Coco Loco

Confused by all of the chatter about the health benefits or risks of coconut? Is coconut a true “health food” or another marketing diet food scam? As a lover of most things coconut, I was feeling a bit perplexed by all of the headlines and recipes I had been seeing lately.

What IS the difference between coconut water, coconut oil and coconut milk? From a health perspective, it really matters what type of coconut product you are thinking about using in your recipes, eating and drinking. Read on for the details.

Coconut water is the water from inside a green, unripe coconut. It is fat-free and cholesterol-free, contains more potassium than 4 bananas and is a good alternate source for hydration after water. It does contain carbohydrates (sugar- 60 calories per 11 oz. serving) and electrolytes (like potassium). It is "healthier" for you than a sports drink because it has fewer calories, less sodium and more potassium than most sports drinks (like Gatorade).

Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat (higher percentage than butter, beef fat, or lard). Too much saturated fat is bad for cardiovascular health because it can raise LDL cholesterol (the "bad" type). BUT coconut oil also gives "good" cholesterol (HDL) a boost. It is also a plant-based oil which contains antioxidants which can be beneficial to health (butter, lard, and beef fat do not have these antioxidants). From what I read, it seems that these HDL-raising effects of coconut oil make it a slightly better choice for cooking from a health-perspective than butter, beef fat or lard, but that there are other, healthier oils available which could help to reduce the risk of heart disease. These include canola, corn, safflower, olive oils.

Coconut milk is made from a brew of coconut meat and water. Per cup, the full-fat variety of coconut milk contains 445 calories and 48 grams of fat (43 of which are saturated). Substituting the low-fat variety can cut about 2/3 of that fat and calories, and therefore can be used in moderation (1-2 times/week). It is lactose-free, so is a good substitute for those trying to avoid lactose. Remember to look at the sugar content in the sweetened varieties.

Here is a link from the BBC which includes some yummy-sounding recipes for coconut milk at the bottom if you were looking for ways to incorporate coconut milk into your meals:

Hoping that this has helped to clear up some confusion so that now you can have coconut in your diet while still staying healthy.

Amy Harris MS, RN, CNM is a certified nurse-midwife, founder and health writer for Well-Scripted.

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