The Hype Over Coconut:
There has been a lot of hype in the recent years about the health benefits of coconut and its products. Almost everyday a new article or blog post (like this one) is popping out with a list of coconut’s many benefits and uses. Yet some of the leading experts disagree. Moreover, they are claiming that it is just a trend to sell more coconut products. So what’s real and what isn’t? Is the oil good or bad? What about its sugar and flour?
The Bottom Line:
Truth be told, coconut, like most fruits, is good you but many of its proclaimed benefits are blown way out of proportion. Its oil, for example, while incredibly flexible in use, may not be the healthiest fat for heart health. Does the good outweigh the bad? What’s going on here?
When compared to other oils from plant sources (like olive or avocado oil) that promote a rise in HDL but are also unsaturated fats, the benefits of coconut oil don’t seem all that great. Some studies, however, show medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) found in its oil digest differently. This may, in fact, be (partly) true, but again, it is certainly not enough to call it a miracle food and prescribe it for every ailment as it often is.
Despite all of this seeming trash talk on coconut products, one can definitely benefit from consuming it. Some of its products are in fact healthier options. It is just good to remember, however, that nutrition is never that simple and not to draw expectations where they shouldn’t be drawn.
The following represents a “wheated-out” set of benefits offered by coconut products, with brief discussions on effectiveness where appropriate:
Technically speaking, coconuts can be considered a fruit, seed, or nut. Its fibrous white flesh contains a variety of fats, proteins, sugars, and vitamins including vitamins A and E. Eating its flesh provides an individual with a great balance of fiber, protein, sugars, and vitamins without overdoing any particular component.
The water in coconut is rich with electrolytes, fats, and sugars making a great recovery drink for sports and exercise. The demands of high-intensity exercise are very dependent on circulating levels of carbohydrates. Its depletion associates with fatigue during exercise. By providing levels of carbohydrates and not just electrolytes (which aid with water absorption) coconut water should extend the length of an exercise bout by delaying the onset of fatigue.
Coconut oil is very flexible in use for both the home and the kitchen. In the kitchen, this oil can be used with most foods like eggs, potatoes, baking etc. A lot of people add a spoonful to smoothies for texture and an extra kick in energy. Others just eat a pure spoonful!
While coconut oil is tasty and flexible in the kitchen, it should not be consumed daily (or at least not as a part of a heart-healthy diet). The American Heart Association and numerous studies have determined that while MCT (Medium-chain triglyceride) content gives it health benefits, it still contributes to raising LDL levels. This is because despite coming from a plant source, this oil is a heavily saturated fat. Consuming it daily will contribute to a rise in LDL. One is better off using olive oil and other natural forms of unsaturated fats.
Outside the kitchen, coconut oil has an immense amount of uses. It can be used to create topical remedies with essential oils, and other herbal extracts (like arnica or eucalyptus). It can also hydrate the skin and hair while providing antimicrobial protection. One can make a variety of products utilizing this oil, such as scrubs, deodorants, lip balms, soaps, and much more.
Also known as coconut palm sugar, it often attaches to a variety of health benefits. It has a lower glycemic index, and it is a better alternative to common table sugar in that sense. It also has a diverse amount of nutrient content, making it better tasting and more nutritious. However, these levels of nutrient content are not significant enough to make much of a difference. Yes, coconut sugar is a better option than table sugar, but it is certainly not a miracle product.
Coconut is delicious and incredibly flexible in use. When we take into account the health benefits of the fruit in its natural state and consider its many uses, we can certainly call it a superfood. One must remember, however, that in health and nutrition there are no such “miracle” foods. There are healthy and superfoods, yes, but the influence of sales often exaggerates benefits.
Interested in superfoods and nutrition? Stop by CORE for a session with one of our Nutrition Consultants or Registered Dietitians! Not sure which to see? Check out our article on the N.C. vs. R.D. Difference!