Coconut-A boon to our diet

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  • 16

    Jul

 

Ever since my memory dates back, coconut has played a vital role in the food habits, health and beauty aspects of my life. I just love coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk, everything related to this wonderful seed. It may be because I was born in the land of coconuts. Our ancestral home was situated in between acres of coconut plantations. It was one of the main occupations of the people of Kerala. It was grown in the most healthy way with natural manure and it is one of the reasons why our place is filled with greenery. I have seen it used for naturopathy and Ayurveda. Of late, we have seen the importance and the beneficial health aspect of coconuts.
This is the reason why I choose coconut as the reason for my this weeks post. I have been posting tasty food recipes all this while. Health is a subject of concern these days. The advancement of science has definitely brought us umpteen advantages but along with it many negative aspects. Diet, healthy way of living, exercise, organic food, these are all the common terms used in one’s life these days. Why? Have we ever taken time out to think about it?
Medicine has been a field of interest for me since my childhood. I enjoy reading journals, books and articles related to this. On this note I want to share a secret with you all. I was all set to go to learn medicine and become a doctor . My discouraged parents me and that was how I joined for psychology as this is also related to medicine and science. So I’m keeping my passion alive through reading all that is related to this field. Coming back to our topic, I firmly believe our ancestors healthy lives were due to the clean environment, healthy food habits and a meticulous life. “What does this have to do with coconut?”, you might be thinking. The natives of Kerala, our ancestors used every part of coconut in their daily life. I strongly believe that the health benefits of coconut can be one of the reason for their life longevity, beautiful luscious hair, wrinkle free skin but also the status symbol of upper class, High BP, Diabetes and cholesterol.
While coconuts are called nuts, they are not actually nuts, they are the monocot seed of the plant family. The coconut palm or cocos nucifera, is a member of the Arecaceae family, which also includes acai berries, dates, and other drupe fruits grown in tropical and subtropical regions. Coconut palms are grown in more than 80 countries throughout the world, with the majority growing in the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Brazil. There are many theories regarding the origin of coconut though its vague. Many researchers suggest Malaysia to be the likeliest place, others consider the north-west of South America. The fruit has spread worldwide mostly with the help of seafarers. The coconut fruit itself is light and water resistant, it can keep itself afloat on the surface of the water, thus able to be spread by currents. Now it is grown in more than 70 countries throughout the world. The major countries are India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Maldives.
Each and every part of the coconut is used extensively in Kerala. The outer hard shell is used in fires for cooking, in handicrafts and as utensils. The main inner fruit is used for cooking, for producing coconut oil, extracting coconut milk, to make desiccated coconut, instant milk powder, for beauty products. Coconut oil is used for cooking, for making soaps and beauty products. Extra virgin coconut oil is gaining popularity due to its health benefits.
If coconut is a natural food grown and used by nearly 1/3rd of the population, how can it be bad for us? In fact, every thing, whether its food, science or technology has two sides, positive and negative. This is the case with coconut as well. Infact there are very few points to highlight the bad face of cocos nucifera. The bad press surrounding the coconut, is associated with highly processed, refined, hydrogenated coconut oils. We now know that hydrogenated oils, (from all sources – palm, canola, etc.) create dangerous trans-fats, which impede cell function, lead to high blood cholesterol, and more. Many of the studies that pointed negatively at coconut oil, were in fact accurate but left out the fact that participants consumed refined and hydrogenated coconut oil – which in turn led to the less than positive health outcomes.
Coconut oil

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Coconut oil is extensively used in my kitchen now more than before. Earlier my kids were not so enthusiastic about its flavour. Now as they have realised its value and benefits and also since my daughter has turned vegetarian, I’m all happy as coconut is my favourite ingredient. The aroma it emits….its so refreshing and makes me nostalgic. Its the basic cooking oil used in our preparations. Moreover the importance it has gained all over the world is also a boost for my cooking experiments as I can cut across the barrier of race and country. In other parts of the globe, the rise in the popularity of EVCO can also be credited to the vegan movement, wherein it is considered as the perfect alternative to butter. It is a stable vegetable oil that remains solid at room temperature and can withstand high heat without smoking or oxidising.
In India, virgin coconut oil has been extensively used for the preparation of a number of traditional south Indian dishes for centuries and continues to do so in most households that have stayed clear of the refined variant. The basics of any cuisine require one to use ingredients that are local and easily available. This makes the cuisine of each region unique. The usage of coconut oil forms the core of south Indian and coastal cooking.
‘Extra virgin’ is a concept most of us associate with olive oil, almost instantly. EVOO has held a celebrated spot in the kitchens for many years, with its incredible properties and health benefits being raved about far and beyond. Joining this exclusive category in recent times is the tropics’ very own coconut as extra virgin coconut oil.
While EVCO is meandering its way into the superfood status, the notorious records of the past had sprung from studies related to saturated fat and the refined variant, which is extensively treated with chemicals thereby stripping the oil of all its goodness. The partially hydrogenated oil, which is bleached and deodourised, has high levels of trans-fat that increases cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This was the reason why it was stamped as ‘worst than butter.’ According to an article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, most studies claiming the dangers of coconut oil had used hydrogenated varieties.
The extra virgin oil, on the other hand, is produced without using any chemical solvents or high temperatures. It is a stable, natural saturated fat with medium-chain fatty acids that can be easily converted into energy by the body. Among the fatty acids, it primarily contains lauric acid, a “miracle” component known to have various beneficial properties – anti-pathogenic, regulates cholesterol level and insulin, promotes weight loss, etc. A 2007 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food stated that EVCO was effective in fighting infections caused by parasitic fungi.
Simran Saini, wellness and nutrition consultant of Fortis Group of Hospitals says, “Coconut oil has saturated fats and hence always been considered harmful for health. But the medium chain fatty acids found in EVCO are found to easily assimilate in our system. They enhance the binding of insulin to our cells which makes sugar levels more stable thereby helping in weight loss. Rich in vitamin E, antioxidants and polyphenols, this oil helps in balancing our hormones and thus is good for weight loss if consumed in right quantities.”

Coconut Sugar

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I would like to specifically go in for a minor detailing of coconut sugar. The white sugar or refined sugar is one of the most harmful things for health. It is also called white poison. Sugar or sweets or desserts are a vital part of our life. In india it is a must to have a dessert along with lunch. Avoiding it completely is impossible for the major chunk of population. So how we can turn it into more safer and healthier way is one of my researches these days. In pursuit of this research I stumbled upon coconut sugar. We have shifted from white sugar to unrefined raw sugar and agave syrup. Few weeks back I happened to see the negative side effects of agave too. Thats when I started going through the various sugars and their details. I’m a person who believes that whatever we use or do we should do it on a normal basis rather than going overboard. So heres some information regarding coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is a sweetener that is made from the sap present in the flower buds of the coconut palm tree. It is known as natural sugar because it involves minimum processing and no chemicals are used. The sap from the tree is heated to wick away the moisture content until a thick syrup is obtained, and this sweet nectar is then further reduced to crystals. In the stores, coconut sugar is available in the block, granular and liquid form.
Though, of late, many speculations revolve around coconut sugar and its health benefits, it has been a common ingredient used in the preparation of traditional dishes in south and south-east Asian cuisines. The sugar has a mild caramel flavour and in its liquid form resembles honey whereas in the granular state, it is not much different in taste as compared to white sugar. It is used in making curries, sauces and desserts. What had stirred up a storm in the food scene a few years back was the creation of innovative desserts – ice creams, puddings, panna cottas and souffles – using the molten nolen gur, also known as khajur gur.
Health Benefits of Coconut Sugar
Since coconut sugar is an unrefined sugar, it is known to be rich in vitamins and minerals. As a result, it has become increasingly popular as a substitute to white and brown sugar. Research studies have found that it contains minerals like potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, manganese and copper; small amounts of phytonutrients such as polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanidin; and antioxidants. It is rich in B vitamins, especially inositol (Vit8) which is needed for the formation of healthy cells, as well as thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid and choline. It contains the same 16 amino acids as present in the sap from which it is derived. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are needed for cell growth and repair.
One of the biggest reasons of the popularity of coconut sugar is due to its low glycemic index, a method of measuring how carbohydrates impact blood glucose levels. A high GI means that the food is rapidly absorbed by the body thereby increasing the blood sugar level and causing the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. A low GI indicates that the food is slowly absorbed, preventing the spike in insulin level. Researchers have found that the GI of palm sugar is 35, compared to honey at 55 and table sugar at 68. Coconut sugar also contains a dietary fibre called inulin, which is known to keep a check on blood sugar levels, and low amount of fructose, a type of sugar our body quickly converts into triglyceride – a form of fat.
Although these factors have led to the claim that coconut sugar has little impact on blood sugar levels and is suitable for diabetics, let’s not forget that it is still a sweetener. As mentioned in an article on Huffington Post by fitness and nutrition expert JJ Virgin, “…a study in the ASEAN Food Journal found coconut sugar has about 71 per cent sucrose, which in other words is table sugar, as well as 3 per cent pure glucose and 3 per cent pure fructose. In other words, about 78 per cent – over three-fourths – of coconut sugar is actually sugar, compared with 100 per cent of table sugar. (Nutrients, inulin, and antioxidants constitute coconut sugar’s other 22 per cent.)”
Moreover, GI varies from person to person and also depends on how the food is cooked and with what it is eaten. In most cases, the sugar is likely to be mixed or prepared with other ingredients that contain carbohydrates. In terms of calories too, it is equivalent to that of table sugar. Ultimately its our choice to go with what we want. Maintaining modesty in all aspects gives a better result.
All of the coconut is trending and for good reason. An average coconut contains around 50% water, 35% coconut oil, 10% carbohydrates and 3.5% protein. A glass of coconut water works as a quick-fix for instant energy and keeps you hydrated. Coconut oil is famous for the bounty of beauty benefits that it has to offer. According to health experts, coconut consumption helps in better digestion, relieving stress, strengthening immunity, combating high sugar levels and in maintaining healthy skin and lustrous hair.
Coconut Yoghurt: This is a fairly new dairy-free alternative, great for those who are lactose-intolerant and who fancy a change from the soya varieties. It is much higher in fat than both natural dairy yoghurt and soya yoghurts, but also much lower in carbohydrates.
Coconut Cream: The cream derived from coconut is slightly thick in its consistency as compared to coconut milk. Widely used in the cooking arena and popularly used in delicacies like pina colada, coconut cream can also be used a perfect natural face, body and hair mask.
Coconut Water: The is now being marketed as a highly hydrating fluid. It has less sugar than fruit juices and more minerals such as potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium. These properties are great as a post-workout drink if you’ve only been doing moderate exercise, but there isn’t enough protein or carbohydrate if you’re undergoing vigorous exercise of over one hour.
Fresh Coconut as a Snack:Fresh coconut flesh is delicious, full of vitamins and minerals and goes really well in a smoothie. Enjoy as a snack but go easy on your portion sizes – a typical snack pack (100g) of fresh coconut pieces contains 271 kcal compared to just 50 kcal in a 100g fresh fruit pot.
coconut milk has been proved to be the next best thing to breast milk. The Coconut Development Board (CDB) is set to promote it as a health drink and one to be used for cooking. According to studies, dairy milk contains lactose, a type of sugar that is difficult for many people to digest, while coconut milk does not contain the compound. According to some scientists in situations when a baby is not getting breast milk or needs additional supplements, in countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, coconut milk is widely used in place of cow milk,”
Everyday we come across people discussing the health benefits of colourful vegetables and fruits, but not all are backed by strong research. Green tea, raspberries and coconut milk are some of time-tested and research proven food items that can be trusted.
From cooking to beauty products, coconut oil is everywhere. It’s extremely popular for its unique taste and the multiple health benefits it offers. It helps with weight-loss, boosts immunity, improves digestion and helps treat skin and hair problems. I can go on and on regarding each part of coconut.

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