Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coco Nuts

As the weather warms up many of us have thoughts of tropical vacations sitting under palm trees and sipping pina coladas. It's a relaxing image, but are those coconuts in the frozen cocktails doing us harm?

Coconuts have become a sort of nutrition trend recently, and all kinds of new products are popping up on grocery store shelves. With the slew of new products come health claims by manufacturers touting the health benefits of these products. Many of these products, however, are marketed as nutrition supplements, and don't require the same federal regulation applied to foods. So how do you know what you are getting?

Coconut Water is the liquid found in the center of a young coconut. Coconut water is very high in potassium, has some carbohydrate (sugar) and is low in sodium. It has been marketed in the U.S. as "nature's sports drink" and many celebrities have been spouting its health benefits. Some of these claims include the ability to control diabetes, fight viruses, speed metabolism, treat kidney stones, smooth your skin, stop dandruff, or prevent cancer. All of these claims are unsubstantiated.

The Verdict: Coconut water does provide hydration, however it does not provide the correct balance of electrolytes after a particularly strenuous workout. If you are a serious athlete, stick to a conventional source to replenish electrolytes. Unlike water, it does contain calories (65 calories/12 oz), so be mindful of the extra calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you like the taste, coconut water is fine, but don't expect any health miracles from drinking.

Coconut Milk is thicker and richer than coconut water, and is produced from pressing the meat of the coconut to obtain a liquid. It is used by those who are lactose intolerant, vegans, and in cooking. Traditional coconut milk — the kind that comes in a can — has 550 calories per cup and provides more than 250% of the daily recommended limit for saturated-fat intake, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coconut milk has been marketed as a "fat burning" weight loss supplement.

The Verdict: Saturated fats are the fats that increase cholesterol in the body, and research shows that saturated fats should be avoided. There is no evidence to support the claims for fat burning or increased metabolism after consuming coconut milk. Coconut milk should be used very sparingly.

Coconut Oil
is produced from the meat of mature coconuts. Coconut oil contains very high levels of saturated fat. Health claims for coconut oil include stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength.

The Verdict: Coconut oil should be avoided due to the high saturated fat content.

Overall, coconut may have its place in the diet in moderation, but offers no exceptional health benefits and the fat may be harmful in large quantities. So enjoy that pina colada, but don't go overboard on the coconut trend!

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