Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Coconuts – a nutritious taste of the tropics

With warm weather on the way, you may have wonderful visions of basking in the sun on a tropical island, sipping on a tropical drink and letting all your worries float away into a beautiful azure blue sea.  Ahh.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, for those of us (most of us!) who find that picture to be simply a dreamscape, perhaps you can bring some of the tropics into your life in another way.  And, of course I mean nutritionally!

Coconuts.  Yum.  A taste of the tropics.  You find them many ways – in beverages, on cakes, in Thai food and even in ice cream.  Nutrition wise, it depends on which coconut product you consume as to whether it is “healthful” or not.  Certainly, coconut cake is not a health food…but some people consider coconut water to be one.

Here are the nutrition facts (USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference):

  • One cup of coconut water – 46 calories, 3g fiber, 9g carbs, 2g protein
  • One tablespoon of raw coconut milk – 34 calories, 4g fat, 1g carb
  • One cup shredded coconut meat (80 grams) – 283 calories, 27g fat, 7g fiber, 12g carbs, 3g protein
  • One piece of coconut meat (2x2x1/2”) – 159 calories, 15g fat, 4g fiber, 7g carbs, 2g protein
  • A quarter cup of sweetened, shredded dried coconut – 116 calories, 8g fat, 1g fiber, 11g carbs, 1g protein
  • One piece of coconut cake (about 1/12 of a 9” cake) – 399 calories, 12g fat, 1g fiber, 71g carbs, 5g protein
  • One cup of prepared alcoholic pina colada – 437 calories, 5g fat, 1g fiber, 57g carbs, 1g protein

In general, coconut contains a lot of healthful minerals and fiber.  Coconut water is considered to be a healthful, natural electrolyte-replenishing beverage (especially beneficial for sport and rehydration).  Additionally, some research has shown coconut oil to elevate HDL (good) cholesterol.  However, other researchers point out that the high amount of saturated fat in coconuts has also been shown to elevate LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Coconut oil, while high in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are more easily broken down than the long chain ones found in other high-saturated fat foods like whole-fat animal products (i.e. whole milk and red meat), it is still a fat.  MCT oils may be especially beneficial for wound healing, infant growth and healthful weight gain…but can be detrimental if consumed by an average consumer in large quantities.

One delicious new treat to the supermarket shelves that may be of interest to those suffering with food sensitivities is coconut milk frozen dessert (think coconut based ice cream).  As an alternative to traditional ice cream, coconut “ice cream” is soy, dairy and gluten free.  I tasted a dark chocolate version by Coconut Bliss at Earthfare grocery store recently and all I can say is – yum, yum, yum!  Look for it in your grocer’s freezer for an easily digested, sweet treat.

And, like anything else, eat coconut in moderation.  Try coconut water for a natural sports drink.  Add some unsweetened shredded coconut to top your salad.  Choose reduced-fat coconut milk to add to tofu and vegetable stir-fries.  Imagine yourself in the tropics.  The pure, fresh and naturally sweet flavor of coconut will be sure to delight your senses and may even be healthy for you, too!

2 comments on “Coconuts – a nutritious taste of the tropics

  1. Kiley from Coconut Bliss
    April 13, 2010

    Hi Julie,
    Thanks so much for the Coconut Bliss shout out! The Dark Chocolate is our best seller, and the favorite of many people I know!
    Blissful regards,

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