I've been teaching about coconuts for several years now, and coconuts actually jump started my interest in nutrition and my research of the health benefits of natural, raw foods. During my workshops I receive the same questions from clients over and over again: " Don't coconuts have a lot of fat which makes us gain weight? Aren't saturated fats unhealthy and cause heart disease?" A quick google search will show you the existing controversy surrounding the health benefits of coconuts. Now, there's a lot of dietary advise out there on the internet, so take everything you read with a grain of salt, and most importantly, consult a health professional before making any major changes in your diet. Through my own research, and my own personal experience, I've come to believe, that if we eat the coconut in its raw form, as nature intended, it is very beneficial for our body, mind, and spirit. Me and my wife use coconut products in our diet and skin care daily, and we've seen great improvements in our overall health. Check out the following interesting facts about the amazing coconut, which is actually a drupe, not a fruit or a nut!
I grew up with the common misbelief that fat is bad for you. For so many years people were taught to use low fat products and cut fat out of their diet as much as possible. Today that theory has been mostly disproved, and we've learned that sugar and the wrong fats are the culprits in today's health crisis of obesity and diabetes. Nonetheless, the misconception that coconuts are bad for you still exists, mostly due to the type of fats that are found in coconuts. Coconuts contain a high percentage of saturated fats, which for many years were thought to be the cause for heart disease. It is now proven though, that not all saturated fats are created equally, and that the ones in coconuts are actually very healthy. The article "Coconut Oil for weight loss does it work?" by the Mayo Clinic, explains "Unlike long-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. They don't raise blood cholesterol as much as long-chain fatty acids do, and they don't appear to be stored in the body's fat tissue as readily as long-chain fatty acids are".
Many people don't know, that the fat in the coconut is very similar to the fats we find in human breast milk and it is easy for the body to turn it into energy which is why many baby formulas use coconut milk as a main ingredient. Cows milk contains long chain fats and lactose, and while healthy for calfs, it has very limited health benefits for humans. The Ceylon Medical Journal of Sri Lanka, clarifies "They (MCTs) are directly used in the body to produce energy, and widely used in infant formulas, nutritional drinks for athletes and intravenous lipid infusions. Since they are not stored in fat deposits, they are of high value to dieters. Animal and human studies have shown that the fast rate of oxidation of medium chain free fatty acids leads to greater energy expenditure." Therefore, even though the coconut is full of fats, it can help us control our weight and give us energy for the day.
Coconut oil is also a great moisturizer for your skin and can be used for your hair as well. We use it daily! It has been used for thousands of years in Polynesia as a skin softener and hair conditioner. In the Article, Ancient Polynesians Knew the secrets to Healhty Skin, Afa K. Palu, writes, "Polynesian seed oils include coconut oil, which is typically used as base oil, mixed with different varieties of flowers and other seed oils. Additional ingredients such as mohokoi (ylang ylang), tuitui (kukui) and ahi (sandalwood) can be added to the base to create a variety of scented oils. These seed oils contain many skin health benefits, which is now uncovered by science, but known to our ancestors for over thousands of years. Even today, our Polynesian seed oils are still key to maintaining healthy and beautiful brown skin. Coconut oil (Cocos Nucifera L.) has been used for over thousands of years in Polynesia with proven nutritional and cosmetic benefits." It also has the great side effect that it smells amazing. Many hair and skin products use coconut oil to sell their products but nothing works better than the pure cold pressed coconut oil itself, the same kind that we use to eat and cook with.
Dental health can benefit from coconuts as well. We find more and more, just how good coconuts are for our teeth. We can use the charcoal from the shell to make tooth paste which is hard on tartar but soft on gums and enamel. We also use coconut oil daily to do oil pulling, to remove bad bacteria from the mouth. When the South Pacific Islands where discovered, western dentists where astounded by the photos of the indigenous islanders. Having no modern dentistry on the islands most of the people had perfect teeth, because of the high coconut diet and unprocessed foods they where eating. (Photo and Link left)
Coconut water is a delicious way to hydrate your body and get vital mineral and vitamins. Coconut water has vitamin C, and Vitamins B6, which help strengthen the immune system. The water from coconuts also has great minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, and iron. In Medical News Today, they write "Potassium helps keep fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, especially during exercise. Because there is more potassium than sodium in coconut water, the potassium may help balance out sodium’s effect on blood pressure and possibly even help lower it. " It also explains that magnesium helps relax muscles and prevent spasms. Coconut water contains minerals that are great for muscle, heart, and more.
This is actually the main reason I started researching coconuts. When we first moved to Puerto Rico, we started to eat lots of coconuts, and we didn't just love the way they tasted, we loved the way they made us feel. So, I started asking myself, do coconuts make us happy?
There are varying opinions and findings about the benefits of coconuts for the brain. I personally believe that coconuts are healthy for the mind and help lower stress levels. Coconuts contain so many vitamins, minerals and fats, that they provide the brain with energy to combat stress, anxiety, and depression. A stress test was done on mice to study the effects coconut milk has on anxiety. The results where very interesting. In the Journal of Analytical & Pharmaceutical Research, they concluded in the article, Evaluation of Effect of Coconut Milk on Anxiety, that "Due to antioxidant property of coconut milk, it gives neuroprotective effects. The antioxidant effect of coconut milk is due to presence of vitamin C & E, selenium and zinc. Hence, due to the presence of these agents coconut milk produces relief from anxiety."
Coconuts are also a natural producer of ketones, and lauric acid. The ketogenic diet is becoming more and more popular these days not just for weight loss but for the benefits it provides for our mind. The ketongenic diet usually calls for a lot of Coconut based products, because the MCT's create ketones, an alternative fuel for the brain, which has been linked to treatments and prevention for diseases such as Alzheimers, Dementia, and Epilepsy. The brain is made up of a lot of fat so it would make sense that getting fuel from fats instead of sugar or carbs would be beneficial, however more studies need to be done to prove this. Leilani Doty from the University Florida, Department of Neurology, explains in her research article, Coconut Oil for Alzheimer’s Disease?, "Insufficient research information handicaps physician recommendations regarding emerging popular treatments such as coconut oil for patients dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias, and co-occurring chronic health conditions". I can say from reading many articles related to coconuts and health, that many studies that try to disprove the benefits of coconut oil, are using industrial processed oils, milks, and water in their research. I have a theory that, if they studied the benefit of the coconuts consumed directly from the source like we see in Samoa or even here where I live in Puerto Rico, the studies would be more positive, and promising (I understand that it is hard to get fresh coconuts at Havard). We see in coconut cultures like India, Thailand, Philippines, and Polynesia, that incidents of Dementia and Alzheimers are lower, which could be related to their coconut based diets (un-processed or hand-processed coconut products). Of course their diets in general, as well as other cultural influences need to be factored in.
From my perspective, I can tell you that when I see people eating and drinking coconuts on my workshop I can see their attitudes change over a short time period, I would love to do a study on the short term and long term mental effects of eating real coconuts straight from the palm tree. I might be bias, but I truly believe coconuts make us happy and our brains healthy.
Coconuts are amazing and there are some things that science can not explain. Coconuts are used in religious practices all over the world. In India some cultures use it for wedding ceremonies. In Polynesia they use coconut shells for Kava, or Ava tribal meetings. The Mangal Parinay websites writes;"According to traditional rituals of Gujrat, it is customary for a bride to present a coconut to the groom at the time of marriage. The coconut is preserved by the respective husband throughout his life." Even in the USA they use Palm leaves for Palm Sunday, a Christian tradition. Here in Puerto Rico they use Coconut shells to make maracas for their saints festivals and coconut masks. COPI, the Loiza cultural center explains, "The Vejigantes represent the evil and the Moors that the Apostle Santiago and the Spanish knights bombed". In our workshops we teach all about the tree of life and how the coconut provides us with everything that we need, such as water, food, shelter and fire, all the basic elements but I believe it also gives us something more and that it has an energy that empowers people and makes them feel happy and fulfilled.
There are so many benefits of the coconut, one could write a book (many have). This is just a short article with some highlights of the benefits the Cocos Nucifera offers. You really should try out our tour to see it for yourself. The tree of life awaits!
R. Brandon Talanehzar
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.