Coconut – A Multi-Gifted Plant.

I keep coming back to coconuts, one of my favorite whole plant foods, particularly the Young Thai Coconut. It is  mostly not noticed by the general public, sometimes vilified as unhealthy because of its high fat content, and now almost hailed as a wonder-food in some circles for the electrolyte benefits of its water, and prized in some communities for the artistic value and opportunities for creativity of its stable, hard shell.

I have earlier written about coconut oil and coconut water, both of which are valuable components of a healthy diet. I have also noted some non-food uses for this versatile plant. Click here and again here for those.  Here I want to discuss more in detail the health benefits of coconut meat, particularly young coconut meat.

An Introduction

Beginning at the beginning, coconut is in the palm family and grows well in tropical climates. There are many types: green, brown, and yellow, but they are more often differentiated by relative age – old and young. The old coconut is most commonly used ground and shredded, and contains water that is not as fresh as young coconut water.

Generally, old coconuts are older than three months, young ones are less than three months. Young Thai Coconuts, in my opinion, are the easiest to work with, the most versatile, and the most nutrient rich. Their meat is more soft, moist, and sweet, that that of the old fruits.

Nutrition Profile

There is a fundamental difference between the young coconuts and the old, especially in the fat content. The old ones have considerably more fat, a fact which has made them unpopular in some circles. Young coconuts are lower in fat, about 90% of which is saturated, and 10% is unsaturated. The fat in young coconuts is different from other saturated fats, however, because it is a medium chain fatty acid rather than a long chain, and is thus much more easily digested by the body.

Its medium chain fatty acid can be directly digested in the intestines, rather than going through several steps to be processed before it can be absorbed through the intestinal wall which is a longer more involved process. Additionally, these acids are not converted into fat or cholesterol and do not affect blood cholesterol, except the raise the HDL (the good cholesterol). It is easily broken down so does not trigger the symptoms of high cholesterol.  This is an important point.

Young Coconuts are a good source of manganese and also contain protein, vitamins C, E, K, Thiamin, and Niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

With so many known nutrients, we can certainly project some benefits from eating them.

Gifts which Provide Benefits

The bottom line is that one cup of young coconut meat contains enough calories, fiber, potassium, and vitamin content needed by the body for one day.

High Fiber Content means that a little will go a long way in terms of satiety, as well as help the digestive process to move smoothly and assist in losing unwanted pounds.

Mineral Density. Manganese is important to proper body metabolism, and one cup of coconut meat provides about 67% of our daily needs. Copper is essential for red blood production, and Potassium supports blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone strength, and muscle strength. (It takes four bananas to get the same amount of potassium as it is found in a cup of young coconut meat.)

Saturated Fats. These macronutrients have gotten such a bad name that we sometimes forget that we need them for a multitude of health reasons. They promote the growth of brain cells, assist in proper bone formation, protect the vital organs such as the liver from the ravages of alcohol and other toxins, lubricate our cells, and provide good immune system support. The easily digested ones in coconuts are the best, and still require moderation in consumption.

Lauric Acid, one of the fatty acids in young coconuts is known to be anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. It is often used in supplements for correcting digestive disorders such as flatulence and candida.

It should also be noted here that in parts of the world where coconuts are a dietary staple in indigenous populations, rates of chronic disease, including coronary artery disease, are low.  The benefits seem to apply only when coconut is consumed along with a diet that is primarily unprocessed and rich in high-fiber plant foods.

How and Where to Buy Young Coconuts

Fresh young coconuts are usually available in Asian markets, and they are usually the freshest there, as the Asian people use them frequently in food preparation. Hence, the rate of turnover is better than it usually is in health food stores, (where the price is often considerably higher). Look for an unblemished surface without holes or discoloration.

It rarely happens, but if you open a young coconut that is purple inside instead of white, return it, as it is beyond fresh and won’t taste good.  In any case, once you’ve opened a coconut, use it fairly quickly, as they are quite perishable. Also, just buy what you can use in a week, (I like two, maybe 3), and keep them in the refrigerator.)

How to Open a Young Coconut

Tricky business, this, especially at first. I recommend watching a YouTube instructional video or two (they abound!), and then go for it. The first few tries may feel awkward. I predict that after that you will look forward to the days that will include this wonderful food. I use them mostly as a replacement for banana or avocado in green smoothies, and there are other fine ways to use them as well.

Enjoy this fine food in its natural state and let it enhance many aspects of your life. It is loaded with fiber, vitamin E and other vitamins, and many phytochemicals and minerals. As a bonus, it has powerful anti-microbial properties. It is also calorie dense and fat dense (good as it is), so moderation is advised.

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