The coconut craze: join or resist?

coconutIn the past few years, coconuts have taken on the status of “superfood.” Just search online and you will end up with a laundry list of diseases that can be treated with various coconut products. Coconut water is touted as a natural energy drink, better than any sports drink. Coconut milk has become a new favorite for people looking for a dairy replacement. And olive oil is being passed over for coconut oil in cooking. Should you join the coconut band wagon?

Coconut Oil

In a nutshell, pardon the pun, there is no current scientific evidence to support the health claims that coconut products should be your go-to ingredient. First, coconut oil is 87% saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. While it is high in lauric acid, which can raise HDL (good) cholesterol, it can also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, along with myristic acid, which is also present in coconut oil. It is a mainstay of the Paleo diet, as its saturated fat and medium-chain triglycerides are considered to be faster burning fats. However, when studied, the overall benefit from this is minimal when it comes to weight loss. Think of it this way, one tablespoon of coconut oil has 117 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat, while butter only has 102 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat, respectively, for the same serving.

Overall, the consumption of coconut oil is not recommended. If you still want to use it, do so in moderation and stick to virgin coconut oil, which preserves its antioxidant properties.

Coconut Milk

When considering if you should use coconut milk in place of other dairy alternatives, consider the calorie content first. If you use traditional coconut milk, it is more cream than milk and is about 445 calories for 1 cup. Even if you use a light coconut milk at about 80 calories per cup, it contains none of the protein that you would find in dairy or soy milk which is 7-8 grams, depending on the brand. And it still contains 5 grams of saturated fat, which you won’t get with rice or almond milk. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 7% of your total daily calories, which is only 15 grams for a 2000 calorie diet.

Coconut Water

Coconut water (the liquid from an immature green coconut) is often touted as a miracle beverage. It is high in potassium, low in sugar and has a sweet, nutty taste. Just 1 cup provides only 44 calories and whopping 488 mg potassium. For this reason, as a beverage, it is a better choice than soda or sports drinks for random sipping. Its low sodium content, only 44 grams per 8 ounces, though, does not make it a great sports drink since the primary electrolyte lost during exercise is sodium, not potassium. If this is your focus, and you exercise heavily or for long periods, you should look for a sodium-enhanced coconut milk for post-workout rehydration. If your exercise is less intense and shorter duration, good old water might be all you need.

So before you switch, remember there is no evidence to support the majority of the health claims about coconut products, and its saturated fat content is a red flag. Choose it for its taste alone and limit consumption, but don’t jump on the coconut bandwagon for health reasons, as the claims are simply not substantiated.

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U-M CCC dietitians NEWRegistered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.



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