Coco-Loco - The Nutty Truth
Posted: November 30, 2011
Mystified by the explosion of coconut based products in the grocery aisles? What is the difference in coconut water, coconut milk and coconut oil? This tropical fruit has very different nutritional properties, depending on the part consumed. The word coconut purportedly comes from the Spanish or Portuguese word “coco”, which means “monkey face”, for the visual created by the three round indented markings or “eyes”.
Opening a fresh coconut, you will find a thin, almost clear coconut juice or water with a slight almond flavor, which can be used as a relatively low calorie fresh drink. One cup of the naturally occurring coconut water has 46 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and several vitamins and minerals, with no fat. In contrast, coconut milk is the liquid expressed from a mixture of grated coconut meat and water. You may find it raw, canned or frozen. In comparison, it has a hefty 57 grams of fat and 562 calories per cup. It has 51 grams of saturated fat (89% of total fat), making this one of the richest sources of saturated fat found in the plant or animal world.
Coconut water is from young immature coconuts and is being used by trendy beverage bottlers as a sports re-hydration fluid. It is very rich in potassium – much higher than average sports beverages. One cup has 600 mg potassium – more than a banana. It is also rich in other electrolytes. In fact, it has been used as an emergency measure in intravenous rehydration of critically ill patients in remote regions of the world. While the high level of potassium is not necessary for rehydration, foods with naturally occurring potassium do seem to be healthful because they may help counteract high dietary sodium levels, with their adverse effect on blood pressure. Some people, however, may be at risk in consuming high potassium foods due to medical conditions or medications, so an awareness of the potassium level in coconut water drinks is important.
Coconut is rich in fat, called coconut oil, which is actually a solid at room temperature. It is quite high in saturated fat. You may have noticed coconut oil sliding off the shelves into shopping carts due to the idea that coconut oil can speed up metabolism to help with weight loss. Other claims are that coconut oil promotes heart health and improved blood lipids. Some people are substituting coconut oil for the recommended unsaturated fats and oils in an effort to cash in on these claims. Although one recent study did show a slightly increased rate of weight loss for people substituting coconut oil for other oils, the effect was slight, and the study population limited. On the other hand, a vast majority of scientific evidence indicates that a diet high in saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels in blood, promoting arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Adding the suggested 3 tablespoons of coconut oil daily will add 35 grams of saturated fat to your daily total. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest an upper limit of 20 grams per day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet, to lower the risk of heart disease.
Are coconut products miracle foods or are the claims only slick merchandising? Certainly there are beneficial nutrients in the fruit, and future research will tell us more in this interesting debate. In the meantime, try to balance proven nutrition and physical activity strategies for better health!
Rayna Cooper is a Registered Dietitian and the Penn State Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Sciences/Nutrition Educator serving the Southeast Region, based in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271, email email@example.com.