Once upon a time coconut got a bad rap, Now it’s being touted as a superfood. What’s the final word? According to everydayhealth.com the final word on the health benefits of coconut has yet to be determined, at least by U.S. experts.
“There are very few people in the United States, if anyone, looking at coconut health effects,” said Tom Brenna, PhD, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University. Much of the research on the health benefits of coconut comes from India, a country that dominates the production of coconut food products - potentially tainting research results. What is known about coconuts is that - in moderation - it offers a healthier type of saturated fat and fiber and nutrients such as iron, potassium, selenium, choline, phosphorus, and niacin.
Here are more pros and cons:
Coconut meat is a good source of fiber according to, Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS, an assistant specialist for food composition and health education in the department of human nutrition, food, and animal sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. But she said eating too much can act as a laxative.
Perhaps more alarming, coconut is high in saturated fat. But studies among people who eat coconut meat regularly, such as residents of the islands of Indonesia, show coconut does not contribute to heart disease development, perhaps in part because diets including coconut also traditionally include fish, vegetables, and rice. Rather, heart disease risk in populations that eat coconut rises as people’s diets start to contain more meat, eggs, and dietary cholesterol.
Current thinking suggests that including coconut meat in your diet is as good for your heart as other sources of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. But remember - everything in moderation.
Coconut water and potassium? The truth is, health claims attached to coconut water might not actually hold water. One manufacturer, Vita Coco, recently settled a class-action lawsuit that challenged the health claims the company made about its products - the product as not as “super hydrating,” as it claims to be. And while coconut water does contain high potassium levels, it may be too low in sodium as a beverage for long-endurance sports. So while coconut water may taste good, refresh you, and even provide some added potassium, there’s no clinically proven health benefit to drinking it.
Coconut Butter is a food that’s 60 to 80 percent fat. There’s not a lot of data about any possible health benefits of coconut butter and coconut fats and oils are better if they’re prepared slowly under low heat. Because many coconut products come from outside the United States, it can be difficult to know the details of their preparation - bu your sense of smell can provide some clues. High heat removes coconut scent. Look for a food with true coconut aroma - the label shouldn’t suggest that coconut fragrance was added. If you find a product you like, use small amounts in place of other fats in your diet. As with dairy butter, overeating coconut butter can lead to weight gain.
Coconut milk as a dairy substitute is a staple ingredient for curries and soups from India and Thailand. If you’re lactose-intolerant and enjoy the flavor of coconut, consider using the milk in place of dairy in some recipes. But it does lower iron bioavailability, meaning your body might not be able to get iron out of the foods that you eat along with the milk. (The fix is to eat iron-rich foods at separate meals.
On the other hand, the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition published a paper that showed that vegetables rich in vitamin A, such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes, yield more vitamin A when eaten in a curry made with coconut milk.
Coconut oil as a dairy fat stand-in? Several decades ago, a highly processed, scentless, and flavorless coconut oil, also called copra oil, came onto the market. Researchers ultimately showed that it contributed to unhealthy cholesterol in lab animals. Today you can find virgin coconut oil, which has not been tested in the United States, but which may be processed more gently, therefore preserving the heart-healthy fats associated with coconut. The bottom line? Use it but keep an eye on lipid levels.
Coconut ice cream and calcium. It can be a good source of calcium, research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed. Plus it tastes good.