein than wheat flours, as well as being extremely high in fibre. It is very dry and absorbs a lot of moisture so more moisture may be needed when using it as a replacement in your own recipes (like this hot cross bun recipe), and the lack of starch means it works well when combined with other flour alternatives such as almond flour, to help hold it all together (gluten acts like glue).
Coconut nectar – the sap of the coconut tree is boiled and reduced to a thick caramel consistency that can be used like other natural sugars such as maple syrup and honey. It is rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and has a low glycaemic index so is released into the bloodstream more slowly than some other sugars. It is, however, still sugar, and should be used with the same caution as any other sugar when trying to minimise insulin causing the excess calories being stored as fat.
Coconut sugar – coconut nectar in a crystallised form, used in the same was a table sugar.
Coconut oil – the saturated fat (of which it is 90%) is metabolised differently to other saturated fats due to being made up of medium chain fatty acids, so gets converted into energy rather than stored. It is actually good for your heart, as well as containing bacteria and virus fighting lauric acid, and it has been shown to improve brain functioning. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but warms at body temperature so is very versatile – use it in place of your usual cooking oil, bake with it (keep it cold then use like cold butter), or add it to smoothies to make them more substantial.
Coconut Butter – like coconut oil, but includes the pureed flesh of the coconut meat, resulting in a creamier consistency.
Coconut aminos – a soy free soy sauce alternative (similar in taste and consistency) good for people with a soy intolerance or who want to eliminate so from their diet. It is made from the sap of the coconut tree and sea salt, it is packed with vitamins and minerals and as the name suggests, no less than seventeen amino acids. Sauces to dip and/or marinade that are made with coconut aminos are also available.
Coconut chips – like crisps, but made of coconut! Both sweet and savoury flavours, these are low carb (better for energy and blood sugar management) and delicious.
Coconut vinegar – tangy and fresh, use instead of other vinegars in salad dressings.
Have you used coconut products before? What did you think? I’d love to see your favourite coconut recipes in the comments below!