Supermarket shelves, drugstores, and natural food stores are flush with products like coconut water, milk, oil, and flour. Where is this coconut craze coming from? Is it really all it is hyped up to be? Do you have coconut oil in your pantry but have no idea what to do with it? Not to fear, your favorite dietitians are going to set the coconut record straight. Whether you’re drinking coconut water at the finish line, substituting coconut milk in your morning cereal, sautéing your dinner side dish in coconut oil, or incorporating coconut flour into your baked goods—here are the facts. As dietitians, you will hear us saying “everything in moderation” time and time again. This quote stands especially true when it comes to coconut products. Are there nutritional benefits? Yes, absolutely. Can coconut products have negative health effects? When consumed in excess, yes. Let’s break it down product by product…
Coconut Oil is made up almost completely of saturated fat (just like butter or lard). One simple way to differentiate types of fat is the consistency. If it is solid and must be scooped with a spoon, it is a saturated fat. If it is a liquid that can be poured, it is primarily made up of mono and polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil contains a mixture of saturated fatty acids, some of which don’t adversely affect cholesterol levels. Coconut oil does however contain lauric acid, which has been shown to raise HDL (good) cholesterol but also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. Raising LDL cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. So why are these tropical oils such a craze? They are advertised as healthful choices due to their high proportion of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Most of the research on MCTs that can be related to heart health was done on saturated fatty acids with eight or ten carbon chains. The majority of MCTs found in coconut oil are actually 12 carbons long. Unfortunately, that means that most of the research concluded about MCTs and heart health does not pertain to coconut oil.
If you have high cholesterol, we do not recommend consuming coconut oil on a regular basis or in large quantities. Have it sitting in your cabinet at home? It makes THE BEST skin topical. Slather it on your face as a moisturizer before bed…you’ll wake up with silky, smooth skin.
Coconut Milk is made from a delicious concoction of coconut meat and water. Don’t confuse coconut milk with coconut water (see below). These are two entirely different products. Coconut milk is rich, thick, and has a cream-like consistency. Coconut milk contains a whooping 450 calories and 48 grams of fat (43 grams saturated) in 1 cup. If you are baking and your recipe calls for coconut milk, you can substitute “lite” coconut milk. This will trim two thirds of the fat but still give you the rich, coconut flavor you are looking for.
Coconut Water has gotten a lot of buzz for being a “natural” sports drink. It is a great hydrator for light workouts, as 1 cup serves up more than 10 percent of your daily dose of potassium—an electrolyte lost through sweat. Although coconut water provides electrolytes, it also provides 45 calories per cup. Keep that in mind if trying to lose weight. It is unnecessary to drink your calories when water will suffice. Coconut water is great to add to homemade smoothies. That way you aren’t consuming the entire bottle in one sitting.
How about coconut water at the finish line? When we sweat, we lose up to 10 times more sodium than potassium. Coconut water contains only 30 mg of sodium per cup, whereas sports drinks usually deliver about 110 mg. For elite athletes, we recommend a sports drinks over coconut water to provide the adequate amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Coconut Flour is a great to add rich flavor to baked goods. Coconut flour is considered a high fiber product, packing in 5 grams in only 2 tablespoons. Coconut flour is low in saturated fat and is naturally gluten-free. If you or a family member has celiac disease or gluten intolerance, coconut flour is a great substitute for healthy (and delicious baking). It can be found in the gluten free section or baking section in your local grocery store.
Overall, there is no profound reason to go nuts for coconuts (pardon the pun!). Yes, there are nutritional benefits. Yes, they can be a delicious addition to a recipe or meal. But remember…everything in moderation. There is such thing as “too much of good thing”.
This article originally appeared on MindyBlack.wordpress.com and is reprinted with permission from the authors.
– By Mindy Black and Sammy Pappas