The Power of the Coconut
Few plants have as many uses and health benefits as the coconut. I love incorporating coconut products into my baking and cooking.
Here are my favorite coconut products and why!
1. Coconut Oil is wonderful for baking, sautéing and can replace personal care products like lotion and lip balm!
It was previously believed that tropical oils such as coconut oil were bad for heart health, but as science and nutrition have advanced, it has become clear that coconut oil is not only great for heart health, it has many other benefits as well.
The unique medium chain fatty acid in coconut oil (called lauric acid) has multiple health benefits including lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol, increasing the “good” HDL cholesterol, protects against degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis, supports healthy thyroid function, strengthens the immune system, and increases the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. (1)
Lauric acid does not store easily in the body and instead is used immediately for energy and speeds up metabolism. This unique property actually helps your body lose weight! It is MUCH healthier than vegetable oil or canola oil, which are highly processed and can be genetically modified. It also has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties!
Coconut oil has a high heat point, meaning that it is safer to cook with than oils like olive oil which burn at lower heats. When an oil burns or starts smoking, the fat has turned into free radicals which contribute to cancer cell development. Never add oil to a pan that is already hot, and if the oil starts smoking, take the pan off of the heat and then wash it once it cools. It’s better to start over than to eat food cooked in free radicals!
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so it may need to be warmed up before using in some recipes. It is best to store it in your pantry rather than your refrigerator. Coconut oil has a delicious buttery flavor and will not make your food taste like coconut. I always buy my coconut oil from Costco since it is about half the price of coconut oil at the grocery store. It’s best to buy coconut oil that is virgin, organic and fair trade.
2. Coconut Sugar is my all-time favorite coconut product!
It is made from the sap of the flower of the coconut palm rather than the coconut itself. It is a low glycemic sugar which means it is safe for diabetics and will not raise your insulin levels or create cravings like processed sugars do. It also contains minerals and other nutrients unlike refined cane sugar. You can use it in any recipe in place of refined sugar with a 1:1 ratio. It tastes delicious and is great for adding to your morning coffee in place of artificial sweeteners! Just make sure it is raw and unrefined.
3. Coconut Flour is another great product.
It is made from grinding up the dried flesh of the coconut. It can be used in baking but unlike other flours, it is very dry and soaks up a lot of moisture. I recommend using recipes that already call for coconut flour until you get used to it. Here is my one of my favorite coconut flour recipes for coffee cake! (2) Coconut flour is rich in fiber and protein which means it helps you feel full and satisfied much longer than refined flours. It is also high in manganese which is important in the absorption of many other vitamins and minerals. Coconut flour is gluten free and a great option for those who have a sensitivity to gluten.
4. Coconut Milk is a great replacement for those who have a dairy sensitivity for adding to cereal and for drinking.
Just make sure that it does not have any added sweeteners or carrageenan, which has been shown to cause gastrointestinal distress and inflammation. Coconut milk also comes in a canned form. This is usually very thick and needs to be shaken before use. It is great for recipes that need a higher fat content such as homemade ice cream or whipped cream. Here is one of my favorite coconut milk ice cream recipes! (3)
5. Coconut Butter contains the flesh of the coconut as well as the oil.
It can be used as a spread in place of dairy butter, can be added to smoothies or even just eaten plain! Depending on the temperature and humidity of where you live it may be smooth or hard and crumbly. You may need to warm it up in a water bath or a warm (not hot) oven before using. If it gets too crumbly, add in some coconut oil and stir it up.
6. Coconut Water is another great product made from coconuts.
It is full of electrolytes, potassium and vitamins and is very hydrating. It’s like Gatorade, but without all of the artificial colors and chemical additives! That being said, there are a lot of coconut waters on the market these days and some are better than others. Here is a great article (4) on how to choose the best coconut water.
7. Dried Coconut is another great way to get coconut into your diet.
Just make sure that it is ONLY coconut and does not have any sugar or preservatives added. You can use it in homemade trail mix, or my favorite, homemade Almond Joys! (5)
References and Recipes:
1. Dee McCafferey, CDC, The Science of Skinny (Boston Massachusetts, 2012) 241-245.