Coconuts: Rediscovering Nature’s Perfect Package
There’s a reason why coconuts grow on deserted islands in the middle of the ocean. They are a complete nutritional bundle; nature’s perfect package. The humble coconut is my answer to the food of the Gods.
Coconuts are one of the most versatile food items on the planet and can be used for everything from gorgeous desserts, to smoothies, baking, body products, healing, disease prevention and more. They have anti-aging and anti-cancer properties and also boost metabolism and immune function. Coconut is classified as a ‘functional food’ due to its many varied applications – it’s more than just a pretty drink. Up to one third of the world’s population relies on coconut to some degree for its diet, healthcare and economy. Coconuts are extremely good for simple rehydration and are also very rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are now known to be a good fat* – therefore essential for healthy body function and wellbeing. There’s just SO much you can do with a coconut. Let me (in the words of MC Hammer), break it down:
The coconut can be broken into four main products:
Coconut water – the clear liquid found inside the coconut when it is opened.
Coconut meat – the white fleshy part that grows around the inside of the shell and can vary in texture from jelly-like to hard and fibrous.
Coconut milk/cream – made from coconut flesh and water blended then strained.
Coconut oil – extracted from the coconut.
Let me tell you a little about each of these delightful products:
Coconut water is the juice found in the young coconut and is now becoming more readily available as a whole food in supermarkets and fruit markets Australia-wide. Best to buy the actual nut and not the canned or tetra packed versions – these are much lower in nutrient value as they’ve lost their freshness and bioactivity through the packaging and storing process.
Straight from the nut – this stuff is the juice of life. It has high enzymatic activity (it’s alive!) and is an excellent source of electrolytes and amino acids. It’s also high in vitamin B complexes, calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron.
As if that wasn’t amazing enough, recent research suggests that cytokinins found in coconut water have anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. More coconut juice? Yes please.
Tastes good, is good. It’s a great source of fibre and a good source of selenium. High in saturated fat, but please read on to find out why the fat in coconut is actually really good for us. Yes! Contrary to popular belief, SOME FATS ARE ACTUALLY VERY GOOD FOR US. If you’re watching your weight remember, everything in moderation works best. Some research even suggests that the fats found in coconut are beneficial for weight loss and help speed up metabolism encouraging the loss of body fat.
Coconut cream is best used in moderation in the diet. It is amazing stuff and I use it often personally. But if you’re watching your waistline it’s pretty high in saturated fat. I thoroughly advocate having ‘good fats’ in your diet, but moderation definitely works best. Having said that, forget ‘light’ coconut cream options – they’re usually full of more additives and thinning agents. Just simply water down your coconut cream a little if you’re looking for a lighter option. You can go 50/50 H2O to cream ratio and still get great, creamy results in a curry or soup. I use coconut cream or milk in my hot drinks as an alternative to soy, rice, or other processed milks. It’s gorgeous and has no added sugar. Be sure to read labels on your coconut products and ensure you’re buying pure coconut extract and not a whole lot of nasty additives.
Here we get to some truly exciting stuff, (as if drinking and then devouring the flesh of a fresh young coconut wasn’t thrilling enough!)
Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. I tell you what, the more research I do, the more I come to realise just how many strange and wonderful ways there are to utilise the awesome power of the coconut. It can be used for everything from hair treatments, to dental health, treating skin conditions, versatile cooking and more.
Coconut oil was long mistaken (during the great anti-cholesterol bungle of the 80s) for an unhealthy fat. The people who tried to sell us that one couldn’t have been more wrong. Coconut oil is actually a good fat.
*What’s the difference between good and bad fats?
To keep it brief here – any fats that are highly processed should be avoided. Then we have the whole, natural fats found in plants and animals. The difference between good and bad fats essentially comes down to the molecular structure of the fat. Most fats, saturated or unsaturated, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). However, the majority of the fat found in coconut consists of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). This ‘length difference’ actually makes a huge impact on how we metabolise and use the fat in our bodies. This ‘good fat’ is stored in the liver and rapidly converted to energy rather than being stored as fat. MCFAs are harder to find in food and much, much better for us. In fact, they help fight cholesterol and promote weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate. This, and other findings have earned coconut oil a reputation as one of, if not the healthiest oil on the planet. You can use it in many forms of cooking from baking to frying to salad dressings or raw desserts. Try a spoonful a day to promote better digestion, boost immunity and increase metabolism.
Article & photography by Carla Versitano