Coconut Milk, Coconut Water and Coconut Oil Explored

Yes, coconut does contain a certain amount of saturated fat. How has this formerly ‘forbidden food’ redeemed its reputation?

In recent years we have discovered that the coconut is a superfood in many ways, with an enormous amount to offer in the form of water, milk and oil.

COCONUT WATER

Coconut water is full of goodness, though unfortunately it’s not as freely available in South Africa as overseas. Even Madonna is rumoured to be drinking it by the litre for its anti-ageing properties!

Coconut water is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut water is the liquid found inside unripe coconuts. When the fruit is ripe the water becomes part of the flesh, and coconut milk is obtained from squeezing the ripe flesh.

One reason coconut water is so popular is that the electrolyte content is very similar to human plasma, making it an excellent drink and oral hydrator. In fact there are significant benefits to drinking it (certainly more than for any commercial sports drink), some of which include:

  • It is mineral rich, containing sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium, protein, vitamin C and some B vitamins.
  • It improves skin texture.
  • It is fabulous for promoting weight loss.
  • It boosts immunity, and is antiviral.
  • It improves the circulation.
  • It aids the digestive process, removing toxins.
  • It is purported to improve thyroid health.
  • It may improve outcome in some liver diseases, such as hepatitis.
  • It’s great for oedema (especially in the hands and feet).
  • It’s good for treating burns.
  • And it’s a good remedy for hangovers!

With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that film stars drink it!

COCONUT MILK

  • Coconut milk is a delicious alternative to cow’s milk to add to beverages such as tea and coffee, and absolutely divine to cook with, as in Eastern cuisines such as Thai and Indian food. But there’s so much more to this creamy liquid – it is indeed an exceptional health food.
  • Containing lauric acid, antimicrobial lipids and capric acid, which are antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, coconut milk is something of a holistic remedy as well as a food. The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which is believed to fight the herpes virus. There is even some talk (though still anecdotal) that coconut milk will help fight AIDS and influenza.
  • Pacific Islanders and Asians who eat mainly coconut oil instead of Western-type denatured vegetable oil have significantly lower levels of heart disease. The medium-chain fatty acids in coconuts kill the three major types of atherogenic organisms – bacteria that cause the formation of plaque in the arteries, which may lead to heart disease – something antibiotics alone are unable to do.
  • Coconut milk is also immune boosting, low in cholesterol in spite of what you’ve heard, and apparently excellent for keeping wrinkles at bay if used directly on the skin. The milk doesn’t have the same toxin-removal properties as the water, but it is claimed to be able to lower both blood sugar and blood pressure.

Caution. When buying coconut milk, read the label! Some brands have all manner of nasties added to them, so get the simplest one you can find. Fresh is always best, but if that’s not possible, choose the least adulterated canned one on the supermarket shelf.

COCONUT OIL

I believe that this is the best part of the coconut, and although it’s been maligned for many years as something that raises cholesterol, exactly the opposite is true. Just because it is high in saturated fat does not mean that it is dangerous. On the contrary, coconut fat is a unique fat with powerful health-giving properties. The difference lies in the fat molecule itself.

All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids, and there are two methods of classifying these. The first is based on saturation, so we have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Another system of classification is based on the molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. In this system you have short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). Coconut oil is composed predominantly of MCFAs, also known as medium-chain triglycerides. MCFAs are fabulous for increasing stamina and weight loss, and known to promote heart health.

The molecular size of fatty acids is extremely important, because our bodies respond to and metabolise each fatty acid differently depending on its size. The physiological effects of the MCFAs in coconut oil are distinctly different from those of LCFAs more commonly found in the Western diet. The MCFAs in coconut oil are very different from LCFAs – they do not have a negative effect on cholesterol, and actually help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Caution. Only ever buy organic coconut oil (to avoid the chemicals used in processing), and only purchase oil in a glass bottle to avoid leaching of xeno-oestrogens from the plastic, because most endocrine- disrupting chemicals are fat soluble (http://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/nhri/?p=362), no oil should ever come into contact with plastic!

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Coconut Milk, Coconut Water and Coconut Oil Explored

Sally-Ann Creed
About The Author
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DIP CLIN NUTR, FUNCTIONAL MED, FUNCTIONAL NUTR, NUTR SUPPL.
She is a qualified clinical nutritionist and a functional medicine practitioner. She has helped thousands of people worldwide. She has written 10 books, including South Africa’s biggest bestseller in history (co-authored with Tim Noakes), The Real Meal Revolution. She won South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government award in 2009 and 2010. She is married with two Dobermanns.