In recent years, coconut has blown up the health food marketplace with its availability in various forms, the most popular being coconut oil. To date, there are over 2,500 studies and research articles establishing coconut oil’s buzzworthy status in the health world!
But coconut on a whole, not just the pressed oil, is a nutrient-dense superfood worth taking a closer look at for its many health benefits.
Coconut and Your Health
The medium chain fatty acids found in coconut help to act as natural antibiotics and, according to recent research, help modulate immunity.¹ Coconut oil, whether applied topically on the skin or ingested internally, contains high amounts of lauric acid and monolaurin, both of which are known antiviral and antimicrobial agents. The healthy fats in coconut oil also support cognitive function. The brain is roughly 60 percent fat. Research suggests “that fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s integrity and ability to perform.”² Fat is literally brain fuel!
Coconut meat itself, available in both dried/shredded form and raw from young coconuts, is an excellent source of fiber. The fat and fiber in coconut helps to increase satiety and regulate hunger levels, leading to appetite control. Coconut meat is rich in phytosterols, compounds primarily found in nuts, beans, and legumes. These compounds have been shown to naturally lower blood cholesterol levels.³ In one study, coconut flakes were linked with lower total and LDL cholesterol levels.⁴ Researchers have also concluded that consumption of coconut, particularly coconut oil, can help with fat loss, particularly around the abdominal area.⁵
But the benefits don’t stop there. Coconut water is a fantastic natural source of electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium. Instead of turning to sugary sports drinks or electrolyte replacement powders that are often filled with food additives and dyes, try coconut water after an intense workout instead.
Coconut in the Kitchen
For High Heat Cooking
Because of its high smoke point, coconut oil does not break down easily when heated like other oils, making it a fantastic cooking oil. Use it for stir-fries, soups, roasted vegetables, grain pilafs, searing meat…the options are truly endless. You can also use it for greasing baking pans as an alternative to butter or cooking spray.
Melted coconut oil is an excellent replacement in recipes that call for canola oil. Did you know that over 90 percent of canola oil is genetically modified? It is also often partially hydrogenated to increase stability and has been linked to increased inflammation in studies.⁶
Unrefined, organic coconut oil is an anti-inflammatory alternative that, being a saturated fat, is easily recognized and metabolized by the body. Melted coconut oil works particularly well in muffins and breads that call for refined seed oils like canola or safflower. (Take note, however, that coconut oil has a lower melting point than butter, so it does not always work as a swap in recipes that call for softened butter.)
Coconut flour is a high-protein, high-fiber flour that is naturally gluten-free and lower in carbohydrates than grain-based flours. Try our lemon bar recipe that features coconut flour. Shredded coconut or coconut flakes are also wonderful options to include in baked goods for added crunch and texture, like in these No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Bars.
Add coconut milk and coconut oil to smoothies for added creaminess and tropical flavor. For a real treat, try adding a spoonful of coconut butter (also called coconut manna) to your next smoothie. Coconut butter is whipped from dried coconut meat, yielding a rich and dense spread that adds nourishing fats, fiber, and protein to smoothies but can also be melted over vegetables as you would butter.
For Replacing Soy Sauce
Coconut aminos are an excellent soy-free alternative to soy sauce. They are made from coconut tree sap that is seasoned with mineral-rich sea salt and dried in open air structures lined with clay bricks. The sap has a low-glycemic index and contains 17 amino acids, B vitamins, and a nearly neutral pH. Coconut aminos can replace soy sauce in a 1-to-1 ratio.
Coconut for Body Care and Beauty
Coconut is highly nourishing for the skin. Look for lotions containing coconut milk, butter, or oil, or if you’ve got the DIY bug, try making your own body butter!
What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body. Remember that your skin is your body’s largest organ and will absorb everything you put on it. Coconut-based products with clean ingredient lists are a wonderful way to reap the health benefits from the outside in.
Coconut oil specifically has many personal care uses such as:
- Moisturizer when applied directly to the skin
- All-natural eye makeup remover
- Mixed with equal parts organic sugar for an exfoliating body scrub
- Natural shave cream or after-shave lotion
- Rubbed into the scalp to stimulate hair growth and soothe dry skin
- Rubbed through hair as an anti-frizz treatment
- Natural cuticle cream
- Blended with essential oils for a massage oil
- Whipped with coffee for a face mask
A Word About Allergies
Remember that your body is unique and so are your nutrition needs. If you have an allergy to coconut, it is important to avoid it (both internally and topically). Coconut is a perfect example of a food with many health benefits, but if you’re allergic to it, it is not a healthy option for you and your unique composition. This is why at our clinics we always recommend that our patients get their food allergies tested. If you haven’t had yours tested, find a clinic near you to get started!