The coconut is not really a nut, but rather a ‘drupe’ (a variety of fruit), which grows on the cocos nucifera – a tropical palm that thrives between the latitudes of 26 degrees north and 26 degrees south in coastal regions of South and Central America, Africa, Asia and the Polynesian and Hawaiian islands.
It was dubbed “Kalpa Vriksha” or “the tree that provides all the necessities of life” in ancient Sanskrit, in deference to its seemingly endless variety of uses. Today the coconut tree still provides more than one hundred sustainable products including wood for construction, leaves for roofing and bark for fuel, whilst the multifaceted coconut, which derives its name from the 16th-century Portuguese and Spanish word ‘coco’ (which means head or skull) after its strong resemblance to the human face, is used for countless culinary and cosmetic purposes, many of which are explored in more depth below.
Coconut – definitely not shy of health benefits!
An incontrovertibly all-round fruit that’s used to prepare an astonishing range of wholesome superfood products, including coconut oil, coconut palm sugar, desiccated coconut and coconut juice, the coconut also offers an extraordinary range of health benefits to match.
1. Coconut for natural weight loss
Coconut and coconut products score extremely low on the Glycaemic Index, contain zero trans fats (the harmful fats that form when vegetable oils harden), sugars, carbohydrates or salts, and are extraordinarily rich in triglycerides – a chemical compound derived from glycerol and fatty acid, which helps to boost metabolism and burn fat. Coconut also contains medium chain fatty acids that require less bile and enzymes to break them down, meaning they’re easier to digest and can be converted into energy much faster than other types of fat. In addition, the consumption of coconut products like coconut oil stimulates the absorption of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids can help you to lose weight naturally by improving the blood flow to muscles during exercise and stimulating those enzymes responsible for the transportation of fat to where it can be burnt as fuel. For impressive weight loss results try using coconut oil and other coconut products in combination with superfoods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, fish oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts.
2. Coconut for strengthened immunity
Coconuts are a natural source of fibre, vitamins (especially B vitamins and vitamin C), minerals (such as calcium, potassium and magnesium), amino acids, antioxidants and electrolytes, which help to trigger the production of white blood cells and strengthen your immunity. Coconuts also contain lauric acid, which boasts antifungal, antibacterial and anti-parasitic properties. Coconut superfoods, such as coconut oil, coconut palm sugar and desiccated coconut, are therefore highly successful in killing off harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites, and can even help you to avoid a number of unpleasant ailments, including colds, flu’s, throat infections, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, lice, tapeworms, herpes and gonorrhoea.
3. Coconut for a healthy heart
Although high in saturated vegetable fat, coconuts contain mainly medium chain fatty acids, which actually help to improve your HDL (‘good’) cholesterol ratio and reduce your risk of heart disease. Indeed, scientific research suggests that supplementing your existing diet with coconut products, such as coconut oil, can actively increase HDL cholesterol levels and simultaneously lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels. This, in combination with a reduced waistline, helps to protect you from both heart disease and stroke. Population studies in Polynesia and Sri Lanka confirm that those regularly enjoying coconut products are less likely to suffer from high cholesterol levels or heart disease.
4. Coconut for strong teeth and bones
The saturated fats found in coconut products also improve your absorption of calcium and magnesium, which is essential for healthy teeth and bones and can help to prevent the progressive bone disease known as osteoporosis.
5. Coconut for sound digestive health
Coconut superfoods boast a high fibre content which, according to the NHS is not only important for a healthy bowel movement, it can also help to prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, certain types of cancer and improve your overall digestive health.
6. Coconut for beautiful skin
As previously mentioned, coconut superfoods are utterly brimming with vegetable saturated fatty acids. These also have an extremely positive effect on your skin, by restoring its natural fat content at a cellular level and encouraging the absorption of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, omega-6, choline and lecithin. Coconut products, such as coconut oil, can subsequently be used to treat a wide range of skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
7. Coconut for youthful good looks
The wealth of antioxidants in coconut superfoods help to protect your body from harmful free radicals, reduce oxidative stress and can even delay the unwelcome signs of ageing. In addition, coconut contains ketones, which slows down the degradation of cellular tissue in the brain and can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Coconut for a welcome boost of energy
Lastly, coconut products help to promote a healthy thyroid function (which can relieve symptoms of fatigue) and provide a powerful source of energy for improved physical endurance and enhanced athletic performance. In particular, coconut drinks, such as coconut juice and coconut milk, are incredibly rehydrating, making them an excellent choice after strenuous exercise.
Coconut – a myriad of tempting guises
Wholesome coconut is now readily available in a wide selection of tempting superfood products that are well worth ‘shelling’ out for!
1) Coconut oil
Coconut oil is made from the flesh of the coconut and is rich in vegetable saturated fats. Wonderfully aromatic, it can survive exceptionally high temperatures without losing any of its naturally occurring nutrients or oxidising, making it ideal for day-to-day-cooking. Coconut oil is especially yummy in Thai and other Asian dishes, or stirred generously into smoothies, shakes and juices. Alternatively, coconut oil can be enjoyed straight from the jar as a tasty spread, or used as an additional ingredient in your favourite rawfood recipes, including raw chocolate and desserts.
And coconut oil is not merely a tropical treat for your taste buds; it’s also a topical treat for your skin! That’s because coconut oil is an exceptionally kind and gentle, hypoallergenic body care product that can be applied directly to skin and hair, or used as an incredibly nourishing and moisturising massage oil for ravishingly radiant results.
Coconut palm sugar is a delicious natural superfood sweetener made from coconut blossom nectar that boasts an intensely sweet flavour often likened to butterscotch. Unlike refined sugars, coconut palm sugar is never heated, bleached or processed in any other way, and, as it has a very low Glycaemic Index value of just 35, it is the perfect sugar substitute for diabetics.
Also prepared from naturally aged coconut blossom sap, coconut vinegar is a superb alternative to apple cider vinegar. That’s because coconut vinegar contains more vitamin A, B, C and E than apple cider vinegar, as well as amino acids and pectin, which are not found in apple cider vinegar at all, and it tastes better too. Use coconut vinegar as you would ordinary vinegar, as an additional ingredient in salad dressings or marinades.
Similar to coconut oil, coconut vinegar can also be harnessed for visibly improved skin or as an effective aid to detox.
Coconut aminos is a luscious marinade sauce made from coconut blossom sap that’s lightly seasoned with sun dried sea salt. Coconut aminos is free from soya, gluten and dairy products, suitable for those following a vegetarian, vegan or rawfood diet, and can be used in place of soy sauce in oriental or rawfood dishes.
Coconut crystals are prepared from naturally crystallised coconut blossom sap and are an ideal substitute for table sugar. Try using your coconut crystals to sweeten tea or coffee, or all of your best-loved rawfood snacks and treats.
Coconut nectar is yet another wholesome superfood product made from coconut blossom sap. An ideal replacement for sugary syrups, coconut nectar boasts a soft sweet flavour that’s simply irresistible on pancakes, desserts, and breakfast cereals, or stirred into smoothies, shakes, juices and (herbal) tea.
Coconut flour is made from the flesh of coconut that has been dried using a completely natural process. High in fibre (it contains 2.5 grams of fibre per tablespoon), low in calories and pleasingly free from gluten, coconut flour helps to lower the glycaemic rating of bread, cakes, pancakes and biscuits, making it an excellent alternative to standard flour for diabetics. Coconut flour is also suitable for those following a vegetarian, vegan or rawfood diet and can be used as an ingredient in a range of rawfood treats, or to thicken nutrient-dense smoothies and shakes.
Desiccated coconut is also prepared from the flesh of fresh coconut and has been dried at low temperatures for an exceptionally convenient and versatile cooking ingredient. Desiccated coconut contains a variety of vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin C, in addition to a selection of minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and potassium, and possesses a subtly sweet, yet wonderfully exotic flavour that’s lush in sweet and savoury meals and drinks.
Sometimes referred to as the “Fluid of Life”, the electrolyte content of coconut water is so similar to human plasma that it was used as a plasma substitute during World War 2 and the war in Vietnam, and is still used for the same purpose in many third world countries today. Coconut juice is a supreme hydrator that’s perfect both before and after exercise – in fact, just one cup supplies more than 10 percent of your recommended daily amount of potassium, which is routinely lost via sweat. Coconut juice can be enjoyed neat or added to smoothies, shakes and juices for an enticingly exotic twist.
10) Coconut milk
Coconut milk is made from the milk of green coconuts – it is free from cholesterol and lactose and thus an ideal alternative to cow’s milk for those who are lactose intolerant. Coconut milk can be used in the preparation of tasty African, Asian and Caribbean dishes, as an additional ingredient in salad dressings, raw cacao recipes (such as homemade raw chocolate), or added to smoothies, shakes and protein drinks.