Crazy About Coconut: History, Health Benefits & Ways to Enjoy
Written by Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD
Raise your hand if you’re loco about coco(nut)!
A key ingredient in many of my favorite Munk Pack snacks, the tasty coconut fruit is rich in important nutrients and comes in many different forms.
Learn more about why coconuts are so nutritious, the many health benefits associated with increased coconut consumption, and ways to enjoy coconuts in your life today.
History of Coconuts
The coconut comes from the fruit of a palm tree known as Coconus nucifera and is classified as a dry drupe. Genetic studies show that this tree originates from the islands of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Often referred to as the Swiss army knife of fruits due to its many uses, the coconut contains a milky liquid, edible white meat on the inside, and a hard shell for decorative and household purposes in many cultures.
6 Awesome Health Benefits of Coconuts
If you like coconuts for their subtly sweet and nutty taste, you’ll be delighted to learn that they’re also packed with nutrients and offer many health benefits!
1. Supports digestive health
Coconuts are a great source of fiber with 9.9g per 100g serving. Dietary fiber can help you have more regular bowel movements, help you feel full, and helps bulk up your stool. Some emerging research shows that coconuts may help keep your gut bacteria healthy, but more evidence is needed to understand this relationship.
2. Contains fats that metabolize easily in your body
While most fats are long-chain triglycerides, the fats in coconuts are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). They’re fatty acids that are more readily absorbed and used by the body compared to other fats.
Consuming enough fats also helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Fun fact: When I was in clinical practice as a Registered Dietitian, I often prescribed MCT-oil formulas to patients with digestive or malabsorptive conditions.
3. Boosts your immunity
When the oils from coconut are consumed, those fats get broken down into two compounds known as monolaurin and lauric acid. These metabolites show natural anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, making the coconut a natural immune booster!
4. Contains essential vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy
Coconuts are rich in important vitamins to keep your body functioning healthy! A generous serving (100g of coconut flakes) contains the following nutrients:
– Dietary fiber 9.9g (35% DV*)
– Magnesium 51mg (12% DV*)
– Sodium 285mg (12% DV*)
– Phosphorus 100mg (8% DV*)
– Potassium 361mg (8% DV*)
– Iron 1.51mg (8% DV*)
– Choline 19.3mg (4% DV*)
*DV = Daily Value based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
5. Improves skin and hair health
Beyond coconut oil’s culinary uses, it has anti-aging and antioxidant properties. Try using coconut oil as a makeup remover or apply directly on your skin or hair as a moisturizer! If you have oily skin, you can wash off the coconut oil with a mild cleanser.
6. May help you lose weight, support your metabolism, and curb your appetite
Compared to consuming high-carb foods that typically provide quick energy, eating foods higher in fat like coconuts can help you feel fuller for longer. Also, when regular, long-chain triglycerides are replaced with MCTs found in coconut, studies show that people may lose a modest amount of weight.
6 Unique Ways to Enjoy Coconuts
Not all grocery stores carry fresh coconuts. And, even if you find them, they can be cumbersome to cut, prepare, and eat. Thankfully, there are many other unique ways to harvest the benefits of coconuts in our daily regimen!
1. Coconut Flakes/Shreds
With a subtle sweetness and fun texture, coconut flakes or shreds are made from the meat of the coconut fruit, which is the white solid interior when you cut open a coconut. It’s the closest thing to fresh coconut! Munk Pack’s Coconut Almond Dark Chocolate Keto Nut & Seed Bar and Coconut Cocoa Chip Keto Granola Bar are low-sugar and better-for-you snacks that feature coconut as an ingredient.
2. Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil
Did you know that coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs? Plus, with a high smoke point, you can easily cook and bake a variety of foods with coconut oil without the fatty acids breaking down! Whenever possible, try to opt for unrefined, virgin coconut oil – it’s less processed and thus retains its nutrients and flavor.
Dietitian tip: Try adding a scoop of coconut oil to your morning coffee for an extra boost of MCTs – as a bonus, your coffee will also taste great!
3. Coconut Milk
Typically supplemented with vitamins and minerals, coconut milk is low in carbs and tastes delicious. It’s made from coconut flesh and is lactose-free, unlike cow’s milk. It makes for a great base for smoothies, cereal, and sauces! Be sure to choose coconut milk that contains few or no added sugars.
4. Coconut Water
Who needs sugary sports drinks when you can drink all-natural coconut water for hydration and nutrition? Coconut water is rich in electrolytes, low in calories, and high in antioxidants. Studies show that it can be an effective hydration beverage after exercise, even compared to water.
5. Coconut “Yogurt”
Rich in fats (which also means keto-friendly, for those of you living a keto lifestyle!) and low in calories, this creamy treat is perfect for topping with seeds and nuts as a mid-afternoon snack or top with Munk Pack Keto Granola Bar pieces and berries for a delicious and nutritious breakfast. Munk Pack Keto Granola Bars only have 1g sugar, 2-3g net carbs, and are grain-free!
6. Coconut Flour
Touted as a popular gluten-free option, you can bake with coconut flour instead of all-purpose flour! It’s made from dried coconut meat and has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor.
Dietitian tip: Since coconut flour is less moist than regular flour, make sure to add at least 2 tablespoons of extra liquid when baking.
The Bottom Line
Coconuts are versatile fruits with their roots tracing back to Asia. They have a sweet and nutty taste and possess great benefits to keep you healthy inside and out. From fresh coconuts to coconut oil, there are many ways to harness the power of coconuts!
What else would you like to know about coconuts? Comment below and let me know!
|↑1||Nutrients: Coconut Flakes, FDC ID: 1100523. United States Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central (usda.gov). Accessed July 13, 2021.|
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|↑4||Joshi S, Kaushik V, Gode V, Mhaskar S. Coconut Oil and Immunity: What do we really know about it so far? J Assoc Physicians India. 2020 Jul;68(7):67-72.|
|↑5||Mumme K, Stonehouse W. Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Feb;115(2):249-63.|
|↑6||Saat M, Singh R, Sirisinghe RG, Nawawi M. Rehydration after exercise with fresh young coconut water, carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage and plain water. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci. 2002 Mar;21(2):93-104.|