Why is everyone nuts about coconuts?

Would you like some coconut oil, coconut water or perhaps a fresh drinking coconut?  I could be tempted by the last one but only for the novelty factor of having a straw in a coconut.  I’ll pass on the others though and the following explains why.

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You also have probably noticed that all things coconut are in vogue at the moment.  I don’t understand the trend, in particular the marketing of them as healthy products.  Marketing, perhaps I’ve answered my own question.  The hype is due to clever marketing.  Coconuts as many of us know (or perhaps used to know before all the hype) are high in saturated fat.  That’s right, the saturated fat that is a convincing cause of many conditions including high cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).  The new Australian Dietary Guidelines that were released earlier this year specifically state coconut oil as a source of saturated fat that should be replaced with unsaturated fat sources such as olive oil or avocados.

The saturated fat is found in increasing amounts in desiccated and oil forms of coconut.  NUTTAB shows that a whopping 93.7% of the fat found in coconut is saturated!  Saturated fat levels should make up less than 10% of the total daily kilojoule intake of an individual to allow for optimal health.  The average daily kilojoule intake of Australians is 8700 kJ; therefore someone consuming this amount should in theory consume no more than 23.5 grams of saturated fat.

A quarter cup of desiccated coconut weighs about 20 grams and contains 11.5 grams of saturated fat.  Which leads to the question: why is flaked coconut (the in vogue form of grated and desiccated) promoted as a healthy food in many stores and recipes?  Coconut oil is popping up in lots of places too.  The nutritional information panel on the product I looked at stated that 88% of the fat was saturated; therefore a tablespoon (say 15 grams) has about 13 grams of saturated.  Just to reiterate, this is the type of fat that is a convincing cause of CHD and it is recommended that the average Australian shouldn’t have more than 23.5 grams of it per day.  We are already about half way there with ¼ cup of desiccated coconut OR a single tablespoon of coconut oil!

Not all coconut products are that bad though.  Coconut water basically has no fat as it is the flesh of the coconut that contains fat.  It is often advertised as having a rehydrating effect due to its mineral content.  It does contain minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium but at similar amounts that you would find in other foods.  For example, NUTTAB shows that skim milk has more sodium and calcium than coconut water and similar levels of potassium and magnesium per 100 mls.  Milk is also a source of protein and a lot less expensive.

With this information, I’ll definitely be sticking to unsaturated oils and having a glass of skim milk instead.

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