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Coconut - the healthy nut

Published:Tuesday | August 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

COCOS NUCIFERA is the scientific name for what we know as the coconut. Legend says that Spanish explorers called it coco, which means 'monkey face', because the three indentations (eyes) on the nut resemble the face of a monkey. Nucifera is a Latin word meaning 'nut-bearing'.

Dr Bruce Fife, an internationally recognised expert on the coconut, estimates that a third of the world's population depends on the coconut to some degree for food. Among these cultures, the coconut has a long history as a highly nutritious food rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It is now classified as a 'functional food' as it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.

Traditional use

For thousands of years, wherever the plant grows, coconut products have held a valuable place in local folk medicine. The coconut has been used traditionally to treat a wide variety of health problems, from abscesses and asthma to jaundice and kidney stones. Now, modern science is confirming the medicinal usefulness of coconut.

Coconut in modern medicine

The Coconut Research Center cites several reports from various sources that suggest an impressive list of health benefits from the coconut. Some of these are summarised below:

Destroys viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, and AIDS. Kills various bacteria that cause infections of the skin, throat, lungs, urinary tract, and gums. Kills fungi that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, and diaper rash.

Provides a nutritional source of quick energy, enhancing physical and athletic performance.

Improves insulin secretion and blood glucose control and reduces health risks associated with diabetes.

Reduces problems associated with cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.

Helps protect against osteoporosis by improving calcium and magnesium absorption.

Reduces inflammation, supports tissue healing, and aids immune system function.

Helps protect against breast, colon, and other cancers.

Improves cholesterol ratio, reducing the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.

Relieves symptoms associated with prostate enlargement.

Helps prevent kidney and bladder infections and kidney stones.

Supports thyroid function and promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.

Useful in skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. Softens skin and helps relieve dryness flaking, wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots. Promotes healthy looking hair.

Coconut Oil

While coconut possesses many health benefits due to its nutritional content, it's the oil that makes it a truly remarkable food and medicine. Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is unique and different from most other fats.

All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There can be short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Over 95 per cent of all the fatty acids in the modern diet are LCFA. Coconut oil is composed predominately of MCFA. In fact, coconut and palm oils are the best dietary sources of MCFA.

MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not elevate cholesterol levels and help to prevent heart disease. It is the unique MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so beneficial. I actually recommend having one to two tablespoons of coconut oil (preferably virgin) each day.

This oil has a lower calorie content than other fats and is used to produce energy rather than being stored as body fat. It is a useful weight-loss agent.

Coconut water

Coconut water is the liquid inside the nut and is different to coconut milk, the juice extracted from the coconut meat. Coconut water is a unique beverage, with the same electrolyte balance as that of human blood. In fact, during World War II, in the Pacific, medical military personnel regularly used coconut water, siphoned directly from the nut, to give emergency transfusions to wounded soldiers.

Coconut water has advantages over cow's milk - less fat and no cholesterol! Coconut water is healthier than orange juice - much fewer calories. Coconut water is better than many processed baby feeds - contains healthy lauric acid, a key nutrient also present in mother's milk. Coconut water is naturally sterile, safe, and free of germs.

In 100ml of coconut water:

There is more potassium (almost 300mg) than most sports and energy drinks (around 120mg);

Less sodium (25mg) than sports drinks (around 40mg) and energy drinks (about 200 mg);

Only 5mg of natural sugars whereas sports and energy drinks range from 10-25mg of altered sugars.

Coconut water is best consumed fresh as once exposed to air, the liquid rapidly loses some of its nutritional benefits and begins to ferment. Because of this, bottled and canned coconut water has a short shelf life and require preservatives and refrigeration.

So use coconut oil, drink fresh coconut water, and enjoy better health.

Email Dr Tony Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.