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Eating Well With Whole Foods: Coconut

by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

Throughout time people from across the globe have prized the coconut as a valuable source of both food and medicine. The Pacific Islands so highly revered the coconut palm that they referred to it as “The Tree of Life.” Early Spanish explorers referred to it as “coco,” which means “monkey face” because they thought the three indentations on the hairy nut resembled that of the head and face of a monkey. The exotic fruit is grown in more than 80 countries across the world with the Philippines, India, and Indonesia being the top three producers. 

Rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, coconut is highly nutritious and is popular throughout the world. In fact, it is a dietary staple on many islands with nearly one third of the world’s populations depending on coconuts to some degree for their food and economy. Many cultures have traditionally relied on the healing properties of the fruit and continue to reap economic benefits from coconut related products. Coconuts have been used to treat everything from asthma to earaches to toothaches, tumors and typhoid. Current studies are confirming some of the traditional uses of coconut and show they may also be helpful in helping kill viruses and bacteria associated with influenza, ulcers, pneumonia, gum disease, throat infections, and urinary tract infections. A coconut rich diet may also help immune function, improve digestion, and protect against osteoporosis, and improve the appearance of skin and hair.  

Coconuts are truly a versatile fruit with both nutritious and economic benefits.  Coconut oil is often used to make soaps, shampoos, and other commercial goods. The husk or “coir” is commonly used to make ropes, sacks, and brushes. Coconut water is often consumed directly as a refreshing drink and used by athletes for replenishment due to its high level of natural sugars, salts, dietary fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Due to its makeup, coconut water was known to have been used during World War II in tropical areas for emergency transfusions similar to that of a modern day IV. Fatty coconut milk is often added to curries to give it a creamy and rich taste. The coconut “meat,” or white fleshy part, is rich in Manganese, Potassium, and Copper and is used fresh or dried in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts like that of macaroons. Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy due to its high level of saturated fats, coconut oil has recently been deemed as one of the healthiest oils. It differs from other oils in that it is comprised predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), rather than long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Unlike LCFA, found in eggs, milk and meat, MCFA do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and have actually been found to lower the risk heart disease. 

When shopping for coconuts, select ones that are heavy for their size with no visible signs of decay. Avoid those with any liquid leaking out of the three indentations or “eyes.” You should hear water sloshing around when you lift the coconut. A coconut will keep at room temperature for up to six months. Coconut meat will stay fresh up to four days in the refrigerator. A delicious and nutritious treat, my four-year-old son’s favorite way to enjoy coconut is simply by itself or sprinkled, along with cacao, on his morning whole grain oatmeal and breakfast cereals. 

Coconut Banana Smoothie 

½ cup plain unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tablespoons shredded coconut 
¼ cup drained silken tofu
½ small frozen banana
1 tablespoon flaxseeds, ground
½ teaspoon cinnamon 

Mix all of the ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

Suzann Pileggi Pawelski is a freelance wellness writer who specializes in the science of happiness and how it affects our health and relationships. She is also a certified health coach who works with clients on nourishing their bodies and souls by helping them make better food and lifestyle choices. She uses food to naturally increase energy, control cravings and create a balanced lifestyle. Suzann holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from the University of Pennsylvania.  She is also a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Visit her website at www.suzannpileggi.com, or email her at suzannpileggi@aol.com for a discounted phone consultation. 

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