Dr Libby on coconut
Coconut is experiencing a resurgence due to its versatility, flavour and fat content. Coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil that fed and nourished populations around the world long before the West became interested in it. In many island nations coconut is a staple of the diet and is the basis of both sweet and savoury dishes. Nearly one third of the world’s population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and economy. Among these cultures, coconut has a long and respected history.
Coconuts are different from any other fruits because they contain a large quantity of “water” and when immature are known as tender-nuts or young nuts and may be harvested for drinking. These nuts are a pale brown/cream colour on the outside and the water is rich in electrolytes making it a particularly hydrating drink after exercise. Mature coconuts are darker brown and they contain a smaller amount of water, or sometimes a more milky liquid, and the flesh is much harder than in a young coconut.
The type of fat in coconut is mostly saturated, however it is important to explore fats in more detail to understand the way they work in the body. The difference in the type of fat in coconut is in the fat molecule. All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are two methods of classifying fatty acids. The first you are probably familiar with is based on saturation. You have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
Another system of classification is based on molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. In this system you have short chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Coconut oil more specifically contains lauric acid, caprylic acid and capric acid, which have antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral prosperities to support the immune system and healthy gut bacteria.
Lauric acid contains the highest concentration of MCFA fatty acids and is also found in breast milk. Some studies indicate that MCFA can assist the body to burn fat effectively, however more research exploring the links needs to be undertaken.
Medium-chain triglycerides have also been shown to be digested differently from other fats, not relying on the acid in the stomach for processing.
Lauric acid, in particular, has been scientifically shown to have a stronger action against bacteria that can be involved with acne, than benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient in many medicated skin washes and some prescription acne medications. Topically, coconut oil is a good way to moisturise your skin naturally.
Using the many edible parts of the coconut in your diet is something I encourage you to do, whether you use the beautiful coconut water for drinking, the flesh for making desserts or yoghurts, the coconut oil for cooking or simply use shredded coconut in baking.
Here is a delicious recipe using shredded coconut to make coconut and lime cookies.