Coconut has become one of my favorite foods over the course of the last year. I've been using MCT oil for a while now, which I have mentioned briefly in previous posts. Now I regularly use coconut oil and coconut flour in cooking and baking, I use coconut butter as a spread and in my coffee, and the occasional bag of delicious organic toasted coconut chips.
Not only do all of these things taste great, but there are some real health benefits. There are even claims that are calling coconut a "superfood." The uses for this food seem endless, from weight loss to skin care to immune health.
There are quite a few different forms of coconut that you can eat and use in cooking. Here are some of the pros and cons of these products.
Looking at the big picture, while coconut is a good source of fat, it is a saturated fat. Currently the science is unclear as to if coconut is a "bad" saturated fat the way they classify animal fats and for now, all saturated fats are classified as the same. (Personally, I think saturated fat overall gets a worse reputation than it deserves.)
When purchasing coconut products watch out of the words fully hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in the ingredients. Any products that have one of those terms in the ingredients should be avoided. Hydrogenation means that the oil has gone through a chemical process that makes the fat a solid form and includes trans fat molecules. Trans fat is the worst type of fat to consume. (Hint: Check your peanut butter)
There is also a belief that the good fats of coconut products are negated by some production of bad fats. This is where it is unfortunate that we don't have the information that we need, and more research needs to be done. Luckily, with coconut increasing popularity, studies are being formed and hopefully we can get the truth on coconut once and for all.
MCTs and MCT Oil
Most of the fats that your body takes in are long chain triglycerides but coconut has medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), these are digested differently. MCTs have a more direct form of digestion so they can be more quickly used as a source of fuel. In the coconut milk portion of this post, studies show the MCTs improve cognitive function and are a great alternative fuel source for the brain, especially in Alzheimer's patients.
Some believe that MCT oil is a product for weight loss than coconut oil. MCT oil is something that I put in my coffee daily (when I have it, for right now I use coconut butter until my shipment comes in). Its almost like an extra boost of fuel to go with my caffeine.
There are multiple places in this post that I mention MCTs in regards to their inclusion in coconut products.
The meat of a coconut is a great source of fats with a low glycemic index (this tells how the body uses the sugar in the product). There are 12g of carbohydrates in one cup of raw shredded coconut but these carbs are mostly fiber, another great thing to have in your diet.
Coconut water has been said to be the perfect hydration drink, especially for athletes. The components of coconut water promote hydration. Compared to other sports drinks, coconut water has less sugar and sodium and more potassium.
Coconut milk provides an improved source of energy due to the medium-chain triglycerides. The MCTs provide a quicker form of energy for the brain. There were studies conducted in 2004 and 2008 to prove that there are preventative and therapeutic effects of the MCTs in coconut milk for Alzheimer's patients that have issues in using glucose to fuel the brain. That being said, there is a type of carbohydrate/sugar in coconut milk that may cause stomach upset.
Coconut oil has great overall health characteristics. The oil has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, antiviral, and anti-cancer properties. Lauric acid is also something to take note of. It is only found in coconut oil (as well as the MCT oil) and mother's milk. It is suggested that lauric acid is a great antimicrobial agent. There is also evidence that shows an aid in absorption of nutrients and especially amino acids with the ingestion of coconut oil. Other beneficial effects include reduction of inflammation and thyroid stimulation (which may promote weight loss). New studies have shown that the fats coconut oil won't raise cholesterol and can improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio (in other words, give you more good than bad cholesterol, yes there is such a thing as good cholesterol). The warning here is, if you're looking to get your healthy fats from coconut, you may be better off choosing to do so from coconut butter or the whole coconut rather than the oil. The oil is rather calorie dense and for those that are not on a ketogenic diet and/or watching calorie intake there may be a better coconut option.