Coconuts are in vogue again
by Mary Budinger —
Coconut oil is “OK” again — and deservedly so. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional diets, and people thrive on it. Unfortunately, it got caught up in the “fat is bad, eat carbs instead” phase that Americans plunged into in the 1970s.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat. It reigns supreme because of its medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. Most fats — animal meats, nuts and seeds, eggs and fish, and most vegetable oils — are long-chain fatty acids, which travel to the gallbladder so bile can break them down. But MCFAs make coconut oil unique; they are broken down by enzymes in our saliva. This is one fat that can be immediately used for energy, rather than being stored as fat for use at a later time.
This makes coconut oil your best friend when you are trying to eat less sugar and starchy carbs and switch to a diet of more nutrient-dense foods complete with good fats, but you do not want to gain weight. Too much olive oil will put on the pounds, but not coconut oil.
Say you have eaten a low-fat diet for a few years. Your gallbladder and bile may be sluggish — remember the old phrase “use it or lose it?” A gallbladder that has not been digesting much fat can have thick, sluggish bile. It may not handle a sudden influx of olive oil and avocados without pain.
Coconut oil, however, does not go through the gallbladder. Coconut oil has been used in medical food preparations for patients with digestive problems who have trouble digesting fats. It is also used in infant formulas.
If you have been eating a low-fat diet, you likely have eaten a high-carb diet. You may be at the mercy of the so-called “blood sugar roller coaster” of hypoglycemia. Try one tablespoon of coconut oil at each meal to even out blood sugar levels.
The main MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid, a proven antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal agent that is also found in mother’s milk. It strengthens your immune system and can defend against a wide range of disease organisms, including viruses (herpes, measles, HIV), bacteria (listeria, staphylococcus and streptococcus), parasites and fungus. Several tablespoons a day of coconut oil are often part of a protocol to defeat a fungal overgrowth of candida. It is also a good home remedy for the fungus responsible for dandruff.
Refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil is typically used in the cosmetic and food industries. Generally, the MCFAs are not harmed in the process; coconuts are native to the tropics where temperatures are very hot. “Virgin” coconut oil is not an official designation; it usually indicates that the oil has been subjected to lower temperatures and no chemicals were used during the manufacturing process. Virgin varieties retain a mild coconut flavor and aroma.
Coconut oil is very stable. It does not need to be refrigerated and will last a couple years after it is opened.
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the nut; coconut water is the liquid inside the nut.
The water is packed with nutrients that nourish the nut as it prepares to germinate and start growing into a new coconut tree. Coconut water is high in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. Because it contains electrolytes, it is a naturally rehydrating beverage.
Many people view it as a better alternative to sports drinks, and sales have recently skyrocketed. But what is that stuff you buy in the store?
Coconut water sold commercially, usually in cans, has been pasteurized, which means some of the nutrients are destroyed. Often, water is added to make it go further. Sometimes sweeteners or other flavorings are added.
Tropical Traditions, a company that takes their coconuts very seriously and is known for selling the highest-quality products, does not sell coconut water because it says it has never met a coconut water product that meets its standards. A company representative said, “Commercially packaged coconut milks must add stabilizers to keep the product from separating, and often these stabilizers are in such small quantities that they are not listed as ingredients on the labels. The product then needs to be packaged in airtight containers to preserve it, and this is often done in metal cans that have aluminum inside, and potentially Bisphenol A (BPA).
“We are beginning to see shortages of coconuts worldwide, due to the fact that many developing countries are using coconut oil as a biofuel. Therefore, we do not endorse the commercial production of young coconuts or water from young coconuts, when the meat of the coconut is not yet mature enough to produce coconut oil.”
For those who live by the general nutrition rule that the closer to nature the better, you can make your own coconut water from an actual coconut. The closest place to source organic coconuts is the southern mainland of Mexico, and there are a lot of third-party verifiers. Every coconut nut has three “eyes” — the softest spots on that brown, hairy outer shell. Hammer a screwdriver or something sharp into one of the eyes to make an opening in the nut. Also, put a small hole in a second eye to get air to push the fluid out. Have a glass ready, turn the nut upside down and let the liquid run out.
Coconuts can vary quite a bit in size, but let us say, on average, you will get six-and-a-half ounces of water out of one. You can crack the rest of the nut with the hammer. Work the meat off the shell, put it into a food processor and shred it. You can dehydrate the shreds and save them for two weeks in the refrigerator.
Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about nutrition and integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 5, October/November 2014.