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If there is one food item that is regularly present in my kitchen pantry, then they are my very dependable coconuts. Being a South Indian, I tend to use them frequently while making dried vegetable dishes, curries, chutneys and even in desserts. However, despite using it in a number of recipes, I had never fully realized about coconut nutrition and its benefits in depth. So, my immediate thought was to find out more about this superfood and share it with you all.

Surprisingly, there was some information about coconuts that I had learnt as a kid and some a total eyeopener.

About Coconut

The coconut tree (scientific name: Cocos nucifera), which is often referred to as Kalpa vriksha in Sanskrit (meaning 'the tree that offers all necessities of life') or the 'tree of life', is one of the most useful trees in the world. Predominant to the tropical and subtropical coastal regions, coconut palms are widely cultivated in Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil and the Middle East and also found in the tropical parts of United States and Australia.  

While the whole coconut palm is used by humans in a number of ways, its fruit however, is its most popular part. Before I tell you'll more about it, let me begin with asking you to define it. What is a coconut? Do you call it a fruit, a vegetable, a seed or a big nut? 

Personally, I have always thought off coconut as a fruit. However, I have also heard people referring to it as a nut. Nevertheless, post reading about this wonder food, I have come to know that a coconut can be loosely termed as a fruit, nut as well as a seed. But, technically speaking, a coconut is considered as a fibrous one-seeded drupe or a stone fruit. 

Now, if you are thinking what is a drupe, then let me tell you that a fruit is categorized as a drupe if it has three distinct layers. The exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (middle layer) and the endocarp (inner layer). In the case of a coconut, its hard but smooth and green outer covering is its exocarp. Beneath this, the fibrous thick husk is the mesocarp and inside that (coconut water, its white fleshy part and also the hard brown shell) is entirely termed as the endocarp. Isn't this an interesting fact?

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Coconut Nutrition Facts

A couple of decades ago, coconuts were frowned upon by dietitians and weight conscious people. And the most complaint for many being its high fat content. Well, that is indeed true. Coconuts are rich in fats. But, what is also true is that 65% of this fat is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are easily absorbed by the small intestine and used for energy in the body.

However, apart from packing a good amount of fats, coconuts offer several vital minerals like manganese, copper, selenium and iron, dietary fiber, carbohydrates, proteins and even vitamins in small doses. For instance, 100 grams of fresh coconut meat offers 354 kcal of energy, while serving you 46.99 grams of water, 33.49 grams of fat, 15.23 grams of carbohydrates, 3.33 grams of protein and 9 grams of dietary fiber. Additionally, the coconut nutrition profile also claims of offering zero cholesterol and many important micronutrients that is more than 10% of the Daily Value. If you want to know the nutritional value of fresh coconut in depth, then I suggest you check this USDA site.

Various Products of Coconut

Coconut is available in its various forms and can be enjoyed in different ways. But, one of the most used form of coconut is the white flesh of this stone fruit, also known as coconut meat or kernel. While tender coconuts have very soft and chewy coconut meat, mature coconuts have meat that is hard, thick and with a slightly sweet and stronger flavor. Hence, mature coconut meat is often used in preparing a number of recipes, both savory and sweet.

Another popular form of coconut is coconut milk. This thick and opaque white liquid is typically extracted by mixing grated coconut meat with a little hot water and then squeezing or pressing it through a fine cloth or fine mesh strainer. Because of its rich taste and texture, coconut milk is often used in making curries, desserts, beverages and even yummy ice creams. On the other hand, the clear liquid that is present naturally within the coconut meat is coconut water. High in electrolytes, low in sugar and calories and utterly refreshing, coconut water is a wonderful beverage choice to keep oneself hydrated, especially during summers and post-workout. 

Multipurpose coconut oil is an edible oil and typically extracted or pressed from the meat of mature coconuts. This oil is so versatile, that it is not only used for cooking, moisturizing your skin and conditioning your hair but also as an important base ingredient for making soaps. Apart from the mentioned most widely used forms of coconut, there are quite a few other products like Macapuno (which is a jelly-like coconut meat), coconut cream, coconut flour, coconut butter, coconut sugar and coconut flakes that are also well-used for culinary purposes.

Benefits of Coconut

1. May Help in Weight Loss

Coconut meat is loaded with dietary fiber and may aid weight loss. Studies show that the high fiber content of the coconut meat has the ability to make you feel full for long and keep you off from needless food cravings. 

Additionally, it has also been suggested in a few studies that the MCTs present in the coconut meat and oil may enhance calorie burning, fat burning and even suppress appetite. Cumulatively, if you watch your portion sizes, then the MCTs and fiber in coconut can be really beneficial in long-term weight control.

2. Aids Digestive Health

As mentioned above, coconut meat is a wonderful source of dietary fiber. With 9 grams of fiber packed in 100 grams of coconut meat, this fruit-nut-seed is not only great in promoting weight loss but also amazing in keeping the digestive system healthy. In fact, quite a few studies have shown that increasing fiber intake supports bowel regularity and could also help in preventing digestive problems like constipation, GERD and hemorrhoids.

3. Possesses Powerful Antimicrobial Properties

Coconut meat boasts of numerous beneficial compounds like lauric acid and capric acid that have strong antibacterial and antifungal properties. Research on coconut meat extract and its antibacterial activity, have shown to kill off some major bacterial human pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis and thereby support immune system health.

4. May Lower Blood Sugar Level

Coconut is low in carbs and a wonderful source of dietary fiber. This fiber content in coconut meat and even coconut flour, aids slow digestion and also reduces the release of glucose in the circulating blood, which promptly controls blood sugar level. 

Moreover, the MCTs present in coconut (particularly coconut oil) are known to improve insulin-resistance, which in turn can help manage blood sugar level. On the whole, coconuts - when consumed in moderation - are a good food choice for people with diabetes.

5. Supports Healthy Skin and Hair

Coconut milk as well as coconut oil can considerably help in improving skin and hair health. Coconut oil is super moisturizing and is generally used to prevent dryness, roughness and flakiness of skin. Likewise, coconut milk is quite nourishing and has been used since centuries in milk baths, to make skin soft, supple and naturally glowing.

In addition to using it on skin, virgin coconut oil (unrefined and best for hair) and coconut milk give some amazing benefits to your hair. Both these forms of coconut are used as is and also in several DIY hair treatments to moisturize the scalp, restore dry and damaged hair and promote hair growth. Moreover, coconut milk also works as a brilliant natural conditioner to promote thicker and softer tresses. With so many beauty benefits of this amazing drupe, it is not surprising to know why coconut in its milk and oil form are high in demand in the cosmetic industry. 

To sum up, coconut is a high-fat and high calorie stone fruit that boasts of a number of essential nutrients. Whether you eat the fleshy meat of a tender coconut, drink its water, use it dried or in any other form, it is simply delicious and can be easily incorporated in your dishes. However, coconut is not a miracle food. Hence, it is always advisable to watch your portion sizes to balance its potential health benefits.

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