5 Health benefits of coconut, a versatile superfood full of potassium (recipe included)
08/11/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
5 Health benefits of coconut, a versatile superfood full of potassium (recipe included)

Coconut once had a bad rap due to its high calories and saturated fat content. Dietitians used to caution against eating too much coconut and coconut-derived ingredients — such as coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut flour — because of the health risks associated with saturated fat.

But over the past few years, more and more people have begun to embrace coconut as a promising health food, and for good reason. For one, it has been shown to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It’s also packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that protect against inflammation.

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Plus, coconut is an extremely versatile food. It can also be turned into sugar, butter and cream. You can simply eat coconut meat or drink coconut water as is, too. Additionally, you can use coconut or coconut-derived ingredients in savory recipes for a slightly sweet and nutty flavor.

Here’s a closer look at some of the health benefits of coconut:

1. Provides nutrients and antioxidants

Coconut is packed with several essential vitamins and minerals, as well as potent antioxidants.

Here’s what one cup of fresh coconut meat contains:

  • Protein: 6 percent of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Zinc: 9 percent of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 14 percent of the DV
  • Selenium: 16 percent of the DV
  • Potassium: 6 percent of the DV
  • Iron: 11 percent of the DV
  • Copper: 41 percent of the DV
  • Vitamin B1: 5 percent of the DV

2. Improves cholesterol levels

About half of the saturated fat in coconut comes from lauric acid, which helps raise levels of “good” cholesterol. This cholesterol helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream that could otherwise clog your arteries and raise your risk of heart problems.

In one study, researchers found that coconut milk increased good cholesterol and lowered “bad” cholesterol better than soy milk.

Take note that coconut oil is 100 percent fat, the majority of which is saturated. Saturated fat can increase bad cholesterol levels, which is why it’s considered unhealthy. Still, there’s nothing wrong with using small amounts of coconut oil in the context of a healthy diet. Just make sure it’s not the only oil you’re using.

3. Lowers blood pressure

Coconuts contain potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. It helps widen your blood vessels for better circulation and ensures that your heart is beating steadily.

4. Reduces inflammation

Coconut is an excellent source of potent compounds that help reduce inflammation, such as caffeic acid, ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid. Food processing can lead to the loss of these compounds, so choose fresh, unprocessed raw coconut and coconut-derived ingredients.

5. Promotes blood sugar control

Coconut has also been shown to help control blood sugar. In a 2011 study, researchers fed diabetic rats coconut kernel protein and found that the rats experienced an improvement in diabetes-related pancreatic damage. They attributed this improvement to the ability of the amino acid called arginine in coconut to promote the regeneration of beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells make insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.

How to incorporate coconut into your diet

You can see both brown and green coconuts at Asian grocery stores and specialty markets. They’re actually the same variety but differ in terms of maturity. Green coconuts are younger and have more juice than meat, whereas brown coconuts are fully mature and have more meat than juice.

To choose the best coconut, find one that feels heavy for its size. Shake the coconut and listen for liquid inside. Avoid coconuts with cracks.

It can take a lot of work to extract coconut meat from the whole coconut, which is why many people buy either freshly shredded or dried and shredded coconut meat. The meat is also processed to make coconut milk, while the juice inside the coconut is available as coconut water.

Here are a few ways you can enjoy coconut:

  • Scrape off coconut meat with a spoon and eat as is.
  • Add coconut milk to curries and sauces.
  • Use coconut milk in desserts.
  • Add shredded coconut meat to pastries.
  • Use coconut milk in smoothies, juices and lattes.
  • Add coconut sugar to hot beverages and baked goods.
  • Toast coconut flakes and add them to a trail mix or use as topping for desserts.

Recipe for Thai coconut curry

Reap the benefits of coconut with this hearty Thai coconut curry. The coconut sugar helps cut through the heat of the curry paste, while coconut milk thickens the curry considerably while adding a mildly nutty flavor.

You can serve it as is or alongside rice or noodles.

Ingredients for 6 servings:

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 3 Tablespoons red curry paste
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
  • Ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt

Preparation:

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add the bell peppers and onion and cook for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add the red curry paste, ginger, garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken stock, tomato sauce, fish sauce and coconut sugar. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the flavors have blended.
  5. Add coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened.
  6. Add shrimp and cook for 3 minutes or until pink and cooked through.
  7. Remove from heat and add basil, cilantro and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy.

Coconut is a nutrient powerhouse associated with several health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and a healthier heart. For better overall health and well-being, incorporate coconut and coconut-derived ingredients into your diet.

Sources:

FoodRevolution.org

NutritionValue.org

DamnDelicious.net

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