Coconut Recipes and Health Benefits of Coconut Flesh, Milk, Water, and Oil

Almost everyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with coconut. I just can’t get enough of the stuff. (I also really love mango and extremely spicy food… perhaps I’m not meant to live in the Midwest?)

I love coconut so much that I eat some sort of coconut product two times per week. Lately I began to worry whether or not I might be eating too much coconut. After all, hadn’t I heard that coconut is high in saturated fat?

So I did a little research. Yes, it turns out, coconut flesh, milk, and oil are high in saturated fat, and this fact has led to some controversy over whether coconut is unhealthy. Saturated fatty acids tend to raise levels of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) in the blood, and elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with heart disease.

However, not all saturated fats are created equally. Unlike the long-chain saturated fatty acids found in animal products, the principal fatty acid in coconut is lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid.

Lauric acid has potent antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. It’s one of the most important essential fatty acids in maintaining the body’s immune system. So eating coconut in moderation can actually be good for your health.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy coconut!

1. Curries

Coconut-milk-based curries, especially spicy Thai red curries, are my idea of heaven.

2. Coconut Water

Coconut water, the juice of young, green coconuts, is very high in electrolytes. It’s the ultimate natural sports drink. Plus it’s fat-free!

3. Vegan Cooking

Tropical Asian cuisines like Thai, Indian, and Indonesian lend themselves very naturally to vegan cooking. Coconut oil and milk are key staples of these food cultures.

4. Breakfast

Shredded coconut is the secret ingredient in my granola, and it’s also great on steamed pumpkin or banana for an ethnic vegan breakfast.

5. My Latest Coconut Obsession: Coconut Butter

Coconut butter is a specialty product that contains both coconut oil and coconut flesh. Unlike high-heat coconut oil, coconut butter will burn if you put too much heat on it, so it’s best added at the end of cooking. Additionally, while coconut oil only smells like coconut, coconut butter smells and tastes like coconut. Try it on grilled corn, melted over popcorn, or in oatmeal.

Health Note: One of the reasons coconut has gotten a bad rap is because of the negative health effects of processed or “partially hydrogenated” coconut oil. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it becomes a trans fat. Trans fats are closely linked with heart disease because they increase LDL cholesterol and also impede the body’s ability to utilize HDL. So avoid processed foods with “partially hydrogenated coconut oil” in the ingredient list and always choose virgin coconut oil and butter.

Image courtesy of brandon king via a Creative Commons license.

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