Did you know that while “nut” is in its name, the coconut is actually the world’s largest seed?
Containing almost every essential nutrient your body needs for optimal health, the coconut is an excellent source of amino acids and minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, as well as vitamin C and vitamin B2.
Even better, 45 percent of the saturated fat found in coconut is lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that converts in your body to monolaurin. Monolaurin is a compound found in breast milk that strengthens a baby’s immune system and helps to promote normal brain development and contribute to healthy bones, as well as protect against viruses and bacteria.1 Plus, coconut is known to have great anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antibacterial benefits.2,3
Here’s three simple ways for you to reap the incredible health benefits of coconut every day.
1. Coconut Oil
Also called coconut butter, coconut oil is extracted from the dried flesh of the coconut. When it comes to antibacterial benefits, coconut oil is tops.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2007 found coconut oil can help to treat skin infections, specifically atopic dermatitis.1 Researchers divided 26 participants with the condition into two groups. One used virgin coconut oil twice a day for four weeks at two non-infected sites, while the other group used virgin olive oil. When the study started, 20 of the 26 participants tested positive for the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. After four weeks, only one person in the coconut oil users tested positive for this bacteria, compared to six in the olive oil group. Plus, the coconut oil relieved their dry skin.
Coconut oil is also good for your heart. According to a 1981 population study of about 2,500 Polynesians from the islands of Tokelau and Pukapuka, high coconut oil consumption has no effect on cholesterol levels.4 Investigators found that even though participants ate some form of coconut at every meal, their overall health was very good and vascular disease was uncommon. Moreover, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, colon cancer and other bowel disorders were uncommon.
And when it comes to weight loss, coconut oil really shines. According to a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized 2009 study out of Brazil, women with clinical abdominal obesity (waist circumference of more than 88 cm) who used coconut oil daily for 12 weeks—in conjunction with a balanced, low-calorie diet and moderate exercise program—enjoyed a statistically greater reduction in waist circumference than those women taking soybean oil. The coconut oil users also had a statistically higher level of HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL:HDL ratio than the soybean oil group.5
How to Use It
Use coconut oil as an alternative to other vegetable oils for cooking. Because it has such a high smoking point (350°F for unrefined and 450°F for refined), you can sauté and bake with it and not worry about it turning into a trans-fat before your eyes. Plus, coconut oil is very stable. It has a two-year shelf life, and won’t turn rancid, even in warm temperatures. Just be sure to choose organic, unrefined, virgin coconut oil to avoid unwanted heat processing or chemicals. You can also add a spoonful to a smoothie or use in place of butter on toast, sweet potatoes or even pancakes.
2. Coconut Water
Coconut water is the thin, almost clear juice found inside a raw coconut. It contains nearly all the essential nutrients your body needs. The protein in coconut water comes from amino acids. With such great electrolyte properties, coconut water also makes a perfect alternative to chemical-laden, sugary sports drinks. According to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, coconut water performed as well as a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink when it came to markers of hydration and exercise performance.6
Coconut water can even improve kidney health. In a 2013 study, researchers divided rats into three groups. The control group was given normal feed. The second and third groups were both given a substance to trigger nephrolithiasis, a condition that is marked by crystalized urine, which can lead to kidney stones. Only the third group was also given coconut water. After seven weeks, researchers found those rats given the coconut water had no crystal deposits in their kidney tissue and a reduced number of crystals in their urine. Additionally, the rats were protected against impaired renal function and development of oxidative stress in the kidneys.8
How to Use It
Coconut water is a great alternative to juice or dairy when making a vegetable or fruit smoothie. Also, on its own, coconut water makes for a refreshing beverage. You can drink right out of the seed itself or choose a bottled variety. Be sure to avoid the flavored options, however, as they tend to be loaded with extra sugar.
3. Coconut Milk
Different from coconut water, coconut milk is the diluted cream pressed out from the thick, white flesh of a well-matured coconut. While coconut milk contains similar nutrients to coconut oil and coconut water, including lauric acid, it is prized more for its culinary virtues.
Good coconut milk has a clean, white color and tastes rich, creamy and mildly sweet with the essence of coconut. It should also have a complexity and depth of flavor that keeps you intrigued without leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. High-quality brands of coconut milk, therefore, will have thick cream floating on top of the can while the milk on the bottom will be much more watery.
Brands that look homogenized tend to have an artificial taste because of additives introduced to make the cream homogenize — i.e. excess processing — which changes the nature of the cream.
How to Use It
Just as coconut water makes a nutritious and tasty additive to smoothies, so does coconut milk. It even proves to be a great sauce for chicken or fish. Sauté with garlic and ginger for a truly heart-healthy way to compliment any meal.
No matter which way you go, you cannot go wrong when it comes to coconut.
1. Verall-Rowell VM, et al. Dermatitis. 2008 Nov-Dec;19(6):308-15.
2. Intahphuak S, et al. Pharm Biol. 2010 Feb;48(2):151-7.
3. Ogbolu DO, et al. J Med Food. 2007 Jun;10(2)384-7.
4. Prior IA, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:1552-61.
5. Assuncao ML, et al. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
6. Kalman DS, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jan 18;9(1):1.
7. Saat M, et al. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci. 2002 Mar;21(2):93-104.
8. Gandhi M, et al. Int Braz J Urol. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):108-17.
Kimberly Day has spent the past 15 years uncovering natural and alternative health solutions. She was the managing editor for several of the world’s largest health newsletters including those from Dr. Susan Lark, Dr. Julian Whittaker and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. She has also penned several health-related newsletter and magazine articles, co-authored the book the Hormone Revolution with Dr. Susan Lark, contributed articles to Lance Armstrong’s consumer site livestrong.com, and created a number of health-related websites and blogs.
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