Hype-free health: coconut

Every month, we bring you the definitive facts around the latest health trends



The hype

Enticed by the promise that coconut oil can boost body and brain wellbeing, we’ve bestowed it with a health halo that has us scooping it into smoothies and spreading it on our toast.

And the craze also goes beyond the kitchen. Aside from its moisturising properties, we’re also swishing coconut oil around our mouths in honour of the Ayurvedic ‘oil pulling’ method, which is said to detox the body and whiten teeth. The coconut water market alone is now worth £22 million in the UK*. Food forecasters predict that coconut sugar will take centre stage in 2015, as it has a lower glycaemic index than its refined white counterpart.

Yet with an overabundance of discombobulated information, separating facts from fad can prove somewhat challenging.

The facts

  • Currently, over 200 independent studies highlight coconut oil’s ability to settle malabsorption syndrome (a disorder affecting nutrient absorption), hinder tumour growth, fight viruses and protect cortical neurons in mice, which may have implications for Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
  • Dr Bruce Fife of the Coconut Research explains that during the 1980s, the coconut produced was a highly-processed version, containing trans fats and cholesterol-promoting compounds. ‘The vegetable oil industry subsequently devised an expansive anti-saturated fat campaign which created such a scare that by 1990, coconut oil had virtually disappeared from the western market.’  Today, many coconut oils are cold pressed (unprocessed) and don’t contain any additives or preservatives.
  • It is high in healthy saturated fat which binds unhealthy saturated fat (LDL or low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol) and carries it away from the arteries to the liver, where it’s broken down and passed from the body. This lowers cholesterol, which is thought to protect against stroke and heart disease.
  • It has a high smoking point for cooking, so it’s less likely to denature and form dangerous free radicals (linked to cancer) in the body.
  • Coconut milk is high in medium chain fatty acids and lauric acid, which the body converts to help it fight infection.
  • When used in beauty treatments and natural therapies, coconut oil is one of nature’s greatest natural moisturisers, ‘unlike other oils that sit on the skin’s surface, the coconut oil penetrates the skin to deeply nourish and hydrate,’ explains Jane Gottschalk, Founder, Jax Coco

The verdict

  1. Coconut oil is a great oil to cook with and consume regularly. But cooking with butter, ghee or avocado oil is fine, too.
  2. Coconut water, high in potassium, has been touted as more hydrating than water – not true. But it is a better option post-workout, as it helps replace lost nutrients.
  3. Coconut flour is packed with fibre and protein, so it’s a good alternative if you have glucose allergies. However, it must be blended with other flours (try rye or rice flour) to get the desired effect for baking.
  4. Coconut butter is a nutritious spread that contains all the benefits of the oil and is also packed with fibre.
  5. Coconut syrup (try Bali Nutra Coconut Syrup, £10.50) is our go-to sweetener: it contains mineral nutrients and is 70-79 per cent sucrose, so it’s low in harmful fructose.
  6. Always be a smart consumer and get to know your sources. ‘Ask questions and don't be afraid to quiz your favourite brands. Being curious in this day and age may not only save your health, but the farmers on the other side of the world,’ explains raw food expert Tanya Alexseeva.
  7. While the coconut has a multitude of benefits, it’s not a magic ingredient. It’s important to incorporate the right remedies to suit your lifestyle so they work in symmetry for greater health and vitality.

* *According to Nielsen statistics cited by PepsiCo

Photograph: iStock


related news & articles