There’s been so much hype about coconut products lately, you’d think coconuts were the missing link to perfect health. They’re not. But it’s time to address the hype:
Coconut water: Did some enterprising coconut grower with a talent for marketing spin suddenly see dollar signs in the watery insides of coconuts? What used to be discarded during coconut processing is now a pricey “re-hydration” beverage in shiny plastic packages. While there’s nothing wrong with coconut water, positioning it as something nutritionally special (and linking it to athletes or celebrities) is a stretch. It’s water, with some natural sweetness and a relatively high potassium content. While potassium is good (most people don’t get nearly enough), the point of re-hydration beverages for high performance athletes is to replenish the sodium that’s lost in sweat. Coconut water is not high in sodium. And potassium is not lost in sweat to any great extent. A new study looked at athletic performance and hydration when highly trained subjects were given coconut water, plain water or a sports drink in exercising conditions. Results: no performance differences were noted, and the subjects complained of more bloating and stomach upset with the coconut water products.
Coconut milk: Plain coconut “milk”, a thick white liquid, comes in cans and is typically used for cooking curries and Asian dishes. It has nothing to do with coconut water, and you definitely do not pour it out of a coconut, as some photos imply. It’s high fat and high calorie, and is made by a very laborious process that involves breaking a coconut into pieces and removing the hairy brown shell from the white coconut pieces. The white pieces are pureed and soaked in water, then drained in a sieve and pressed to remove the milky liquid. The soaking, draining and pressing can be repeated.
Coconut milk Part 2: In addition to coconut milk, we now have “milk” made from coconuts and sold as a cow’s milk substitute. Nutritionally it is nothing like cow’s milk whatsoever. It’s basically a sweetened drink fortified with a few vitamins. The key differences:
- very low protein
- relatively high in fat
- sweetened with added sugars
- only contains significant calcium if calcium is added, usually as calcium carbonate, which can upset digestion (constipating)
Coconut oil: Some Alzheimer’s patients are now being given coconut oil in the hope that fats in coconut are uniquely able to supply energy to Alzheimer’s-afflicted brain cells. The reasoning is that damaged brain cells are less able to utilize glucose, the preferred energy source. Short-chain fats, such as found in coconut oil, are metabolized to ketones, which brain cells can utilize. While anecdotes hint that this might be true, there is no strong research evidence that giving coconut oil to Alzheimer’s patients improves symptoms or affects disease progression at all. And ultimately, the point of any intervention for a disease is to improve the outcome. Otherwise what’s the point?