Coconut and its health benefits

Coconut is the exotic fruit par excellence. It is commercially available in various forms: whole, grated, shaved, in chips, milk, cream or water. It can be cooked in both salty and sweet dishes.

Characteristics of coconut:

Coconut and its health benefits: understand everything in 2 minutes

  • Rich in fat,
  • Rich in fibre;
  • Stimulates intestinal transit;
  • Play on satiety;
  • Source of iron and phosphorus.

What is coconut?

Coconut identity card:

  • Type: Fruit;
  • Family: Areceae;
  • Origin: Indo-Malaysia region;
  • Season: November to February;
  • Color: White flesh;
  • Flavour: Sweet.

Characteristics of coconut

Coconuts grow in a “diet” of 10 to 20 fruits on coconut trees. At harvest, it weighs on average 1 kg or 1.5 kg. The coconut is ovoid in shape and consists of a thick layer of smooth, green skin covering a thick fibre shell. Underneath this brown shell is the white flesh and a liquid called “coconut water”.

A word from the nutritionist

Coconut is high in fat, so it is important to limit its consumption.

Nutritional values

For 100g of coconut:

Nutrients Quantities
Proteins 6.62 g
Lipids 66.3 g
Carbohydrates 8.56 g
Water 2.63 g
Fibres 14 g
Vitamin C 1.5 mg
Vitamin B3 0.6 mg
Vitamin B6 0.17 mg
Vitamin B9 16.5 µg
Iron 3.46 mg
Manganese 2.75 mg

 

16 benefits of coconut: why eat it?

  1. Foods contain many fatty acids in different proportions and these have different impacts on cardiovascular health. In coconut, about 90% of the fat is in the form of saturated fatty acids, which is particularly high for a food of plant origin.
  2. Like proteins from other plants, coconut proteins could have a beneficial effect on blood lipids. Indeed, total cholesterol and blood triglycerides would decrease in animals that have consumed an extract of this protein. These effects could be related to the low lysine and high arginine (two amino acids) content of coconut protein, a ratio that is found in other plant proteins with similar lipid-lowering properties.
  3. Coconut contains a high amount of dietary fibre (a set of substances that are only contained in plant products and are not digested by the body). In addition to preventing constipation, a high-fibre diet can help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, as well as control type 2 diabetes and appetite.
  4. Coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years. Some people even attribute benefits to it, even contributing to weight loss. One of the hypotheses raised is that coconut oil contains a type of fat, medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which would be easier for the human body to use than other types of fat. MCTs would provide 1 to 2 calorie(s) less than other types of fat. Although MCT consumption increases the body’s ability to use fat, the increase in energy expenditure caused by MCT consumption is temporary. Indeed, after about two weeks, the body adapts and uses TCM just like other types of fat.
  5. Coconut milk is an excellent source of iron for men and a source for women, while dried coconut is a good source of iron for men and a source for women, their needs being different. Raw coconut, on the other hand, is a source of iron. Every cell in the body contains iron. This mineral is essential for oxygen transport and the formation of red blood cells. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It should be noted that iron contained in plants (such as coconut) is less well absorbed by the body, compared to iron contained in food of animal origin. Its absorption is favoured when consumed with certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.
  6. Coconut and coconut milk are excellent sources of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor of several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also helps to prevent damage caused by free radicals.
  7. Dried coconut and coconut milk are excellent sources of copper, while raw coconut is a good source. As a component of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (a protein used for tissue structure and repair) in the body. Several enzymes containing copper also contribute to the body’s defense against free radicals.
  8. Coconut milk is a good source of phosphorus, while coconut is a source. Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it contributes to the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps to maintain the pH of the blood at normal levels. Finally, phosphorus is one of the components of cell membranes.
  9. Dried coconut is a good source of selenium, while raw coconut and coconut milk are sources. This mineral works with one of the main antioxidant enzymes, preventing the formation of free radicals in the body. It also helps to convert thyroid hormones into their active form.
  10. Dried coconut and coconut milk are sources of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in bone development, protein building, enzymatic actions, muscle contraction, dental health and the functioning of the immune system. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and the transmission of nerve impulses.
  11. Dried coconut and coconut milk are sources of potassium. In the body, it is used to balance the pH of the blood and to stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach, thus promoting digestion. In addition, it facilitates the contraction of muscles, including the heart, and participates in the transmission of nerve impulses.
  12. Dried coconut and coconut milk are sources of zinc while raw coconut is a source for women only. Zinc is involved in immune responses, genetics, taste perception, wound healing and fetal development. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it is involved in the synthesis (manufacture), storage and release of insulin.
  13. Coconut milk is a source of vitamin B3. Also known as niacin, vitamin B3 is involved in many metabolic reactions and particularly contributes to the production of energy from the carbohydrates, fats, proteins and alcohol we ingest. It also collaborates in the DNA formation process, allowing normal growth and development.
  14. Dried coconut is a source of pantothenic acid. Also known as vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is part of a key coenzyme that allows us to properly use the energy in the foods we eat. It is also involved in several stages of the manufacture of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses) and hemoglobin.
  15. Dried coconut is a source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is part of coenzymes that participate in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids and in the synthesis (manufacturing) of neurotransmitters (messengers in the nervous system). It also contributes to the production of red blood cells and allows them to carry more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and contributes to the proper functioning of the immune system. Finally, this vitamin plays a role in the formation of certain nerve cell components and in the modulation of hormone receptors.
  16. Coconut milk is a source of folate. Folate (vitamin B9) is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of genetic material (DNA, RNA), in the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, and in the healing of wounds and sores. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the fetus.

Choosing the right coconut

Coconuts are found all year round, but especially from September to January. Shake it to make sure it still contains water (once all the water has been turned into flesh, it takes on a soap flavour and is no longer edible). It must be intact, while its three “eyes” should be free of mould. Despite these precautions, the flesh may be rancid, in which case all that remains is to discard it.

The dried coconut flesh (grated or flaked) must be white (without browning, a sign of oxidation) and have a pleasant smell, with no hint of rancidity. Vigilance is required because dried coconut can be added sugar and treated with sulphites. Organic coconut products are available in natural health food stores.

Canned milk and cream are commercially available, as well as a fine soluble powder that can be used as such in preparations or diluted in water to make milk.

In most cases, coconut oil is extracted using chemical solvents, refined and deodorized. However, organic virgin oils that are simply extracted by pressure can be found in natural products stores.

Store well

Whole coconut: Two weeks at room temperature, one or two months in the refrigerator.

Homemade pieces of meat and milk: A few days in the refrigerator. The shredded pieces and coconut can be frozen by putting them in a bag in the freezer, where they will keep for eight to ten months.

Dried coconut can be kept for several months in a cool, dry and dark place. Keep it in an airtight container or in its original packaging to prevent it from browning due to oxidation.

Coconut oil can be stored for six months or more at room temperature, and even longer in the refrigerator. Keep container closed to prevent oxidation and keep away from heat to prevent spontaneous ignition.

Preparation of the coconut

How to cook it? How to match it?

To open a coconut and remove the flesh, pierce the eyes with a sharp instrument. Empty the liquid and set aside. Then place the nut in an oven set at 190°C (375°F) for 15 or 20 minutes, then hammer the shell all around its circumference until it splits. Cut it into pieces, remove the flesh with a knife and remove the brown skin with a vegetable peeler.

To prepare coconut milk: mix two cups of grated coconut meat (dried or fresh) and two cups of hot water (proportions may vary depending on the desired degree of dilution) in a bowl, let cool and pass the mixture through a cloth-lined sieve. Gather the four corners of the fabric to form a pocket and press to extract the liquid. To make it easier, you can also put the coconut and water in the blender before extracting the milk.

To obtain cream: follow the same instructions, then let the milk rest for a few hours and use a spoon to collect the thick substance that has risen to the surface.

To toast the coconut: grate or finely slice the meat, or use grated coconut, and cook it for two hours on a baking sheet in an oven set at 95°C (205°F). Stir regularly and make sure it does not brown too much. Store in an airtight container.

Milk and cream

Coconut milk and cream can replace their animal equivalents in all preparations: on morning cereals, pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, soufflés, smoothies, sauces, etc. Cook vegetables and pasta or poach a fish. Here are some other suggestions.

  • In vegetable creams (for example, mushroom cream) or in Indian soup made up of finely chopped coconut milk, tomatoes and cucumbers, ground peanuts, thickened with chickpea flour (or another legume) and seasoned with chili, cumin seeds and coriander leaves.
  • In a flan: put the flan mixture (eggs, coconut cream and sugar or honey) in a small yellow squash, cleaned of its seeds and stringy parts. Steam, cool and slice. This is a healthy dessert with contrasting colours.
  • In the arroz con coco of Panama: cook rice in coconut milk, adding raisins if desired. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey.
  • Poached fruit: slowly cook pieces of pineapple or other tropical fruit in coconut milk seasoned, if desired, with a little pepper, roasted mustard seeds and turmeric.
  • Stews: In India and Thailand, coconut milk and cream are used in many meat or vegetable stews.

Fresh or dried flesh

Beyond the classic macaroons and other treats that are often too sweet to be really healthy, coconut can be used in many preparations:

  • About 20 g will be added to a homemade mayonnaise, which will be completed with finely chopped fresh herbs.
  • They will be made into roasts, the traditional Indian flatbreads that Sri Lankan Tamils prepare in their own way by adding grated coconut to the flour (about 200 g of coconut to 500 g of flour). Season the preparation with green onions browned in oil and cumin powder, add water and knead. Shape into balls and roll them out. Brown on both sides in a little oil or clarified butter.
  • Add fresh meat shavings to vegetable or fruit salads. This is an unusual blend, borrowed from Indian cuisine: banana, cucumber, coconut, fresh coriander, lemon juice, ground peanuts and, if desired, hot pepper.
  • Vegetable potato: fry for a few minutes the spices of your choice and onions in coconut oil. Add a little water, then the following vegetables, cut into pieces or pieces: green peppers, carrots, broccoli, green beans, potatoes and chives, coating them well with the spicy mixture. Add coconut puree (two cups of grated coconut in a blender with a cup of water). Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Drizzle with lemon juice.
  • Serve a coconut rayta with a spicy curry: to prepare it, brown mustard seeds in clarified butter, add grated coconut and remove from the heat. Stir this mixture into yogurt with banana pieces and coriander leaves. Refrigerate for one hour.
  • Mix oat flakes, raisins, sliced dates with nuts of your choice (flaked almonds, cashew, hazelnut, etc.) and coconut powder. Serve this dry mixture for breakfast, adding a little water and pieces of fresh fruit.
  • Grilled coconut: add it to desserts, as a decoration on a cake or in a muesli.

Oil

  • It can partially or completely replace butter or vegetable oils for cooking food. Like all oils, it should not be smoked, as it becomes toxic.
  • It will replace other oils in frying advantageously, because food absorbs less of it.
  • Use it raw on toast or in vinaigrettes (if necessary, heat it slightly first to melt it).

Side Effects

Allergy to sulphites

Sulphites are one of the nine most common food allergens and their consumption can cause very serious reactions in individuals who are allergic to them.
Sulphites are substances that are naturally present in food and in the body, but also present as food additives used as preservatives.
Coconuts (dried or in juice form) and food products containing them are possible sources of sulphites; it is essential for people with sulphite allergies to read labels carefully to avoid consuming food products containing them. Although the regulations are rigid in this area, the presence of undeclared sulphites in some products (e.g. coconut-based) occurs occasionally. It is therefore important to be doubly vigilant when consuming such products.

Coconut is not a nut

Coconut is not a nut as such but rather the core of a fruit. Thus, it is not an allergenic food for individuals allergic to nuts and is generally not excluded from their diet. However, some people with allergies may still react to coconut. It is important to consult an allergist to ensure that you can safely consume them.

History of coconut

The term “coco” appeared in the language at the beginning of the 16th century. It comes from Portuguese, then from coconut Spanish, which has the approximate meaning of “croquemitano”, “monkey”, “leprechaun” or “spectrum”, alluding to the fact that the hull recalls a shaggy face.

The term “copra” (or “copra”) comes from English or Portuguese, which is borrowed from koppara, a word from a Tamil dialect. It refers more specifically to coconut kernels that have been shelled and dried.

A whole nut!

On average, coconuts weigh between 1 and 1.5 kilos. However, there is a palm tree species whose nut, called “sea coconut” or “coconut buttock” because of its double shape, can weigh 22 kilos, making it the largest seed in the plant kingdom. Very rare and protected, this palm tree of exceptional longevity (it can live from 200 to 400 years) only grows on a few Seychelles islands. A whole symbolism of fertility is attached to the nut, to which the legend attributes aphrodisiac properties.

Researchers have not yet been able to determine with certainty the coconut tree’s place of origin, although the majority of them are in favour of Southeast Asia. With the ability to float, the fruits would have dispersed by the sea to land in many tropical countries where they would have taken root in the sandy soil of the beaches, a habitat that is particularly suitable for this plant. For the populations of the coastal regions, who did not always have access to drinking water, the liquid of its immature nut was a real gift from the gods.

Over time, the coconut tree has colonized all regions of the world between the two tropics. Several varieties have been selected for commercial exploitation, but the wild form persists in many places where its fruit is the main source of fat, protein and a number of minor but essential nutritional components. Some of them claim that without the coconut tree, entire civilizations would not have been created or, at least, would not have survived. Hence its vernacular names of “tree of life”, “tree of wealth”, “jewel of the tropics”, as well as the many myths surrounding its origin among the peoples where it has always played a leading role.

In the West, there is little mention of coconut until the 14th century, when the Italian Marco Polo made his famous trips to Asia. With the expansion of the Portuguese empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, it became popular in Europe and later in North America.

Coconut oil

Green, i.e. immature, the nut contains about half a litre of a milky liquid (coconut water or albumen). As it matures, this liquid is transformed into flesh, which is usually dried in the sun or in the oven to be sold under the name of copra. The milk and coconut cream of the trade are made of this flesh which is crushed with water and then filtered. Coconut oil (also known as “coconut butter” because it is solid at room temperature) is extracted from copra or fresh meat.

Coconut oil is probably the oldest of the fats used in cooking. Long used in Asia and Africa, it also had its place in the diet of Europeans and Americans until the end of the 19th century, before being replaced by other vegetable oils (notably soybean and corn) first for economic reasons, and then because the latter were supposed to be healthier. However, in recent years, it has attracted considerable interest from nutritionists and medical researchers due to its high content of medium-chain fatty acids, which could have significant health effects.

In addition to coconut water, flesh and oil obtained from the fruit, various other food products are obtained from the coconut tree: the sap from the flowers is consumed fresh or is transformed into syrup by boiling and into sugar by crystallization. Fermented, it produces wine and vinegar and, distilled, alcohol. Pollen, palm heart and fresh young shoots are also consumed.

To go further

Ecology and environment

In countries bordering the Pacific, refined coconut oil is used as a fuel in cars to replace diesel. However, this solution is not recommended in northern countries, as the average temperature should never fall below 17°C, at the risk of the oil solidifying. We can imagine the problems…

In addition to the many services that the “tree of life” traditionally provides to human beings, a Peruvian scientist has discovered an unusual use for its nut. It is used as a culture medium to raise a bacterium that kills mosquito larvae responsible for the spread of malaria. This bacterium (one of the forms of Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt), which is widely used in organic agriculture) is an ecological alternative to chemical insecticides used to control mosquitoes, many of which have proven dangerous to livestock and humans.

Although the insecticidal action of this bacterium has been known for a long time, the costs of multiplying it have been high until now, as the operation is carried out in the laboratory. It was therefore necessary to find a way to reduce them while offering a simple technique within the reach of villagers and farmers. After a more or less successful attempt to multiply it by inoculating it into various local fruits, it was discovered that coconut water contained the amino acids and carbohydrates it needed to reproduce, while the protective shell provided a suitable environment for its incubation. The research team therefore designed an incubation kit that included a plastic bag filled with Bt impregnated cotton buds and cotton wool. Simply pierce the coconut, insert a cotton swab and plug the opening with the cotton wool and wait two or three days, after which the nut is cracked and its contents emptied into the water of the ponds, where the mosquito larvae develop. This method can be used wherever the coconut tree grows, which is abundant in many countries where malaria is rampant.