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What’s the Story on Coconut?

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Back in the day most of the questions on coconut were all about using the pulp to shred or shave as an ingredient in a list of tempting desserts. Today clients are talking about coconut oil, coconut water, beverages, and their perceived health benefits. Now I’m always open to new news, but my mantra continues to be “all things in moderation and there is no one food that is the answer to all ills. “

Coconut oil is made from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. It is a saturated fat and like other fats and oils contains nine calories per gram. Most saturated fats such as those found in animal sources i.e. meat, dairy, and poultry are solid at room temperature and contain cholesterol.

Coconut oil is one of the tropical oils. It is saturated yet its’ consistency can be solid, semi-solid or liquid and it does not contain cholesterol. Coconut oil like other fats contains fatty acids; however, this tropical oil has a unique combination of fatty acids ranging from short to medium chain fatty acids. This combination of fatty acids primarily lauric (44%) and myristic (16.8%) acids may contribute to the health benefits that folks are talking up. There have been studies which show that lauric acid increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol levels. Typically, saturated fats from animal sources raise cholesterol levels.

You may find coconut labeled virgin coconut oil; however, there is not an industry standard for this tag. Oil designated as virgin generally means the oil is unprocessed, unbleached, has not been deodorized or refined. You may also find coconut oil labeled “cold pressed;” cold pressed-oil typically means that in mechanically pressing the oil from the fruit the temperature during the process does not exceed 120°F.

Though this oil is cholesterol free and a better choice than butter or trans-fat, Penn State researcher Dr. Penny Kris-Ether says, “It is still a saturated fat that needs to be limited in the diet and if you are looking for real health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats by using vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, or olive oil.” Coconut oil can be used in baked goods such as banana or zucchini bread, and pastry; it can be substituted to sauté vegetables, greens or poultry.

Coconut beverages have also been on the list of trending foodstuffs. Just to clear up any mystery about the available beverage options, I’ve included the following summary on the beverages.

Coconut water is found inside the coconut—it is the clear, juice found when you crack open a coconut. It is low in calories, fat and cholesterol free and high in potassium.

Coconut milk has the liquid consistency of cow’s milk and is made from simmering one-part shredded coconut in one part water.

Coconut cream is much thicker and richer. It is made from simmering four parts shredded coconut in one part water. The cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk is also considered coconut cream.

Cream of coconut is a sweetened version of coconut cream and is often used for desserts and mixed drinks. It contains added sugar and is not interchangeable with coconut cream.

I hope this overview on coconut will be helpful as you weigh the pros and cons on the variety of products. Remember in the case of coconut oil—it is still a fat. Although fat is important and plays a role in a healthy diet, too much fat will quickly add up to too many calories.

Take Away: Coconut is basking in the glow of good-for-you products. For best health remember all things in moderation; there is not one food that is all good or all bad for you.

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