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All about “Coconut”, its health benefits

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Coconut is the ultimate exotic fruit. In commerce, it is found in various forms: whole, grated, in shavings, in milk, in cream or even in water. It can be cooked in both savory and sweet dishes.

Characteristics of coconut:

  • Rich in lipids,
  • Rich in fiber;
  • Stimulates intestinal transit;
  • Play on satiety;
  • Source of iron and phosphorus.

What is coconut?

Coconut identity card:

  • Type: Fruit;
  • Family: Arécaceae;
  • Origin: Indo-Malaysian region;
  • Season: November to February;
  • Color: White flesh;
  • Flavor: Sweet.

Characteristics of coconut

The coconut grows in a “diet” of 10 to 20 fruits on coconut palms. At harvest, it weighs on average 1 kg or 1.5 kg. The coconut is ovoid in shape and composed of a thick layer of smooth green skin covering a shell of thick fibers. Under this brown shell is white flesh and a liquid called “coconut water”.

Coconut and its health benefits: understand everything in 2 min

Word from the nutritionist

Coconut is rich in fat, so you have to limit its consumption.

Nutritional values

For 100g of coconut:

Nutrients                                                              Quantities                                                            
Protein 6.62 g
Fat 66.3 g
Carbohydrates 8.56 g
Water 2.63 g
Fibers 14 g
Vitamin C 1.5 mg
Vitamin B3 0.6 mg
Vitamin B6 0.17 mg
Vitamin B9 16.5 µg
Iron 3.46 mg
Manganese 2.75 mg

16 benefits of coconut: why eat it?

  1. Foods contain several fatty acids in different proportions and these have different impacts on cardiovascular health. In coconuts, around 90% of the lipids are in the form of saturated fatty acids, which is particularly high for a food of vegetable origin.
  2. Like proteins from other plants, coconut proteins could have a beneficial effect on blood lipids. Indeed, total cholesterol and blood triglycerides would decrease in animals having consumed an extract of this protein. These effects could be linked to the low lysine and high arginine (two amino acids) content of coconut protein, a ratio which is found in other vegetable proteins with similar lipid-lowering properties.
  3. Coconut contains a high amount of dietary fiber (a set of substances only found in plant products and which are not digested by the body). In addition to preventing constipation, eating a high-fiber diet can help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, as well as control type 2 diabetes and appetite.
  4. Coconut oil has gained popularity in the past few years. Some attribute benefits even going as far as contributing to weight loss. One of the hypotheses raised is that coconut oil contains one type of fat, medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which would be easier to use by the human body than other types of fat. MCTs provide 1 to 2 calories less than other types of fat. Although consumption of TCM increases the body’s ability to use fat, the increase in energy expenditure caused by consumption of TCM is temporary. Indeed, after about two weeks, the body adapts and uses MCTs in the same way as other types of fat.
  5. Coconut milk is an excellent source of iron for men and a source for women, while desiccated coconut is a good source of iron for men and a source for women, their needs being different. For its part, raw coconut is a source of iron. Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It should be noted that the iron contained in plants (such as coconut) is less absorbed by the body, compared to the iron contained in food of animal origin. Its absorption is favored when consumed with certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.
  6. Coconut and coconut milk are great sources of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor for several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also participates in the prevention of damage caused by free radicals.
  7. Desiccated coconut and coconut milk are great sources of copper, while raw coconut is a good source. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (protein used for the structure and repair of tissues) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also help the body’s defense against free radicals.
  8. Coconut milk is a good source of phosphorus, while coconut is a source. Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it participates among other things in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps to maintain normal blood pH. Finally, phosphorus is one of the constituents of cell membranes.
  9. Desiccated coconut is a good source of selenium, while raw coconut and coconut milk are sources. This mineral works with one of the main antioxidant enzymes, thus preventing the formation of free radicals in the body. It also helps to convert thyroid hormones to their active form.
  10. Desiccated coconut and coconut milk are sources of magnesium. Magnesium participates in bone development, protein construction, enzymatic actions, muscle contraction, dental health and the functioning of the immune system. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and in the transmission of nerve impulses.
  11. Desiccated coconut and coconut milk are sources of potassium. In the body, it is used to balance the pH of the blood and to stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach, thus promoting digestion. In addition, it facilitates the contraction of muscles, including the heart, and participates in the transmission of nerve impulses.
  12. Desiccated coconut and coconut milk are sources of zinc while raw coconut is a source for women only. Zinc is involved in particular in immune reactions, in the production of genetic material, in the perception of taste, in the healing of wounds and in the development of the fetus. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it participates in the synthesis (production), the storage and the release of insulin.
  13. Coconut milk is a source of vitamin B3. Also called niacin, vitamin B3 participates in many metabolic reactions and contributes particularly to the production of energy from the carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and alcohol that we ingest. It also collaborates in the DNA formation process, allowing normal growth and development.
  14. Desiccated coconut is a source of pantothenic acid. Also called vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is part of a key coenzyme that allows us to adequately use the energy present in the food we eat. It is also involved in several stages of the production of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses) and hemoglobin.
  15. Desiccated coconut is a source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is part of coenzymes that participate in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids as well as in the synthesis (manufacture) of neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It also contributes to the production of red blood cells and allows them to transport more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and it contributes to the proper functioning of the immune system. This vitamin finally plays a role in the formation of certain components of nerve cells and in the modulation of hormone receptors.
  16. Coconut milk is a source of folate. Folate (vitamin B9) is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of genetic material (DNA, RNA), in the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, as well as in the healing of wounds and wounds. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the fetus.

Choosing the right coconut

Coconuts are found year-round, but especially from September to January. Shake it to make sure it still contains water (once all the water has been transformed into flesh, the latter takes on a soap flavor and is no longer edible). It must be intact, while its three “eyes” should be free from mold. Despite these precautions, the flesh may be rancid, in which case all that remains is to throw it away.

The dried coconut flesh (grated or flaked) must be white (without browning, sign of oxidation) and give off a pleasant odor, with no hint of rancidity. Vigilance is essential, because the dried coconut can be added with sugar and treated with sulphites. Organic coconut products are available in health food stores.

Canned milk and cream are commercially available, as well as a fine soluble powder that can be used as is in preparations or diluted in water to make milk.

In most cases, coconut oil is extracted using chemical solvents, then refined and deodorized. However, you can find in natural product stores organic virgin oils simply extracted by pressure.

Keep well

Whole coconut: Two weeks at room temperature, one or two months in the refrigerator.

Homemade pieces of flesh and milk: A few days in the refrigerator. You can freeze the pieces and the grated coconut by putting them in a bag in the freezer, where they will keep for eight to ten months.

The dried coconut can be kept for several months in a cool, dry place and protected from light. Keep it in an airtight container or in its original packaging to prevent it from browning under the effect of oxidation.

Coconut oil can be stored for six months or more at room temperature, and longer in the refrigerator. Keep container closed to avoid oxidation and keep away from heat source to prevent the risk of spontaneous ignition.

Coconut preparation

How to cook it? How to match it?

To open a coconut and remove the flesh, pierce the eyes with a pointed instrument. Drain the liquid and reserve it. Then put the walnut in an oven set at 190 ° C (375 ° F) for 15 or 20 minutes, then hit the shell with a hammer all the way around its circumference until it splits. Cut it into pieces, detach the flesh using a knife and remove the brown skin with a vegetable peeler.

To prepare the coconut milk: mix two cups of grated coconut flesh (dried or fresh) and two cups of hot water (the proportions may vary depending on the degree of dilution desired) in a bowl, let cool and pass the mixture in a sieve lined with a cloth. Join the four corners of the fabric to form a pocket and press to extract the liquid. To make it easier, you can also pass the coconut and water through a blender before extracting the milk.

To obtain the cream: follow the same instructions for use, then leave the milk to stand for a few hours and collect with a spoon the thick substance which will have risen to the surface.

To toast the coconut: finely grate or mince the flesh, or use grated coconut, and cook for two hours on a baking sheet in an oven set to 95 ° C (205 ° F). Brew regularly and make sure it doesn’t brown too much. Store in an airtight container.

Milk and cream

Milk and coconut cream can replace their animal equivalent in all preparations: on morning cereals, in pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, soufflés, shakes, sauces, etc. Cook vegetables and pasta or poach a fish. Here are other suggestions.

  • In vegetable creams (for example, cream of mushrooms) or in an Indian soup composed, in addition to coconut milk, tomatoes and cucumbers finely chopped, ground peanuts, all thickened with chickpea flour (or another legume) and seasoned with chili, cumin seeds and coriander leaves.
  • In a flan: put the preparation in flan (eggs, coconut cream and sugar or honey) in a small yellow squash, cleaned of its seeds and stringy parts. Steam, let cool and slice. This is a healthy dessert with contrasting colors.
  • In the Panama arroz con coco: cook rice in coconut milk, adding raisins, if desired. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey.
  • Poached fruit: cook pieces of pineapple or other tropical fruit over low heat in seasoned coconut milk, if desired, with a little chilli, roasted mustard seeds and turmeric.
  • Stews: in India and Thailand, milk and coconut cream are used in many meat or vegetable stews.

Fresh or dried flesh

Beyond the classic macaroons and other treats that are often too sweet to be really healthy, coconut can be used in many preparations:

  • We will add about 20 g to a homemade mayonnaise, which we will complete with finely chopped fresh herbs.
  • We will make rottis, these traditional flat breads from India that the Tamils ​​of Sri Lanka prepare in their own way by adding grated coconut to the flour (about 200 g of coconut for 500 g of flour). Season the preparation with browned onions in oil and cumin powder, add water and knead. Shape into balls and roll out. Brown on both sides in a little oil or clarified butter.
  • Add shavings of fresh flesh to vegetable or fruit salads. Here is an unusual blend, borrowed from Indian cuisine: banana, cucumber, coconut, fresh coriander, lemon juice, crushed peanuts and, if desired, hot pepper.
  • Pot of vegetables: sauté the spices of your choice and onions in coconut oil for a few minutes. Add a little water, then the following vegetables, cut into pieces or sections: green peppers, carrots, broccoli, green beans, potatoes and spring onions, coating them well with the spicy preparation. Add coconut puree (two cups of grated coconut blended with a cup of water). Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Drizzle with lemon juice.
  • Serve a coconut rayta with a spicy curry: to prepare it, sauté mustard seeds in clarified butter, add grated coconut and remove from heat. Incorporate this preparation into yogurt with pieces of banana and coriander leaves. Refrigerate one hour.
  • Mix rolled oats, raisins, sliced ​​dates with the nuts of your choice (flaked almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, etc.) and coconut powder. Serve this dry mixture for breakfast, adding a little water and pieces of fresh fruit.
  • Toasted coconut: add it in desserts, as decoration on a cake or in a muesli.

Oil

  • It can partially or completely replace butter or vegetable oils for cooking food. Like all oils, avoid smoking it because it becomes toxic.
  • It will advantageously replace the other oils in frying, because foods absorb it less.
  • Use it raw on sandwiches or in vinaigrettes (if necessary, heat it slightly to melt it first).

Side effects

Allergy to sulfites

Sulfites are one of the nine most common food allergens and the consumption of these can cause very serious reactions in people who are allergic to them.
Sulfites are substances naturally present in food and in the body, but also present in the form of food additives used as preservatives.
Coconuts (dried or in the form of juice) and food products containing them are possible sources of sulfites; It is essential for people allergic to sulphites to read the labels carefully in order to avoid consuming food products which contain them. Even if the regulations are rigid in this area, the presence of undeclared sulphites in certain products (inter alia coconut-based) occurs occasionally. It is therefore important to be doubly vigilant when consuming such products.

Coconut is not a nut

The coconut is not a nut as such but rather the core of a fruit. Thus, it is not an allergenic food for individuals allergic to nuts and is generally not excluded from their diet. However, some people with allergies can still react to coconut. It is important to consult an allergist to ensure that you can consume it safely.

History of the coconut

The term “coconut” appeared in the language at the beginning of the 16th century. It comes from Portuguese, then from Spanish coconut, the approximate meaning of which is “croquemitaine”, “monkey”, “leprechaun” or “specter”, by allusion to the fact that the shell reminds a face of shaggy appearance.

The term “copra” (or “copra”) comes from English or Portuguese, which borrowed it from koppara, a word from a Tamil dialect. It more specifically designates the shelled and dried coconut.

A whole nut!

On average, coconuts weigh 1 to 1.5 kilograms. However, there is a species of palm tree whose nut, which is called “coco-de-mer” or “coco buttock” because of its double form, can weigh 22 kilos, which makes it the largest seed of the plant kingdom. Very rare and protected, this palm of exceptional longevity (it can live from 200 to 400 years) only grows in some islands of Seychelles. A whole symbolism of fertility is attached to the nut, to which legend attributes aphrodisiac properties.

The researchers have not yet succeeded in determining with certainty the place of origin of the coconut palm, although the majority of them incline for Southeast Asia. With the ability to float, the fruits would have dispersed by the sea to land in many tropical countries where they would have taken root in the sandy soil of the beaches, a habitat which is particularly suitable for this plant. For the populations of the coastal regions, who did not always have access to drinking water, the liquid of its immature nut was a real gift from the gods.

Over time, the coconut palm has colonized all the regions of the planet lying between the two tropics. Several varieties have been selected for commercial exploitation, but the wild form persists in many places where its fruit constitutes the main source of lipids, proteins and a certain number of minor, but essential nutritional components. There are also some who say that without the coconut palm, entire civilizations would not have emerged or, at least, would not have survived. Hence its vernacular names of “tree of life”, “tree of wealth”, “jewel of the tropics”, as well as the many myths surrounding its origin in peoples where it has always played a leading role plan.

In the West, there is hardly any mention of coconuts before the 14th century, when the Italian Marco Polo made his famous trips to Asia. With the expansion of the Portuguese Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, it became popular in Europe, and later in North America.

Coconut oil

Green, that is to say immature, the nut contains about half a liter of a milky liquid (coconut water or albumen). As it matures, this liquid turns into flesh, which is generally dried in the sun or in the oven to be sold under the name of copra. Commercial milk and coconut cream consist of this flesh which is ground with water and then filtered. Coconut oil (also called “coconut butter” because it is solid at room temperature) is extracted from copra or fresh flesh.

Coconut oil is probably the oldest fatty substance to have been used in cooking. Used for a long time in Asia and Africa, it also had its place in the diet of Europeans and Americans until the end of the 19th century, before being replaced by other vegetable oils (notably that of soybeans and corn) first for economic reasons, then because they were said to be better for health. However, in recent years, it has attracted a lot of interest from nutritionists and medical researchers, because of its high content of medium-chain fatty acids, the effects of which on health could be appreciable.

In addition to the coconut water, the flesh and the oil obtained from the fruit, various other food products are obtained from the coconut palm: the sap of the flowers is eaten fresh or transformed into syrup by boiling and to sugar by crystallization. Fermented, it gives wine and vinegar and, distilled, alcohol. We also consume pollen, the heart of the palm and young fresh shoots.

For further

Ecology and environment

In countries bordering the Pacific, refined coconut oil is used as fuel in cars to replace diesel. However, this solution is not recommended in northern countries, as the average temperature should never drop below 17 ° C, at the risk of the oil solidifying. We can imagine the problems …

In addition to the many services that the “tree of life” traditionally provides to humans, a Peruvian scientist has discovered an unusual use for its nut. This is used as a culture medium to raise a bacterium that kills the larvae of the mosquito responsible for the spread of malaria. This bacterium (one of the forms of Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt), which is widely used in organic farming) constitutes an ecological alternative to chemical insecticides intended to fight the mosquito and of which several have proved dangerous for livestock and human beings.

Although the insecticidal action of this bacterium has been known for a long time, the costs to multiply it were previously high, the operation being carried out in the laboratory. It was therefore necessary to find a way to reduce them while offering a simple technique, within the reach of villagers and peasants. After trying with varying degrees of success to inoculate it into various local fruits, it was discovered that coconut water contained the amino acids and carbohydrates it needed to reproduce, while the protective shell provided a favorable environment for its incubation. The research team therefore designed an incubation kit comprising a plastic bag filled with cotton buds impregnated with Bt and cotton wool. Just pierce the coconut, insert a cotton swab and plug the opening with cotton wool and wait two or three days, after which the nut is broken and its contents emptied into the pond water, where the mosquito larvae develop. This method can be used wherever the coconut palm grows, which is just abundant in many countries where malaria is devastating.

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