What do you think about when you think of or smell coconuts? There is a certain quality about coconuts that throbs with a tropical sensuality, and I don’t know too many people who really dislike the taste of coconut. Many people love the odor of the coconut, and many males and females alike find the odor to be pleasant in their various lotions and potions.
The sensuality of hula dancing may entice a vision of coconuts and a dance of energy and expression that is incredibly vitalizing. When I was in Maui, visiting my daughter Brittany three years ago, we took a hula dancing class. From there, she was hooked and now participates in regular shows and competitions. The dual-coconut upper body attire is now optional, however. Coconut had received a bad reputation for years but has been making a comeback.
When we lived in Bali, 7 years ago, the Balinese recommended it for many things, including weight loss. One of our fondest memories was watching a bare-footed, bare-hand man climb 60 feet up a tree to retrieve a coconut. My recent visit to a scientific symposium in Brazil had many exhibits touting coconuts beauty and slimming benefits. It is fantastic to cook with even at high heats. I recommend coconut oil as a vaginal lubricant and sensual moisturizer.
The smell and flavor somehow always make me think of warm sun and waves lapping gently on the beach, and in this I believe I am not alone. The flavor of coconut also mixes temptingly with rum and pineapple in a favorite mixed drink, and Rupert Holmes, in an oft-played song, refers to his affinity for that drink as a metaphor for an escape from a humdrum existence and a mediocre romance. Some of the delicious food products derived from coconuts are coconut oil, dehydrated (desiccated) coconut, coconut spread, coconut milk, coconut water, coconut cream, coconut sap sugar, and coconut vinegar.
A coconut has four main viable components: the kernel or meat, the water surrounding the kernel inside the shell, the oil contained in the kernel, and natural sugars (contained in the kernel and the water, as well as in the nectar or sap of the coconut blossom before it matures). Coconut milk can be produced by pressing the meat of freshly opened mature coconuts to extract the liquid (which, incidentally, contains a good bit of coconut oil as well).
For the past 55 years or more, coconuts as a functional food source have been largely ignored or even bad-mouthed in the United States, primarily due to the fact that they contain rather high amounts of saturated fat (medium-chain fatty acids). Beginning in the 1950’s and 60’s, several researchers published widely-read and universally accepted studies which concluded that saturated fats were by nature “bad” fats due to their apparent connection with increasing cholesterol levels, higher serum triglycerides, and atherosclerotic cardiac disease.
Several problems exist, however, in connection to this widely-touted research. First, coconuts cannot be grown in most parts of North America, but since corn and soybeans are widely grown in the U.S., it behooved governmental agencies to veto the virtues of coconut oil and extol the benefits of corn and soybean oil.
Second, scientific research is an ever-evolving field with new information being uncovered every day, and there are some scientists who do not seem to understand that the “facts” they uncover about the human body are not static, but are only relevant when kept in balance with other components of the ever-changing body of knowledge about the intricate and complicated biological processes going on simultaneously in the human body.
In other words, while some scientific conclusions may be true in a vacuum because all of their components are based on documented observation, if they are not considered in relevance to other observable facts about human physiology, then blind allegiance to these “facts” may lead to an unhealthily skewed opinion and an ignorance of the delicate balance which exists in all of nature and specifically human physiology.
So from 1953 on, saturated fats were labeled as the cardinal sin of American dietary and culinary practice. Animal fats were the main targets of the dietary gurus, until every health-conscious American began to see a red flag any time he came near an egg, buttered his bread, or ate a piece of meat. Along with animal fats, though, coconut oil continued to be black-listed, since it was known to contain a high concentration of these fats which were “bad,” which was accepted as gospel truth.
This meant that desiccated coconut, coconut milk, and coconut oil were only sold on a limited basis in ethnic food shops, while soybeans and corn continued to be grown for large-scale oil production in North America. It seemed largely forgotten that although coconuts do not grow in most of North America, they do grow in Mexico and our Central American neighboring countries, and are easily shipped to markets in North America, and that have a long shelf life as long as they are enclosed in their thick shells.
Just lately (the last couple of years, to be specific), coconuts have re-emerged on the American nutrition scene, with even the most grudging of health professionals admitting that they are not as detrimental as previously thought, and that together with linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acids) their saturated fats are beneficial and can even help make more bioavailable the “miraculous” omega-3 fatty acids we have all read about. On the other extreme, some experts are touting the virtues of coconut lipids as the next fountain of youth, curing any ill from Alzheimer’s to kidney stones.
All four edible byproducts of the coconut (meat/kernel, water, milk, and oil) contain medium-chain fatty acids, a type of saturated fat which has heretofore been maligned. But new medical findings reveal that these medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) are more readily metabolized and absorbed from the liver than other types of saturated fats. Many experts feel that the quick metabolism of MCT’s aids and enhances metabolism in general, and thus may be helpful in weight loss. Thus, not all saturated fats are created equal.
One of the worst kinds is palmitic acid – and yes, it does have “palm” in its name. However, the name derives from the oil palm (elaeis guineensis) and not from the coconut palm. This type of saturated fat is found in significant proportion in meat, especially beef, and in milk. However, by many estimates, coconut oil contains only about 8% of this type of fat, and this is relatively low in proportion to the amount of beneficial saturated fats also contained in this oil.
Although it is not known if the healthy fats totally cancel out the effect of the small amount of unhealthy fats in the coconut, it is well-documented that the benefits of several of the fats are astounding! Some of these healthy fatty acids are lauric acid, stearic acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid. All of these are contained to varying degrees in human breast milk, and also in cow’s and goat’s milk.
Think about it – if these fats were lethal, nature would not have placed them in milk, the first natural raw food for baby mammals, in such high quantity as they occur. In fact, these substances help to protect a breast-fed infant’s immunity. Nature has also serendipitously placed these fats in large proportion in coconut oil. Lauric acid, the most plentiful fat in coconuts, has a myriad of scientifically documented benefits, the first being that it is a potent antimicrobial agent, effective against viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, and AIDS. It is also purported to kill bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases. It also kills fungi, yeasts, and parasites.
Coconut water is an ever-growing trend these days with celebrities, athletes, and everyday people alike. Interestingly, this fluid which surrounds the meat of the young immature coconut contains no fat at all (the fat is contained in the meat or kernel and builds up fat stores over time only as the coconut matures). It does contain the electrolytes sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphate as well as small amounts of many essential amino acids and natural anti-oxidants. Each serving also contains about 11 or 12 grams of sugar. Although coconut water may not be a miraculous cure-all, it is certainly a better rehydration alternative than plain water, and certainly superior to many of the artificially formulated sports drinks on the market.
Then of course there is coconut milk, which is the white liquid which is pressed out of the coconut meat or kernel. Many canned varieties are available, but there are several potentially harmful substances in the canned variety. Therefore, a better option is home-made coconut milk. Coconut milk is both a tasty creamy ingredient and a healthy one in smoothies, soups, and stir-fries. In addition to good taste, it also contains many vitamins and minerals and a good amount of healthy fats and dietary fiber per serving. Because it contains no lactose or soy, it is a good option for those who may be allergic to these substances.
There is also a sugar which has been made for thousands of years in the Philippines and Indonesia from the sap or nectar of the coconut blossom which is boiled and distilled until the sugar granules form. The main component of this sugar is sucrose, with small amounts of glucose and fructose. It is especially high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron (similar to coconut water) and is a natural source of the vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C. It’s also very rich in other minerals and enzymes which aid in the slow absorption into the bloodstream, as well as several essential amino acids such as glutamine, known to be healthy for brain function.
I do love my coconuts, as they are quite aesthetically pleasing as they hang where nature intended! Pardon my saying so, but I plan to use my coconuts to their best advantage. Even though I may not be gutsy enough to wear a coconut bra in public like my little hula girl, I am truly amazed at the myriad of ways in which the coconut and its derivatives can enhance both my figure and my health!