Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Coconut for good health - water, jelly, cream and oil

Published:Wednesday | May 13, 2015 | 5:00 AMMarsha N. Woolery

Have you ever heard the saying that 'coconut water is the only water that goes to the heart'?

It is only about 20 years ago that I realised that the statement is not true. Coconut water does not actually go to the heart.

Coconut is a fruit and also a nut that has many uses - quenches thirst, for cooking, moisturises skin and hair. Coconut is a versatile food item that is misunderstood and taken for granted by many of us.

Coconut is consumed at various stages of maturity. The younger, less mature coconut, otherwise called jelly; the more mature stages that usually result in more flesh and sweeter water; and the ultimate dry coconut with a small amount of water and harder flesh that is processed further to make a variety of products.

 

What nutrients are

found in the coconut?

 

- Sugar - to provide quick energy. One cup, or better yet, one eight-ounce cup of coconut water is one fruit serving and provides about 40 kilocalories. There is really no need for persons with diabetes to drink 'young coconut'... enjoy the sweet coconut water and eat the flesh or jelly for another fruit serving.

Potassium - to regulate the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. This is the reason coconut water is touted to be the only water that goes straight to the heart. Coconut water does not go to the heart, but the potassium has an effect on the heart.

Fat - as the coconut matures, the water gets less and the flesh, or jelly, gets harder and the fat content gets higher in the nut. Dry coconut is an excellent source of fat. One teaspoon of coconut oil provides 45 kilocalories.

- Saturated fat - is the main type of fat in dry coconut. This is the reason when coconut cream or oil is made it becomes solid, or as Jamaicans would say, 'the oil sleep up' at room temperature.

Lauric acid - is the fat that is present that makes coconut oil and cream so special. Lauric acid increases the good cholesterol (HDL) found in the blood and reduces the risk of heart disease. And here is the controversial side - the same lauric acid also increases the bad cholesterol (LDL), which, if not controlled can cause heart disease.

Monounsaturated fat - which is also found in olive, peanut and canola oils. This type of fat is easily digested and used by the cells in the body quickly.

As Jamaicans, especially those of us who grew up in the country or rural areas, who were not able to afford the imported oils sold in the shops and supermarkets, we were privileged to observe the females in the family make coconut oil from the grated dry coconuts. What a flavourful meal we devoured ... all fingers licked!

Coconut, like all other foods, should be consumed in moderation. Coconut seems to be one of the newest food items worldwide but as Jamaicans, we have been enjoying coconut in many different ways such as:

- Coconut drops;

- Gizzada or puff;

- Grater cake or pink pon top;

- Toto or cut cake;

- Stew peas with fresh or salt beef, chicken foot or pig's tail or plain 'the ital way';

- In cornmeal, potato and cassava puddings, or pone;

- Dukunoo;

- Rice and peas;

- In cornmeal and plantain porridge;

- Or my favourite way - cut up with brown sugar sprinkled over it.

In recent times, coconut milk is being used as a substitute or alternative for cow's milk, but what is the main ingredient in dry coconut? Fat! You got that right.

Coconut is extremely low in protein, and, therefore, is not an appropriate alternative for cow's milk, unless you plan to get the protein lacking in the coconut from another source such as peas, beans or nuts.

Coconut oil and cream have survived years of criticism ... good today ... bad tomorrow, and still today the controversy continues.

Let us take the opportunity and use coconut to boost our economy. It's good to drink, eat, use on skin and use in hair.

- Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay, and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University. Email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com