6 Health Benefits of Coconut Water and Oil You Should Know
Coconuts are a staple part of many Mexican and Caribbean-Latino diets. In Northern and Southern regions of Mexico, coconut—its water and milk—is used in drinks, desserts, as well as sweets and savory meals. In Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican and other tropical Latino dishes, it is primarily used as a refreshing drink by itself, loaded with milk and rum for coquito, or in sweet desserts like coconut flan, or nisperos de batata (sweet-potato balls with coconut, cloves and cinnamon).
The way we enjoy coconuts in our culture, however, isn’t exactly complementary to the recent explosion of coconut water in the U.S. Like many Hispanics who grew up on a tropical island, I didn’t think more of the pure juice I sipped from a young coconut than as a thirst quencher on a hot, scorching day. Or the leche de coco from an older coconut being used to make sweet desserts.
So imagine my surprise when it began to fill the aisles of Wholefoods—not in cans from produce mainstays like Goya or Grace Foods, but under the banner: “Hydrate Naturally, “Nature’s Energy Drink.”
While I may have thought it was all marketing hyperbole, the truth is crowning coconut water as “nature’s energy,” isn’t so far off. And what a relief to know that our beloved coconut oil, which was panned for decades as one of the worst oils to use, is actually, the best thing for optimum health. Here are six health benefits from coconuts that you should know.
#1. Their milk really does your body good
Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that is abundant in breast milk. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, lauric acid has many germ-fighting, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties that are very effective at ridding the body of viruses, bacteria and countless illnesses. Lauric acid may also reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which lowers heart disease and stroke risks. There are only a few foods that are rich in lauric acid, so drink coconut milk regularly to benefit from this nutrient.
#2. Coconut oil is one of the best for you to bake and cook with
Our mothers always counted on lard—or two scoops of Crisco to make the crusts of Empanadas flaky or rolls buttery soft. And though olive oil has been touted as the best oil to cook with, rather than, say vegetable oil, it doesn’t hold up when it comes to baking. But the truth is coconut oil was born for baking and cooking—and it’s the only oil that truly provides the best benefits to our body while doing both.
That’s because olive, canola, corn and vegetable oil all turn rancid when the temperature is high. So using them to fry foods actually does more damage than good to your digestive system. According to Joseph Mercola, M.D., a Chicago-based doctor who is trained in both traditional and alternative medical practices practices, “There is only one oil that is stable enough to withstand the heat of cooking, and that’s coconut oil. Vegetable oils contribute to the overabundance of damaged omega-6 fats in your diet, throwing off your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
“Nearly everyone in Western society consumes far too many omega-6 fats—about 100 times more than a century ago— and insufficient omega 3 fats, which contributes to numerous chronic degenerative disease,” says Dr. Mercola, who suggests using coconut oil for dishes that require sauteing (olive oil can be used here, as well) or frying. And it can also be used in recipes that require butter or shortening to be cut into dry ingredients, like breads and pie crusts.
#3. Your body wants the fat coconuts deliver
For years the medical community trashed coconut oil for its saturated fats; claiming it greased the road to heart conditions. But now, we know better. Coconut oil has a unique composition from other fats based on its fat molecule. “Coconut oil has predominately medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA),” says Dr. Mercola. “Bad fats—found in meat, milk, eggs and, some plants, have long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.” And for those who might look it the oil in its solid state and think it’ll end up clinging to your arteries, remember this: coconut oil liquefies at 76 degrees. Normal body temperature is 98.6.