Coconuts: Paradise Lost
Hey, have you heard about coconuts? They’re delicious! Now they’re nutritious, too, right? Today I will share my journey from a tropical coconut-laden paradise to the thick undergrowth of a dangerous jungle filled with misinformation.
I was aware of the fact that coconut was the new fad du jour; a few family members have gotten into coconut oil and coconut water, but I wasn’t really interested in it until I tried a little treat that one of my friends made. It was a little delight called Coconut-Lemon Truffles. The recipe was pretty basic: coconut butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, and Splenda. It melts in your mouth, tastes delicious, and supposedly it’s healthy. White sandy beaches, here I come!
I got the recipe and headed over to our local natural food store to pick-up the coconut butter. While there I grabbed some coconut milk and flax milk. Rob and I recently discovered the low-calorie benefit of almond milk over skim milk, and I thought these might be other tasty alternatives.
By far, the flax milk tasted the best, its sweet flavor somewhat reminiscent of cookie dough. The unsweetened vanilla almond milk came in second place with extra points for creaminess. The coconut milk was dead last. It had a watery, bland, earthy flavor.
We turned our attention to the saturated fat content in the coconut milk. The back of the carton claimed that the saturated fat in coconut milk was actually good for you. A jar of coconut oil I had purchased for a previous recipe a while back said the same thing; that not all saturated fats are bad. These “medium chain” fats were special, they said.
This did not sit well with Rob. We have a pretty healthy diet and all of this “saturated fat is healthy” talk left a bad taste in his mouth, so we began searching for information. Usually an EBSCO search on Rob’s college library website produces a wealth of info, but not this time, so we had to resort to the wild, wild web. There were piles of sites promoting the miracles of the coconut, but the voice of opposition was scarce. I was encouraged to keep digging when I read on Wikipedia that “Many health organizations advise against the consumption of high amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat, including the United States Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, International College of Nutrition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, British National Health Service, and Dietitians of Canada.”
Dr. Oz and Dr. Joseph Mercola seem to be the loudest proponents of the coconut, and since Mercola actually sells coconut oil by the gallon via his website, I thought I’d list some of the claims he makes:
- Coconut water reduces swelling in hands and feet, prevents abnormal blood clotting, supports good immune function, improves wound healing, enhances eye-health (cataracts, glaucoma), anti-aging, anti-cancer, helps prevent osteoporosis, helps prevent heart attacks, lowers blood pressure.
- Coconut butter promotes heart health, thyroid gland health, and immune system health. Supports a healthy metabolism, promotes weight loss, provides you with an immediate energy source, and keeps your skin healthy and youthful looking. The lauric acid found in coconuts is converted into monolaurin when processed by your body, which is a monoglyceride which can actually destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, measles, influenza virus, and various pathogenic bacteria.
Holy cow, it cures HIV?! If this doesn’t set off the flashing lights and sirens of your skeptic alarm then I hereby revoke your skeptic card. Trying to find responses to all these claims was not as easy as it should have been, and wading through all the mumbo-jumbo touting the coconut was exhausting.
Finally I found a page critical of the coconut on eHow, but it was pretty meager. Then I found a more substantial article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that lists most of the major claims and dissects them bit by bit.
Who knew coconuts would be such a tough nut to crack? I had no idea I’d be going down this coconut rabbit hole when I bought the coconut butter and milk, but I’m glad I did. Some folks guzzle pure coconut oil by the spoonful (http://www.coconutdiet.com/weight_loss.htm), and this just seems downright dangerous. As for me, until these “good saturated fats” are proven and the FDA allows for a separate entry on the Nutrition Facts label like they do for monosaturated fat, I’m going to completely avoid coconut oil and butter. I’ll treat the saturated fat in coconut the same as I do all other saturated fat: limit intake as much as possible. More studies obviously need to be done.
I did find a good use for the coconut butter I bought for the Coconut-Lemon Truffles: I made deodorant! One of the coconut-crazed sites had a recipe for it, so I figured it was worth a shot since I wasn’t going to eat the stuff. I even did a little science experiment: coconut on one armpit, Dove on the other. The night I tested these two against each other, I had accidentally left my heating mattress pad on high, so I really ran these deodorants through the ringer!
And the winner was: Coconut Butter! I’m going to keep on using it. There are also techniques, available through a simple Google search, on how to make it into a “stick” deodorant for easy application. I don’t mind using my fingers to apply it though; no biggie. At least coconut oil is good for something!