Should we be nuts about coconut?

Should we be nuts about coconut?

It feels like coconut is the flavour of the moment in healthy food circles. Coconut oil is all the rage, and a raft of other coconut products have come along, many promoted as healthful. There are some ingredients I really like, and some I think are not worth the hype.

Coconut flour

This is a by-product of coconut milk production. What’s great is that it’s about 40 per cent fibre, mostly insoluble fibre which is really helpful to keep things “moving”. One tablespoon adds over 3 grams of fibre, so it’s a great addition to smoothies, crumbles and baking. Coconut flour absorbs liquid, so when using some in baking you’ll need to add a similar amount of liquid as well.

Coconut water

This is the juice from the centre of immature green coconuts. It has a slightly sweet, coconut taste. According to some online hype, it is a cure for everything from intestinal worms to wrinkles.

This is highly unlikely. However, it still has a lot going for it. It’s a refreshing drink, and has less than half the kilojoules and less sugar than most juice. Like other fruit juices, coconut water also contains useful amounts of potassium, which is good for blood pressure.

Often promoted as a sports drink, it could be used for after-sport hydration, although those serious about their sport might prefer a proper sports drink formulated with more carbohydrates and sodium.

Coconut sugar

This is made from the flowers of the coconut palm, and has a pleasant, treacle-like flavour. Producers claim it is packed with vitamins, minerals and amino acids. However, unless you are consuming vast amounts of sugar (obviously not ideal) the amounts of vitamins and minerals in coconut sugar are insignificant. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

Coconut sugar is more than 90 per cent carbohydrates and contains less than 2g protein per 100g. If you like the flavour (and can afford it) then use it for taste and don’t overdo it. Too much of any kind of sugar is not healthy.

Coconut oil

Last but not least, the oil of the moment. Many claims are made about the medium-chain saturated fats – mainly lauric acid – which make up about two-thirds of the saturated fats in coconut oil. It’s said these are not harmful, although evidence on this is at best conflicting.

Remember that “less harmful” is not the same as “health food”. The way some are enthusiastically embracing coconut oil as if it has medicinal (or fat-busting) properties is a little alarming.

Simply adding spoonfuls of coconut oil to your regular diet is not going to make you healthier – it could well do the opposite. If you like the strong coconut flavour, use coconut oil sparingly, as you would butter.

I prefer to use oils I know are healthy like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil for cooking – and I’d much rather have my saturated fat in the form of a little bit of cheese or chocolate.


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