Coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), which is commonly used for its water, milk, oil, and tasty meat.
Coconut trees are considered the most naturally widespread fruit tree on the planet and are native to Southeast Asia and the islands between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Today, coconuts are cultivated around the globe and have become increasingly popular for their flavor, culinary uses, and many potential health benefits.
This article will explore five potential benefits of coconuts, along with some simple ways to add them to your diet.
- Coconut product types
- Antibacterial benefits
- Blood sugar benefit
- Rich in antioxidants
- Easy preparation
Types of coconut products
The raw white meat inside a coconut is referred to as the kernel. It has a firm texture and delicious, slightly sweet flavor.
If you have a whole coconut, you can scrape the raw meat out of the shell and eat it. In its processed form, you’ll usually find it sliced, shaved, or grated.
Coconut milk and cream are made by pressing the raw, grated meat.
Dried coconut meat is usually grated or shaved and used in cooking or baking. It can be further processed and ground into flour.
Coconut oil is also extracted from the meat and can be used for cooking in place of other vegetable oils.
Summary: Coconut meat is tasty and slightly sweet and can be enjoyed raw or dried. Many related products are produced from it, including coconut milk, cream, and oil.
1. Coconuts are highly nutritious
Unlike many other fruits that are high in carbs, coconuts provide mostly fat.
They also contain protein, several important minerals, and small amounts of B vitamins. However, they’re not a significant source of most other vitamins.
The minerals in coconut are involved in many functions in your body. Coconuts are especially high in manganese, which is essential for bone health and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and cholesterol.
They’re also rich in copper and iron, which help form red blood cells, as well as selenium, an important antioxidant that protects your cells.
Here are the nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw and unsweetened dried coconut meat:
Nutrition facts of raw coconut
- Calories: 354
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 15 grams
- Fiber: 9 grams
- Fat: 33.5 grams
- Manganese: 65% of the recommended daily intake
- Copper: 48% of the recommended daily intake
- Selenium: 18% of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 8% of the recommended daily intake
- Phosphorus: 9% of the recommended daily intake
- Iron: 14% of the recommended daily intake
- Potassium: 8% of the recommended daily intake
Nutrition facts of unsweetened dried coconut meat
- Calories: 660
- Protein: 7 grams
- Carbs: 24 grams
- Fiber: 16 grams
- Fat: 64.5 grams
- Manganese: 119% of the recommended daily intake
- Copper: 88% of the recommended daily intake
- Selenium: 34% of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 21% of the recommended daily intake
- Phosphorus: 17% of the recommended daily intake
- Iron: 18% of the recommended daily intake
- Potassium: 12% of the recommended daily intake
Much of the fat in coconut is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Your body metabolizes MCTs differently than other types of fats, absorbing them directly from your small intestine and rapidly using them for energy.
One review on the benefits of MCTs in people with obesity found that these fats may promote body fat loss when eaten in place of long-chain saturated fats from animal foods.
Suggested read: The top 9 nuts to eat for better health
However, more research is needed to evaluate whether the potential benefits associated with MCTs also apply to coconut oil.
Summary: Although coconut meat is high in fat, it also contains MCTs, which are metabolized differently than other types of fat. The meat also provides carbs and protein along with many essential minerals, such as manganese, copper, iron, and selenium.
2. Coconuts have antibacterial effects
Though more research involving humans is needed, some studies have found that coconut oil could help block the growth of certain bacteria strains.
For instance, one test-tube study showed that virgin coconut oil was able to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that causes staph infections.
Another study involving 50 children found that swishing with coconut oil after brushing their teeth was as effective as chlorhexidine, a common disinfectant, at reducing the growth of Streptococcus mutans.
What’s more, one test-tube study demonstrated that an emulsion containing coconut oil and water was effective against Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli, two strains of bacteria associated with foodborne illness.
Summary: Some studies in test tubes and some involving humans suggest that coconut oil could reduce the growth of several different types of bacteria.
3. Coconut may promote blood sugar control
Coconuts are low in carbs and high in fiber and fat, which may be beneficial for blood sugar control.
One review even suggested that coconut oil may help lower blood sugar levels, which may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant content.
Another study involving 48 people with metabolic syndrome found that replacing other fats in the diet with virgin coconut oil improved triglyceride levels and reduced fasting blood sugar after 4 weeks compared to a control group.
Suggested read: 10 health and nutrition benefits of macadamia nuts
The high fiber content of coconut meat can also help slow digestion and may potentially improve insulin resistance, which can help regulate blood sugar levels as well.
On the other hand, one recent review concluded that adding coconut fat to meals could increase insulin resistance long-term, which could worsen blood sugar control. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the effect of coconut on blood sugar regulation.
Summary: Though more research is needed, coconut is low in carbs and rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber, which could potentially support blood sugar control.
4. Coconut contains powerful antioxidants
Coconut meat contains phenolic compounds, which are antioxidants that can help protect cells from oxidative damage. The main phenolic compounds identified include:
- gallic acid
- caffeic acid
- salicylic acid
- p-coumaric acid
Lab tests on coconut meat have shown that it can neutralize harmful compounds called free radicals, which contribute to chronic disease.
According to another test-tube study, certain antioxidants in coconut could even help protect against DNA damage.
What’s more, some test-tube and animal studies have also shown that antioxidants found in coconut oil may help protect cells from damage and death caused by oxidative stress and chemotherapy.
Summary: Coconuts contain polyphenol antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage, which may aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
5. Coconut is easy to add to your diet
Flaked or shaved, coconut adds a nice flavor to savory dishes. Its meaty texture and flavor work well in curries, fish stews, rice dishes, or even on breaded shrimp.
Be aware that some brands contain added sugar, which you may not want for savory dishes, so be sure to check the ingredient label carefully.
Shredded coconut is great for baking and adds a touch of natural sweetness and moisture to cookies, muffins, and quick bread.
A sprinkle of raw coconut adds texture and a tropical flavor to oatmeal. Stirred into pudding or yogurt, it’s also a delicious calorie booster for someone who wants to gain weight.
Coconut flour is used in baking as a substitute for wheat flour. It’s gluten-free, nut-free, and a popular option for anyone who’s counting carbs.
Because it’s grain-free, the flour is also good for those on the paleo diet, which does not allow grain products like regular wheat flour.
However, coconut flour is best used in recipes that have been tested, as it won’t rise like wheat flour and absorbs more liquid than other types of flour.
Additionally, coconut oil is a delicious heat-stable fat that can be used in place of other oils for baking, sautéing or roasting.
Summary: Coconut is versatile in the kitchen and works well in both sweet and savory foods. It’s a great choice for those on low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, or nut-free diets.
Potential drawbacks of coconut
Because coconuts are so high in fat, they are also high in calories.
Depending on your calorie needs and intake, they might promote weight gain if you don’t account for the extra calories elsewhere or make adjustments to your diet.
Furthermore, some research shows that coconut oil can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
While studies show that saturated fat consumption is not directly associated with a higher risk of heart disease, some health organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend limiting your intake to less than 5–6% of total daily calories.
Therefore, it’s best to enjoy coconut oil in moderation as part of a balanced diet, alongside a variety of other healthy fats like olive oil.
You should also be sure to address any concerns with your healthcare professional before adding coconut to your diet, especially if you have high cholesterol levels or are at risk of developing heart disease.
Additionally, some people are allergic to coconuts, though this is rare. If you have this allergy, you should avoid consuming all coconut-derived products.
Summary: Coconut is high in calories and contains saturated fat, which may be linked to increased cholesterol levels. Check with your healthcare professional about eating it if you have very high cholesterol or are at risk of heart disease.
Coconut is a high-fat fruit that is highly nutritious and has been associated with a wide range of health benefits.
Suggested read: Mangosteen: Health benefits, and how to eat it
In particular, coconut is rich in antioxidants, has powerful antibacterial properties, and may support better blood sugar control.
However, coconut is very high in fat and calories, so be sure to moderate your intake if you are trying to lose weight or need to follow a low-fat diet.
Still, coconut meat is delicious, nutritious, and easy to incorporate into both sweet and savory dishes.
Try this today:
Coconut chips are a simple snack that’s delicious and easy to make at home. Simply spread unsweetened coconut flakes on a baking sheet, toast for 3–5 minutes at 350°F (177°C), and enjoy!