Coconuts are an amazingly healthy food. They’re packed full of healthy fats and nutrients which nourish and heal us inside and out. But it can get confusing figuring out which form of coconut is the right choice for the result you’re trying to achieve. So let’s take a look at coconut water, coconut milk and coconut oil, find out the differences, and demystify the mighty coconut. We’ll find out about the health benefits of each one and learn how to put them to use.
Don’t be fooled by the word water, coconut water is actually coconut juice and an 8 ounce servings contains 45 calories. That’s low calorie as far as most drinks go but if you’re counting calories don’t forget to add them in.
Coconut water is the juice that collects on the inside of the coconut. If you’ve watched someone give a green coconut a quick chop with a sickle and then lift it to their lips, it’s the coconut water that they’re drinking.
The juice is sweet, sterile and shockingly healthy! Islanders have enjoyed the benefits of coconut water for eons, and now it’s a popular drink in our part of the world too. Thanks to its nutrient profile it’s the perfect choice for post workout hydration. And it makes a great addition to smoothies too.
This popular thirst quencher is 95% water and the other 5% is bursting with the good stuff that your body craves – sugars, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids, cytokine, and phyto-hormones, it’s got the lot.
Potassium – Coconut water contains an excellent amount of the electrolyte potassium, with 250mg of potassium in each 100 ml of the water, together with 105 mg of sodium. These two electrolytes help to replenish lost electrolytes dues to sweating or electrolyte deficiency in the body due to diarrhea.
In fact coconut water is generally offered to patients with diarrhea in many tropical regions. The osmotic concentration (which facilitates the absorption of water) of coconut water is slightly greater than the oral rehydration solution (ORS) recommended by the World Health Organization, so it’s a very good alternative to homemade ORS and commercial preparations like Pedialyte.
Low potassium is also associated with high blood pressure.
One serving of coconut water covers about 13% of your daily potassium requirement.
Magnesium – An important mineral that many people don’t get enough of. With only 32% of the population consuming adequate amounts. Magnesium deficiency causes low energy levels and can lead to conditions like asthma, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Low magnesium levels are also associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Andrea Rosanoff, PhD, director of research and science information outreach for the Center for Magnesium Education & Research, LLC, in Pahoa, Hawaii says
“That common risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome are all associated with low nutritional magnesium status or low magnesium dietary intakes,” she says. “Also that there are many peer-reviewed studies that show correcting or preventing a nutritional magnesium deficit can and will correct or prevent cardiovascular disease events, including death,”
So you can see that magnesium in pretty important! I’ll tell you something else that low magnesium causes. Constipation. If you have any difficulties in that department (hello low carbers), a teaspoon of magnesium citrate will soon put things back in good working order. But with a serving of coconut water taking care of around 14% of your daily magnesium needs, this tasty drink might be enough to keep everything running smoothly in the first place.
Copper – Copper is important for a healthy metabolism, as well as contributing to cell growth and repair. It is needed to properly carry out many enzyme reactions and to maintain the health of connective tissue.
One serving of coconut water provides around 11% of your daily needs.
Cytokinins – Research studies show that the cytokinins – kinetin and trans-zeatin – in coconut water are found to have significant anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer), and anti-thrombotic (anti-clot formation) effects.
Enzymes – Coconut water helps to ensure good digestive function and metabolism thanks to its bioactive enzymes such as acid phosphatase, catalase, dehydrogenase, diastase and peroxidase.
Vitamins – Coconut water also contains essential B-complex vitamins – riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pyridoxine, folates – and vitamin C.
Lauric Acid – Lauric acid is found in breast milk and is antibacterial, antifungal antiprozoal and antiviral.
**Trivia moment – Coconuts are grown in Malaysia, Polynesia and southern Asia. Spanish explorers named them cocos, which means ‘grinning face’, because the three little eyes on the base made the fruits look like monkey faces.**
Coconut milk is high in healthy saturated fats and it’s a great cooking ingredient. It’s made by grating the flesh of the coconut and soaking it in hot water. The ‘cream’ rises to the top and is skimmed off, and the remaining liquid is strained through cheesecloth to give us coconut milk perfect for creamy desserts and sauces. More strainings create a thinner milk which is better used in curries and soups.
Coconut milk is lactose free which makes it a good dairy milk substitute if you’re lactose intolerant. And as it’s not actually from a nut, it can be used in place of almond milk for those with nut allergies.
Don’t be put off by coconut’s saturated fats. Saturated fats have been given a rough ride in nutritional circles for decades with the standard advice being that we should avoid them completely or include only small amounts in our diets.
Well, the opposite is actually true. We need saturated fats for a whole host of processes in our bodies, and our brains are made of the stuff. A diet deficient in saturated fat is a diet deficient in the very substance the brain uses as a building material.
Saturated fat plays an important role in cardiovascular health. Including saturated fats in your diet reduces the levels of a substance called lipoprotein (a) that is strongly associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Research has also shown the benefits of saturated fat for women on weight loss diets, with those eating the greatest percentage of total dietary fat as saturated fat, losing the most weight. Eat fat to lose fat!
Saturated fats also function as signaling messengers in your body that influence metabolism and ensure that insulin functions appropriately. That’s another important piece of the weight loss puzzle, and a benefit for those with insulin resistance or diabetes.
Without saturated fats you might just get sick more often. Saturated fats like the lauric acid in coconut milk, play important roles in immune health. Without sufficient saturated fatty acids to use, white blood cells are hampered in their ability to recognize and destroy viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Saturated fat is also known to lower cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure.
Coconut milk has some amazing benefits for your skin and hair too. It makes a great conditioner for dry and brittle hair, and helps to prevent and seal split ends.
Mixed with olive oil it’s a natural, safe and moisturizing replacement for your facial cleanser. If you’re prone to acne, then using coconut milk alone as a cleanser will help your skin enormously. It’s antibacterial and the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil won’t clog your pores.
Coconut milk soothes sunburn and relieves skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis because of its anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and cooling properties.
While it’s handy to keep a box or can of coconut milk in your pantry, the best coconut milk is the milk you prepare yourself.
Choose fresh coconuts that sound a little sloshy when you give them a shake.
Crack open the coconut with a heavy cleaver or hammer. Strain the coconut water and drink it up or save it in the fridge for later use.
Remove the white flesh from the shell and rinse it well. Then chop it up into pieces and whizz it in your food processor or blender along with 2 cups of water.
Strain the liquid through cheesecloth or a fine metal strainer to separate the milk from the pulp and give the pulp a firm squeeze to get the last drops of milk out.
Save the pulp to use in smoothies or dry it out for coconut flour or flakes for baking.
**More trivia – The coconut palm is known as ‘kalpa vriksha’ in Sanskrit, which means, ‘tree which gives all that is necessary for living’. That’s because every part can be used, the water, milk, flesh, sugar and oil. Even the husks and leaves are used.**
Like coconut milk, coconut oil has plenty of health benefits, taking care of us inside and out. With coconut oil the benefits are concentrated because there is no water content.
The oil is extracted from pressed coconut flesh.
Whether using it in our cooking, taking it medicinally or slathering it over our skin coconut oil is fantastic in every way.
As with coconut milk, coconut oil is high in healthy saturated fats and you can use it to replace butter, oil or shortening in your cooking. Make sure that the oil hasn’t been refined with chemical solvents, or processed at a very high heat. As the heat used rises more of the healthy properties in the oil get degraded. To get the most antioxidant benefit from coconut oil choose cold pressed oils.
Cold pressed oil is processed in an environment that never exceeds 120 degrees fahrenheit, whereas expeller pressed oils are typically processed at around 210 degrees, but can go as high as 400 degrees. Oils processed at 400 degrees require further processing with bleach and deodorants, so be sure to check out the brand that you’re going to buy.
Coconut oil will be solid when stored at room temperature or below (it can get really hard and be difficult to scoop when it’s cold) and will completely liquify at 76 degrees. Between those two states it will be pretty mushy. But all three states are normal and your oil’s healthy properties won’t be affected one way or the other.
Coconut oil’s high smoke point (350F) makes it great for stir frying and sautéing, but you’ll need a different oil for deep frying.
Coconut oil can help you to lose weight thanks to its metabolism boosting medium chain fatty acids and if you eat a couple of tablespoons a day, you’ll get all of these benefits too.
- Antibacterial – stops harmful bacteria and infections
- Antiviral – destroys viruses that cause influenza, herpes and hepatitis
- Antifungal – destroys fungus and yeast
- anti-inflammatory – suppresses inflammation and repairs tissue
- antimicrobial – fights infection
- Antioxidant – protects against free radical damage
- Anticarcinogenic – boosts the immune system and helps to prevent cancer cells from spreading
- anti parasitic/proterozoic – rids the body of lice and parasites
Coconut oil indirectly helps to control blood sugar by helping glucose enter your cells, reducing insulin levels in your blood. The saturated fat in coconut oil also slows down the digestive process which allows a steady stream of energy release from your food instead of the quick rush that spikes insulin levels.
The long chain fatty acids in other vegetable oils – corn, soybean, canola – actually reduce the cell’s ability to absorb blood glucose which aggravates insulin resistance and diabetes. So if you have insulin issues switching to coconut oil could be beneficial.
Coconut Oil protects your cardiovascular health.
Coconut oil doesn’t cause arterial damage, unlike polyunsaturated fatty acid oils.
A study done in Papua New Guinea (where coconut is a staple food) found no signs of stroke or heart attack among the study’s participants. A separate study conducted on Polynesians (who consume over 60% of their total calories from coconut), also showed no evidence of heart disease.
Coconut oil kills candida – Candida is a fungus that spreads throughout the bloodstream and is estimated to affect one in three Americans. Candida overgrowth manifests in many different ways and has been linked to an inability to lose weight, poor sleep, joint pain, brain fog, bad breath, gas and bloating and higher stress levels. Candida imbalance can also decrease stomach acid which causes inflammation and poor digestion.
Natural Alzheimer’s treatment – The brain of an alzheimer sufferer has lost the ability to create its own insulin and insulin is necessary to process glucose into energy. The brain can function on another energy supply however, ketones. The digestion of the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil by the liver produces ketones, which according to research could create a source of energy enabling the brain to repair itself. One research paper concluded
“The results of this pilot study provide a basis for further investigation of the effects of coconut oil, or its constituents, on neuronal survival focusing on mechanisms that may be involved,”
Cures urinary tract infections – the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil work as a natural antibiotic, disrupting the lipid coating on bacteria and killing them.
Helps arthritis – In an animal study coconut oil was found to inhibit arthritis due to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action.
Energy power house – Cold pressed coconut oil can give you more energy and increase your metabolism. The medium chain fatty acids in a cold pressed oil are sent directly to your liver to be turned into energy. Coconut oil is a popular source of fuel for triathletes who need sustained energy release to power them through their endurance events.
Heals stomach ulcers and reduces ulcerative colitis – Coconut aids your good gut bacteria while destroying the harmful pathogens that cause disease – stomach ulcers are caused by the H-pylori bacteria.
Coconut oil also aids digestion as it helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and calcium and magnesium.
Enhances the action of omega-3 fatty acids – When coconut oil is taken at the same time as omega-3 it can make it twice as effective, making it readily available to be digested and used by the body.
Topical uses for coconut oil
Moisturizes skin, kills bacteria and reduces inflammation – Coconut oil is serious nourishment for all skin types. It’s easily absorbed and deeply penetrating. It’s a perfect treatment for eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis thanks to its caprylic and lauric acid, which work to reduce inflammation and promotes healing. Its antibacterial action kills the bacteria that causes acne, allowing the skin to heal.
Healthy teeth and gums – Coconut oil is one of the best oils for oil pulling thanks to its medium chain fatty acids. Oil pulling is a technique used to kill bacteria in the mouth and draw toxins from tissues. It’s such an effective technique that it can even halt and reverse tooth decay.
Conditions hair and treats dandruff and dry scalp – when used as a deep conditioning hair mask, coconut oil soothes and moisturizes inflamed skin and kills the fungus that causes dandruff. It locks moisture into the hair shaft and leaves hair soft and full of shine.
As you can see coconut is well deserving of its Sanskrit name because it really does give ‘all that is necessary for living’. It’s food, it’s water, it’s medicine.
Use coconut water as a refreshing post workout drink to rehydrate your body and replenish lost electrolytes while benefiting from it’s vital minerals. And keep some on hand for upset stomach emergencies as an oral rehydration solution.
Coconut milk is a fantastic cooking ingredient which livens up food with its delicious flavor while it nourishes you with healing fatty acids. Use it on your skin and hair for a terrific beauty boost.
Coconut oil is a block buster healer inside and out. Use it to replace unhealthy oils in your cooking and baking, take a couple of spoonfuls each day as a preventative and restorative health measure, and treat your skin to liberal amounts of this silky, fragrant oil.