Unless you have not been in a supermarket for a very long time, you cannot help but notice the recent explosion of coconut. It’s EVERYWHERE! Coconut oil, virgin coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut spread, coconut syrup, the list goes on and on.
Don’t get me wrong, I am quite fond of coconut, as an ingredient in curries, cakes and bliss balls, but have been intrigued by its sudden burst in popularity as a health food along with the increase in products available that appear to promote a host of incredible boosts to our health. Coconut, once used sparingly due to its high saturated fat content, is now being used liberally for its associated health ‘benefits’. Talk about confusing!
It is the saturated fat content of coconut that gets the most attention, whether it be good or bad, and it seems to have divided health professionals and scientists. For example, the Heart Foundation, and most dietitians, still warn against potential health risks of foods high in saturated fat, such as coconut, including increased bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. On the flip side, some scientists and health practitioners are claiming that the saturated fats in coconut act differently to other fats, due to its unique ‘medium chain fatty acid’ configuration. In contrast, they say that coconut can actually increase good cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease. Another claim is that coconut oil acts differently in the body to regular fat and is more likely to be burned, rather than stored and therefore can actually assist weight loss!
This belief is one of the many reasons coconut has been embraced by the Paleo and Keto movement. Coconut is used extensively in Paleo and Keto recipes, whether it be coconut flour as a grain free, gluten free flour substitute, or coconut oil, used as an alternative to olive oil.
So, who to believe….
As a nutritionist I always get concerned when one food, or food group, gets too much attention. I know it is incredibly conservative and boring, but I really do believe in the saying ‘everything in moderation’. Too much of anything always tends to be problematic in the human body, even healthy things. No one food is capable of transforming your diet, nutrition is and always will be a fine balancing act. Without a doubt coconut is a nutritious food. You only have to look to many Island populations, to see how coconut has been utilised and used as a staple ingredient in their diets for years. Coconuts obviously have creditable health benefits, but should it suddenly dominate your diet…. my personal view is no.
Often we sometimes forget that food is in fact fashion. Food manufacturers are always on the lookout for the latest trend or fad, for one very simple reason, to sell more products. Health is a big topic at the moment, and health sells. I can’t but help feel that coconut is the current little black dress. Will it still be as popular in 5 years time, only time will tell.
I have also posted a favourite bliss ball recipe of mine, using shredded coconut and coconut oil. They are super quick and easy to make, and keep in the fridge for weeks. They are the perfect mid afternoon pick me up, great for lunch boxes (see tip) or to take to Xmas parties for a sweet treat. Like all bliss balls they are nutrient and energy dense, so try to just eat one at a time!