The coconut has been nourishing Polynesian, Melanesian and many Asian populations for eons. It’s a favorite staple of Paleo cuisine due to the special properties of its fatty acids and its unmatched culinary versatility. There’s coconut flour, coconut flakes, shredded coconut, desiccated coconut, coconut cream, creamed coconut, coconut butter, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut water, coconut sap and coconut sugar. Are you wondering if adding coconut to your diet is right for you? Or maybe you just can’t get the dang thing open? Read on and fill your mind with coconut knowledge (and instructions on how to get the dang thing open!)
The Nutritional Value of Coconuts
Serving Size: 1 piece (2” x 2” x ½”) (45g)
- Calories: 159
- Total Fat: 15 g
- Saturated Fat: 13 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: .6 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: .2 g
- Trans Fat: 0
- Lauric Acid: 6686 mg
- Carbohydrate: 6.9
- Protein: 1.5 g
- Sodium: 9 mg
- Fiber: 4 gm
- Manganese: .7 mg
- Copper: .2 mg
The Health Benefits of Coconuts
Coconut meat is an excellent source of manganese and copper and contains significant amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium. Coconut meat also contains small amounts of some B-vitamins including folate, thiamin, vitamin B6, niacin and pantothenic acid.
Coconuts are edible even in their immature green stage of development. This is when coconut water, prized for its electrolyte content, is sweetest. Coconut water is fat-free unlike coconut meat, which is comprised mostly fat but also contains protein and a generous amount of fiber. Ninety percent of coconut’s fat is saturated and in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are associated with many health benefits and have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol, provide an immediate source of energy, increase satiety, and increase metabolic rate. Furthermore, the MCFAs in coconut, namely, lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid are antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal. In addition to these benefits, phenolic compounds in coconut act as antioxidants.
Therapeutically, due to their ability to form ketones, MCFAs have been used to improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients as well as uncontrolled seizures in children. For people with limited GI function, MCFAs provide an easily digestible and absorbable form of fat because they do not require the assistance of pancreatic enzymes or bile salts for processing and they transport directly from the intestinal tract to the liver via the portal vein.
Inulin, a fructan, is a prebiotic fiber found in coconut meat that promotes the proliferation of healthy bacteria. However, fructans can aggravate symptoms in people with IBS, IBD, SIBO, or FODMAP intolerance and may need to be limited.
Seasonality of Coconuts/Where to Buy Coconuts
Coconuts are available year round but are at their peak October thru December. You can find them at most large supermarkets, Asian markets and natural food stores. Look for brown “hairy” coconuts that are heavy for their size, without blemishes or soft spots and give a good slosh when shaken. The shelf life of fresh whole coconut is between 3 and 6 months and a telltale sign that a coconut is past its prime is a greyish color around the eyes – the 3 spots at the top. When opened, coconut meat should be pure white, not yellow and will last for a week in the refrigerator or for up to 10 months in the freezer.
Are Coconuts Paleo?
Yes! For the Paleo set who avoids dairy, coconut products are a great substitute. Coconut milk and cream hold their own in recipes that call for milk or cream such as curries, soups, sauces and smoothies. Coconut oil is great for medium heat cooking and baking as an alternative to butter, ghee or other oils. Coconut water can provide hydration and electrolyte replacement post-workout.
Who shouldn’t use coconut products? Some people just don’t tolerate coconut very well. As mentioned earlier, FODMAP intolerance may make coconut milk and coconut meat products a problem especially for those with IBS, IBD or SIBO. Because coconut oil is pure fat, it should be tolerable to just about everyone. Allergies to coconut are rare but have been documented. Although coconut is classified as a fruit and not a botanical nut, those allergic to tree nuts may want to talk to their allergist before adding coconut to their diets.
How To Open a Coconut
Using a hammer and a large nail or a screwdriver, tap a hole in the softest eye of the coconut and drain the water from it. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes or so until it cracks. Pull apart or carefully pry open with a strong knife or screwdriver.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), Tree Nut Allergy, http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/food-allergies/types/Pages/tree-nut-allergy.aspx