Watching our grandmother’s radiance and mischievous spunk vanish to be replaced with confusion, delusion and aggression was a heart-wrenching time. Before Alzhiemer’s disease robbed her of vitality, our Nonna lived a fabulous life full of travels, dancing and laughter. Between her roaring days in Italy and her shopping adventures in Toronto, she was always ready to hit the dance floor, chat up anyone, and light up even the darkest day. Alzhiemer’s transformed her entire existence, paralyzing her mentally and emotionally. Her passing was an emotional time but also quite a powerful impetus to question how vulnerable we all are to inflammatory diseases. This recalibrated our efforts around preventative measures – prompting us to dig deeper into our connection between food and health. There are many parts to the longevity puzzle – stress reducing practices, anti-inflammatory eating, quality relationships, and our unique genetic predispositions. Some of these factors are in our control, whereas others, not so much. So when we stumble on a new nutritional gem that has the potential to promote health and longevity, boy do we get excited! And so when we learned about the healing properties of the coconut…well…we went a little cuckoo!
Once demonized as a “bad fat”…
This unique fruit of the palm tree packs quite a nutritional (and beautifying!) punch, like no other food! The unique composition of its cold-pressed oil makes it both a metabolism enhancer (think: faster weight loss), and an immune system booster, given its anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties. Plus, researchers have recently touted this amazing fat a potential big player in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, this wonder fat is an inexpensive and natural moisturizer (perfect for preventing stretch marks ladies!) and eye makeup or lip stain remover!
The coconut has received quite a bad rap in previous decades because almost all of its fat is saturated. But hold on!! When we peel back the fatty acid layers, we see that most of this saturated fat is lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride (MCT), as opposed to the longer chain ones in all the other fats we consume. Research is now showing how MCTs are quickly absorbed and converted to energy (and NOT stored as fat) elevating metabolisms and faster weight loss (goodbye belly blub!). Plus, coconut oil aficionados claim that virgin coconut oil has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties AND promotes a healthy intestinal tract, improves digestion and helps improve the absorption of other nutrients in your body (whoa, now that’s a multi-tasking nutritional gem!). Also, being so highly saturated, coconut oil is extremely stable under heat and more suitable for cooking and frying than the lesser stable cooking oils which will degrade under high heat.
Let’s now undress the coconut to reveal all of its other rock-star parts!
Besides its amazing fatty acid profile, the coconut boasts a plethora of other health-promoting properties:
- Coconut water, currently quite the trend in sports and health drinks, is the clear liquid from the inside of the young coconut. This low-cal, super hydrating drink is rich in potassium, as well as electrolytes.
- Coconut flesh which is the “meat” of the fruit is chock-full of satiating fibre and energy-boosting iron – check out our coconut macaroons recipe for a quick way to harness the nutrients from the coconut flesh (we especially love the chocolate variation of this recipe!).
- Coconut cream or milk is derived from pressing the coconut flesh and is full of all the health-promoting fats mentioned above.
- Coconut butter (which is like a nut butter) is made by grinding up the coconut flesh and boasts all of the nutrients from the flesh as well as being full of the coconut’s healthy fats.
- Coconut sugar, harvested from the nectar of the coconut, contains potassium, iron, and many health-boosting vitamins. This awesome natural sugar has a subtle caramel taste (yum!) is low glycemic (so it won’t cause as big a blood sugar spike that sugar and other sweeteners cause – being low glycemic means hunger pangs, cravings and excess weight gain are kept at bay). A fabulous option for those with incessant sugar cravings!
For ways to incorporate the coconut and elevate the nutritional profile (and flavour!) of your everyday meals and snacks, check out this week’s Q&A.
However, too much of even a good thing, is likely to create a diet that is out of balance. As always, remember that your bio-individuality dictates whether a food works for you (or not!), so we encourage you to experiment with the coconut and all its tasty parts but pay attention to how they resonate with you and ensure your overall diet is varied and nutrient-rich.
- Coconut Water has similar properties to blood plasma and was used in blood transfusions during desperate war times!
- Breast milk is the only other source on this planet of the special health-promoting fat in coconut oil (lauric acid)!
- The coconut is actually a fruit, or specifically a drupe (like peaches and mangos), not a nut! Most people with a tree nut allergy can eat coconuts safely. Some people, however, do react to coconuts, so if you have a tree nut allergy, consult your allergist before trying coconut products.