Most of us have heard at least one report of how healthy coconuts are. (Forget the saturated fat argument it's flawed in so many ways) Even most of the mainstream advice can be on the side of the coconut, but with so many products to choose from it can be a little confusing as to what to use, when and why?
What is a coconut?
A coconut is a seed or fruit (The jury is out but technically a fruit) of the coconut tree and is botanically called a drupe. When harvested it can be used to make lots of different products and used as ingredients in many recipes. You will probably know of a few but i'm going to break down the most popular products and what they are used for.
This is the thin liquid on the inside of the coconut, the younger the more liquid you can harvest. You can drink it straight from a fresh coconut however there are many companies that are supplying coconut water in cartons. It is still important to check the labels for ingredients though, some have additives and many have added sugars.
The coconut milk you can buy usually comes in a can. It is made by pressing the white of coconut or passing hot water over the grated flesh. When you open a can you will generally find that the cream has separated and is on top of the thinner coconut water. Both can be used but with a little stirring it can easily be combined again.
As mentioned above you can use the separated cream from a can however you can also find it sold in a small carton. This it the thick part of the cream and is a great substitute for real dairy cream, it is great with strawberries.
This is the coconut flesh that has been shredded and dried. It is used in lots of recipes, it adds texture and bite. As always check the ingredients list as some products are sweetened.
Coconut flour is dried and finely ground into a flour like powder, it is a great alternative to grain based flours in primal baking recipes.
This is extracted from the sap of the coconut flower so isn't technically part of the coconut. It looks very much like ordinary brown sugar. It is a more natural sweetener than regular sugar but remember it is still a sugar that will raise glucose and insulin levels so still use with consideration.
This is obtained from the flesh of the coconut and is great for frying and used as an ingredient in many primal recipes However you will find some that are much more expensive than others. This is because there are two types of coconut oil, Refined and unrefined raw.
Refined coconut oil has gone through a bleaching and deodorizing process, using high heat, sodium hydroxide and some cheaper brands use chemical solvents to extract as much oil as possible from the flesh. Some even contain Trans fats so not desirable even on a mainstream diet. However check the label the good ones usually state that they do not contain Trans fats.
Unrefined can be label in various ways, Raw, organic, Pure or a combo of them all. These products have not been through the heating or chemical process.
Both types have many of the health benefits I will be shortly talking about however the refined versions do have less. A benefit of the refined is that it does have a high cooking temperature than the raw.
Personally I use both, refined for frying and roasting, particularly when I don't want coconut flavour in my food. I will however use the better quality raw oil for baking and coconut flavour dishes.
The cost implication can also come into play, if you are on a budget then refined is fine but do get the best you can afford.
So what are the health benefits of any of this?
Coconut contains MCT (medium chain fatty acids) these can be metabolized for quick access energy release and can also be converted into ketones. They also increase energy expenditure.
Coconut oil is antimicrobial, it contains lauric acid that when digested forms monolaurin and together they can kill off pathogens. It has also been shown to improve blood sugar regulation, improve blood cholesterol markers by raising HDL and lowering LDL and triglycerides.(Interesting with all the saturated fat, that's another post) It can also help regulate hormones and help prevent memory loss. Put all this together and more, and you can see why it really is a super food.
It seems like a good idea to be adding coconut to your diet and with so many products out there it isn't hard to start including it regularly. I hope I have cleared a few things up regarding the different type of coconut products available but if you do have any questions regarding anything I didn't cover then let me know.