Coconuts: Healthy or Hype?

When I was an editor at Berkeley Wellness Newsletter,  the saturated fats in coconut oil and milk were viewed as the great Satan of nutrition.  Today some experts view coconuts as an all purpose miracle cure.  As it  turned out,  the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Coconuts and  Weight Loss

I’ve loved coconuts since my first taste of a Mounds bar, but  weight control?  While coconut ( including the meat, oil and  milk) is high in saturated fat, it is in the form that  is easier to for the body to breakdown rather than to be deposited as fat  in the arteries and on the hips.   This type of saturated fat is also more easily digested which is why its used in infant formulas.

There are also claims of benefits  that this fat increases metabolism and thus may promote weight loss.  Results of studies have been conflicting and  at this point I’m not comfortable  with the idea of coconut as a diet aid.

Coconuts and Heart Disease

There is pretty good evidence that that coconut does not raise  cholesterol  like other saturated fats — a true health benefit. Pacific Island and Asian communities whose diets are high in  coconut oil have significantly ower rates of heart disease.  Even more interesting coconut oil has been shown to  effective at LOWERING cholesterol. However coconut oil  still does not have the anti-inflammatory  in  your face health benefits of either olive or canola oil.

Coconuts and Immunity

Coconut milk contains antimicrobiological  elements that are reported to fight  a range of bacteria and viruses and is of great benefit during cold and flu season.  For example a study found that children with pneumonia recovered faster when coconut milk was added to standard antibiotic therapy.

Coconuts certainly seem to offer promising health benefits.  But at the end of the day fat is fat.  If you want to add coconut oil or milk to  your diet, make sure you reduce  other sources of fat intake.

I love the flavor of coconut and I think   low fat coconut milk is a great option to   recipes calling for cream.  One of my favorite recipe is a big pot of coconut rice and beans.  A full cup  actually provides a complete serving of  protein and can be an entree with a side sald.   A smaller portion   turns a plain, broiled boneless chicken breast from punishment into pleasure.

Island Rice and Beans( adapted from Five Easy Steps to Healthy Cooking)

Ingredients: 1 clove of garlic,   1 cup  white rice, 1 teaspoon  dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon all spice, 1 can low fat coconut milk, 1/3 cup water, 1/2 can red kidney  beans, drained and rinsed, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro  leaves ( optional)

Directions:  Combine garlic, rice, thyme, allspice, coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cover.  Cover and  simmer  for 5  minutes.  Stir, turn off  and cover.  Let the rice sit for 15 minutes to absorb  the liquids.  When the rice is cooked, add the drained kidney beans and stir.  Sprinkle  with chopped   fresh cilantro leaves.

4 thoughts on “Coconuts: Healthy or Hype?

  1. hmmm yummy. thank you Deb for your info and the recipe.
    i also enjoy coconut milk (pref. the organic kind) tremendously and do a quick-and-easy Thai-style soup based on it whenever i feel like. (unfortunately the fresh curry leaves needed for this are hard to find in may small-town-non-US-neck-of the woods 😉

    on a sidenote, my beautician recently had a problem with her hair and in a spur of soc. lateral thinking (and since she is a non-english speaker/nationality) i searched for it on PubMed and found this :
    “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.” abstract here :

    sooo, i amazooned and ordered some organic coconut oil (the one “fit for eating and cooking”)and did a self-test, i.e. applying it like a leave-in hair-treatment overnight and next day just washing/shampooing my hair as usual. result : best hair ever !
    (esp. now with dry air due to heating season – i am a natural red-haired woman w/freckles)
    then i took a sample (small container) to my beautician for her hair.
    and then another one to my massage therapist, which has been using it ever since to massage me.
    i am hooked 😉 and very happy to have found this, finally, for me.

  2. indeed 🙂
    btw, just saw “my beautician” (alas, she is much younger and ok for me considering my geographical location. well) again today and she confirmed also my experience w/ coconut oil for hair treatment.
    i am looking forward to your post on Marula oil and the science behind it Deb.

    n.b. i usually read all your posts, usually “lurk” and only comment when …

    <3 your blog

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