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.