First, let’s all thank the Coconut Coalition of the Americas for founding National Coconut Day. Now, every June 26th we get to celebrate the superfood by bringing awareness to its multiple health benefits. Wikipediatells us the one-seeded drupe originated from southeast Asia (the oldest fossil was found in New Zeland around 23–5.3 million years ago).
But now you can get it in forms of oil, milk, water, jerky, chips, even yogurt. The coconut, especially its oil, has been popular in food media, often applauded for the health benefits. But lately, there’s been a lot of skepticism to the health claims.
I’m not a research scientist so I reached out to one at Columbia University and was directed to The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera L.) — Research and Development Perspectives. The title sounds about as exciting as the book. The book starts with coconut botany and ends with coco-economy but ’tis the season, so I thought it only fitting to report the health findings on our hard-headed friend. With the help of Google and a few undergrads from Columbia University, I was able to break down the scientific jargon and heres what I came up with.
The most popular product, both researched and consumed seems to be coconut oil. Coco-oil consists of mostly saturated fats but because of its carbon makeup, it takes on some unusual characteristics. The scientific article states the biggest downfall in coconut oil as a sole source of fat is its lack of essential fatty acids. So they suggest mixing the oil into a diverse diet.
You may have heard mixed reviews about the oil, specifically its saturated fat content. The article states that most scientists agree that high saturated fat diets can increase blood cholesterol and the risk for heart disease. It also states that when cooking with the oil it changes its chemical makeup and may deplete its benefits. But the article argues that in the diets of Polynesians and Filipinos, where coconut is a main ingredient, their incidence of heart disease was reportedly lower. This could be attributed to the intake of fresh coconut kernel (the white meaty part of the coconut).
The coconut kernel (coco-meat) is listed as a complete food. It contains too many vitamins and minerals to list but studies reported in the article that eating coconut oil with the meat has a higher benefit than consuming the oil alone. Kernels are so good they claim,
“Dietary supplementation of coconut kernel protein may have greater significance in reducing the extent of oxidative stress and inflammatory responses associated with myocardial infarction.”
In normal vernacular, coconut meat may help reduce antioxidant issues and inflammation that is associated with heart attacks. Now I doubt there will be an emergency force-feed of coco-meat to a heart attack patient but it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of pieces a week. The article goes on to brag about the fiber makeup, which we all know helps you go number two.
The book also points out other health benefits of coco-products; like how coco-sugar has a much lower glycaemic index (35) than traditional sugar. They also brag about human’s ability to capture young coconut water and preserve it’s nutritional qualities in beverage containers.
During my research, I took a break from the scientific riddles and found myself at Cosmopolitan’s superfoods list for 2020. Although coconuts were not preached about, they did mention it as a good source of MCTs. What’s an MCT? It’s a medium-length fat that, according to this article, promotes weight loss.
Yes, people are saying coconut has fat that promotes weight loss!
So what’s the overall take away? The coconut has multiple commercial products and each component has its own set of positives and negatives. There is a general understanding that the coconut is a superfood but the fat composition of coconut oil is very complex and deserves more study. I’m not saying coco-eating will solve all your problems, but based on the science it looks like it could be a key component in a healthy diet.
Happy National Coconut Day!
Author : Christopher Parent
-Foreal Foods Intern
Reference to the mentioned article
Rajamohan T., Archana U. (2018) Nutrition and Health Aspects of Coconut. In: Nampoothiri K., Krishnakumar V., Thampan P., Nair M. (eds) The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera L.) — Research and Development Perspectives. Springer, Singapore, Online ISBN 978–981–13–2754–4