The A-Z of Indian Superfoods: Coconut
In Sanskrit, coconut is referred to as ‘Kalpavriksha’ or ‘tree of life’ for its myriad uses and healing properties that nourish and protect the body. Use this ‘hero’ ingredient to rustle up scrumptious treats or add it to a self-care ritual for your skin and hair.
Coconut or Cocos nucifera is a superfood. It is an important fruit tree growing in tropical and subtropical regions. In India, the use of coconut and its applications in Ayurvedic medicine have been documented in post-Vedic epics of Mahabharata (3000 BC), Ramayana, and Buddhist stories in Jakarta. It’s also included in Ayurvedic /agricultural treatises, historical accounts, travelogues, and Sanskrit literature dating the 2nd and 1st century BC.
Nutritional Benefits Of Coconut
1. Rich in electrolytes: Coconut water is considered the best natural electrolyte as it is rich in inorganic ions such as potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. The concentration of these electrolytes in tender coconut water ensures faster absorption by the body to balance electrolytes. The potassium concentration in coconut water is reported to lower blood pressure. Coconut water is great as a post-workout drink if you’ve been doing moderate exercise.
2. Abundant in antioxidants: The phenolic compounds found in coconuts such as gallic acid, salicylic acid, and p-coumaric acid are antioxidants that help protect cells from oxidative damage. A free amino acid, L-arginine that is present in tender coconut water significantly reduces free radical generation which is responsible for inflammation, ageing and chronic health issues. Coconut is also rich in Vitamin C (15 mg/100mL), an antioxidant that lowers inflammation and is great for your skin. Antioxidants in virgin coconut oil are known for their ability to repair skin and hair damage besides improving oral hygiene. Known for its antimicrobial properties, oil pulling with virgin coconut oil can help protect your gums, reduce the buildup of plaque and prevent tooth decay.
3. Protective towards cardiac health: Coconut oil has 96 percent saturated fats, however, virgin coconut oil is made up of 70-85 percent medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), a type of good fat—such as caprylic acid, capric acid, lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid. These have a protective effect on our heart health as they are directly absorbed from the intestine and metabolised by the liver for energy production. They are not involved in the biosynthesis and transport of cholesterol. It also prevents myocardial infarction or heart attack due to its rich content of potassium. A study showed that virgin coconut oil lowered total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol levels.
4. Stabalises blood sugar: Coconut is known for its anti-diabetic properties. It is low in carbohydrates, high in fibre and rich in good fats. A study attributed coconut’s anti-diabetic effects to the amino acid, arginine. It helps in the proper functioning of pancreatic cells, which release the hormone insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. The high fibre content of coconut meat can also help in slower digestion and thereby improving insulin resistance.
5. Strong antiviral agent: Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of viruses that are lipid-coated such as, influenza virus, pneumonia virus, hepatitis C virus. When consumed, the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil primarily destroy these organisms by disrupting their membranes and thus interfering with virus assembly and maturation. Coconut is a rich source of lauric acid (also found in breast milk) that exhibits few antiviral properties.
6. Active antifungal properties: Monolaurin, the fatty acid in coconut oil has antifungal properties against broad fungal species such as Aspergillus sp., Penicillium sp., Cladosporium sp., Fusarium sp., Alternaria sp., C. Albicans. Coconut oil, when ingested, can also help combat yeast overgrowths, such as candida and thrush.
Coconut For Glowing Skin And Luscious Hair
Plump, clear skin with coconut oil
The traditional use of coconut oil as a lotion in many parts of the world is well-founded. Coconut oil has antiseptic effects and is also used as a safe, toxin-free skin moisturiser. Monolaurin, fatty acid present in coconut, has antimicrobial properties and helps protect the skin from acne. Coconut oil can be an effective moisturiser and aid in the treatment of dry skin and eczema. It also helps in wound healing and healing burn injuries by increasing collagen production.
Homemade coconut body scrub: Make an exfoliating scrub with half a cup of coconut cream mixed with 3 tablespoons of coarsely ground oats.
Thick, soft hair with coconut oil
When coconut oil is applied topically, the lauric acid in coconut oil protects your scalp and hair, blocks bacteria and irritants. Coconut oil is absorbed into your scalp quickly, providing moisture to tame frizz, protection against hair fall due to breakage.
Homemade coconut leave-in hair conditioner: For frizz-free hair, dilute 4 tablespoons of coconut water, one tablespoon of vinegar in half a cup of rice water. Pour into a spray bottle and use.
Ways To Add Coconut To Your Diet
- Coconut Yoghurt: A dairy-free alternative for vegans or for those with lactose intolerance. It is much higher in fat but low in carbohydrates than dairy yogurt. See the recipe here.
- Coconut Sugar: Good alternative for regular granulated sugar as it is healthier and has trace amounts of minerals and antioxidants. Table sugar has a glycemic index of around 60, whereas coconut sugar has 54. Foods with a lower glycemic index are good for people with diabetes. However, it is still energy-dense and should be used in moderation.
- Coconut Oil: Virgin coconut oil is rich in nutrients and can be used for baking or roasting and can be added to make salad dressings. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoking point and can be used for Indian cooking.
- Bulletproof Coffee: Mix a teaspoon of coconut oil into your coffee for fat to keep hunger pangs at bay.
- Coconut Smoothie: Add a teaspoon of coconut oil to smoothies, juices as post-work-out drinks.
Coconut Balls: For a quick energy boost, mix some coconut oil with cacao and honey before a workout. Coconut oil is great for making keto and paleo-friendly fat bombs.
- Coconut Flour: Coconut flour is a great addition for those on paleo diets. It is high in carbs and low in fat, and is gluten-free. It is rich in fibre, low in Omega-6 fats, and has a milder taste when compared to other flour.
- Coconut Cream: The cream derived from coconut is used in smoothies, soups, curries. The same coconut cream can also be used as a natural face, body, and hair mask.
- Fresh Coconut Snack: Shredded coconut can be used in topping for overnight oats or smoothies bowls, energy bars and desserts. Here is an easy three-ingredient recipe with coconut—combine shredded coconut, coconut oil and honey into a ball and your pre or post-workout snack is ready.
But Eat Coconut In Moderation
Coconut is high in fat; and also calories per serving and might promote weight gain if the total calories in the diet are not taken into account. If you are on a weight loss diet, watch the portion sizes. While the effects of saturated fat on heart disease are still debated, studies show that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may lower heart disease risk.
Given that this fruit may also have positive effects on your heart, more research is needed on coconut meat and long-term heart health, eating in moderation is the key. Please check with a nutritionist or doctor about if you are at risk of developing heart disease and want to include coconut oil in your diet.