The Low Down on Coconuts. Are They As Good As They Say

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From coconut water to coconut oil, we chat to Nutrition expert Lolita Walters on the benfits of coconuts.

From health conscious yogis to supermodels, it seems just about everyone is consuming coconut in some form. From the water to the oil, coconut is the latest proclaimed super food to take the wellness world by storm.

But what are the health benefits of coconut and is it really all that it’s cracked up to be? Bondi Beauty investigates whether or not we should be going nuts for coconuts speaking with Lolita Walters, the expert on coconuts (as far as we are concerned).

Coconuts grow on palm trees native to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The coconut itself is a ‘drupe,’ a type of fruit with a hard covering protectively enclosing the seed, so it is not technically a ‘nut’ at all. Coconut is consumed in all its forms, including its water, flesh and oil. It is often attributed with being highly beneficial for health.

As celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder says, it ‘is one of the finest beauty foods available to promote youthfulness.’

So let’s break it down to see what the individual benefits are:

Coconut Water:

Coconut water is the liquid naturally contained within the coconut. Young green coconuts yield the most and this is where it is generally sourced.

Nutritionally coconut water has a good profile, being cholesterol free, 99 per cent fat free, low in carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, it contains less than 100 kilojoules per 100ml and is a source of zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, manganese, boron, molybdenum, ascorbic acid and B-group vitamins.

The key is moderation, as coconut oil and mature flesh products are energy dense, so a little bit goes a long way.

 One of the great things about coconut water is that it is “nature’s sports drink,” as it naturally contains electrolytes, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium, which are lost through sweat when exercising.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that coconut water, when compared to a commercial sports drink, was equally as effective in hydrating participants after an intense workout. 

It is definitely beneficial for your health to switch from sugar laden and artificial isotonic products (Powerade, etc), to coconut water for post workout replenishment. For general hydration however, Naturopath Tracy Kilburn reminds us that ‘the best option is plain water.’

One of the great things about coconut water is that it is “nature’s sports drink,” as it naturally contains electrolytes, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium, which are lost through sweat when exercising.

Coconut Oil:

The old myth that coconut is “fattening” has been dispelled by contemporary research that has shown that coconut oil (extracted from the meat of mature coconuts) may actually be beneficial for weight loss and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol.

Although the fat in coconut is a saturated fat, often labelled “bad” fat compared to “healthy” unsaturated fats, this specific type is an exception as it acts in a special way. Coconut contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are able to be absorbed straight into our cells and used as energy, making them less likely to be stored as fat on the body.

Coconut oil is also high in lauric acid and thus highly antimicrobial and immune boosting. Recently research from the Garvan Institute is indicative that including ample coconut oil in the diet is helpful for weight loss and preventing type-2 diabetes, by preventing fat storage and insulin resistance.

What else to look for:

A journey down the isle of your health food store will show you many other coconut products available, such as dried flakes and coconut flour, made from the flesh of the coconut. These are also beneficial as they are high in MCFAs, fibre and other nutrients.

Coconut milk and coconut yoghurt are also good options that offer a flavourful dairy free alternative. But be careful when selecting your products as certain food processing methods can adversely impact the positive nutritional status of the coconut. When choosing oil, make sure it is unrefined and virgin or extra virgin.

Always opt for organic varieties of coconut flakes, milk and water, as these could otherwise contain harmful sulfates and chemicals. However, as far as drinking coconut water goes, fresh is always best – so if you can get your hands on one of these (and manage to open it), all the merrier!

Always opt for organic varieties of coconut flakes, milk and water, as these could otherwise contain harmful sulfates and chemicals

So yes, coconut in its many forms can add some super nutrition into your diet when consumed correctly. The key is moderation, as coconut oil and mature flesh products are energy dense, so a little bit goes a long way.

Coconut water is great after you’ve been sweating it out, but water should make up the vast majority of your daily fluid intake! Try adding a teaspoon of coconut oil or a cup of the water from a young coconut to your daily smoothie to get some of the benefits of this beauty food.

Six things you might not know about coconuts:

  1. Coconuts are renown for their healthful properties in many cultures; they are used in Ayurvedic medicine and Hindu rituals, and in the Philippines the coconut tree is referred to as the “tree of life.”
  2. If you are cooking at high temperatures, coconut oil is your healthiest option because its structure allows it to remain stable even when it gets really hot, whereas other oils oxidise quickly and contribute to nasty free radicals
  3. In ideal growing conditions a tall coconut palm can yield up to 75 coconuts in a year!Coconut oil is a fabulous beauty product – use it as a moisturiser on body and face or gargle with it as a natural mouthwash.
  4. Local bounty: coconuts are commonly grown around the northern coast of Australia, and in some warmer parts of New South Whales.
  5. Coconut water has such a similar chemical profile to blood plasma that it can be used to substitute it in blood transfusions and has been used to save lives in developing countries and during WWII.
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Lolita Walters

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