Drinking a pina colada used to be one of the few ways coconut would make its way into someone’s diet. But, recently, I have seen all kinds of coconut based products popping up on grocery store shelves. Along with these new products come health related claims that seem too good to be true! From increasing metabolism to being “nature’s sports drink” to improving immunity, it appears that coconut based products might be the answer to many people’s health concerns. But are these products really as wonderful as they seem to be? Let’s take a look…
Product #1: Coconut Water
Coconut water is the liquid found in the center of a coconut. It is high in potassium, has some carbohydrate and is low in sodium. It has been marketed as being “nature’s sports drink”. Coconut water does provide hydration, however it does not provide the correct balance of electrolytes that you need after a long strenuous workout. You are better off drinking a product geared to replenishing electrolytes like Gatorade. Other claims can lead one to believe that coconut water can help with boosting metabolism. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case! Don’t let the word “water” fool you into thinking you are drinking a calorie free beverage! Coconut water contains about 65 calories for a 12 ounce portion (most containers of coconut water contain 2 servings…over 100 calories!). If you like the taste of coconut water and have room in your diet for the calories it carries, coconut water is fine, but you shouldn’t be relying on it for anything other than a tasty beverage.
Product #2: Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is thicker and richer than coconut water, and is produced from pressing the “meat” of the coconut to obtain a liquid. Traditional coconut milk has a whopping 550 calories per cup and provides a large amount of harmful saturated fat. Food companies have started to make coconut milk that is lower in calories and fortified with calcium and vitamin D similar to fortified soy milk and almond milk. However, these coconut milks still contain a large amount of saturated fat (about 5 grams for a 1 cup serving). Coconut milk has been marketed as a “fat burning” weight loss supplement. Like coconut water, there is no evidence to support the claims for fat burning or increased metabolism after consuming coconut milk. Since saturated fats are the fats that increase cholesterol in the body, limiting your intake of foods that contain saturated fat intake is advised.
Product #3: Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is produced from the “meat” of mature coconuts. Like coconut milk, coconut oil contains very high levels of saturated fat. Health claims for coconut oil include stress relief, increased immunity, proper digestion, metabolism support, dental health and bone strength. None of these claims seem to have research to back them up. However because coconut oil is digested quickly and not affected by intestinal factors (it is a medium chain triglyceride), it is good for people with fat malabsorption problems like liver disease, cystic fibrosis and AIDS. However, people without these conditions should not be using this oil in their diets on a regular basis.
Overall, coconut may have its place in the diet in moderation, but it offers no exceptional health benefits and the saturated fat some coconut products contain may be harmful in large quantities.