Saturday, December 10, 2022

Coconuts are great for you

There are so many ways to consume coconuts and it’s so easy to incorporate it into your diet so you can reap all the benefits it has to offer., writes Vinita Alvares Fernande

Is coconut a fruit? A vegetable? A nut? Or a seed? 

Well here’s something im sure you did not know — coconuts  can be a fruit, a nut or even a seed. 

Technically it’s a fibrous one-seeded drupe but call it what you want. 

A coconut straight from the arms of the coconut palm tree is covered by a hard, green layer. 

Peel it back and you’ll reach the brown, hairy husk which is the outside of the seed.

Crack (or beat) open the seed and you’ll be left with juicy, white coconut meat and coconut water. 

Coconuts are commonly used for its water, milk, oil and fleshy meat. They are versatile and a hot favourite for their flavour, culinary use and many health benefits. Luckily for us there are so many ways to consume coconuts and it’s so easy to incorporate it into your diet so you can reap all the benefits it has to offer. 


Coconut trees are the most naturally widespread fruit tree on the planet, native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Indian Ocean Islands but cultivated all over the globe. 

Coconuts and India

Hundreds of coconut species are found all over India with varying taste based on the soil it grows in. Although the mango is the king of fruits in India, coconut is the most celebrated and used fruit. 

Indians consider coconuts Nature’s gift to mankind because of its many uses. A source of food, beverage, oil, seed, fibres, timbers and even health products. 

Coconuts or as we call it, ‘Nariyal’ is one of the most used ingredients in the kitchens of India. The basic preparation of each dish that uses coconut as an ingredient varies from place to place, region to region and tribe to tribe within the states of India. Every household prepares it in their own unique way yet its presence is always felt. 


The many forms of coconuts — 


Coconut Oil —

You have many options when it comes to coconut oil and it all depends on what you want to use it for. Virgin or refined or all-purpose coconut oil can be used for cooking, your skin and hair. Coconut oil does not have to be refrigerated, simply stored in a cool, dry place. Coconut oil is a solid at cooler temperatures and liquid at warm temperatures. 


Coconut Milk —

Coconut milk in the good old days was homemade by grating the coconut adding it to half a cup of water then straining the milk from a muslin cloth, the first extract is the thick milk, then the next two are the thin milk. The grated residue is then used to grind masala for curry. Today it can be bought in a can or tetra pack, you have the option of full fat or reduced fat coconut milk a big difference in taste but super convienient. 

Depending on your dietary goals, canned coconut milk is used to concoct beverages, in cooking, a popular alternative to dairy milk.


Coconut Water —

As Harry Belefonte said, “coconut water is good for your daughter.” Fresh coconut water is good for everyone, Apart from it being extremely delicious, it is a burst of electrolytes and a diuretic. 


Coconut Flour —

Coconut flour is a new type of baking product used as a flour alternative. It is made by powdering dehydrated coconut meat. 


Coconut Meat —

Last but not least, coconut meat. Shredded, flaked, as a whole coconut or frozen, this form of the coconut is the most used in the kitchen in savoury and sweet dishes or as is as a great snack.


Health benefits of coconuts —


  • Coconuts are highly nutritious- Coconuts are high in fat, protein, minerals and vitamin B. The minerals in coconut are involved in many bodily functions, bone health, optimum metabolism and the selenium which is an important antioxidant that protects your cells. The fat in coconut is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which get absorbed directly from your small intestine and rapidly used for energy. 

  • Coconuts are very hydrating- Coconut water is bursting with electrolytes. Great beverage to maintain fluid levels and hydration, improves skin health, regulates body temperature and supports joint health. Take this as a sign to go enjoy a cool drink of coconut water. 

  • Coconuts have antibacterial effects- Research has shown that coconut oil can help block the growth of certain bacteria strains. 

  • Coconuts are high in fibre- Coconut fibre slows down the release of glucose and transports it to the cells of the body where it is converted into energy. Coconut is high in dietary fibre and provides a monstrous 61% of fibre.

  • Coconuts are good for controlling blood sugar levels- Coconuts are low in carbs and high in fibre and fat, which is extremely beneficial for controlling  blood sugar levels. The high fibre content of coconut flesh helps slow digestion potentially improves insulin resistance, slows down the rise in blood sugar levels and helps to reduce glycemic cravings. Coconut oil also lowers blood sugar levels due to its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. 

  • Coconuts boost immunity- The nutritional profile of coconuts is excellent for the immune system. Antiviral, antifungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic. 

  • Coconuts have anti ageing properties- Certain plant compounds found in coconuts have anti thrombotic, anti-carcinogenic and anti-ageing effects on the body.

  • Coconut is great for your skin and hair- Coconut oil loaded with moisturising anti-bacterial properties can be used on your body, hair and skin not only for cooking.

  • Coconuts contain powerful antioxidants- Coconut meat contains antioxidants that can help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and protect against DNA damage. 

  • Coconuts are a healthy source of fat- Coconuts are a healthy source of fat which help you absorb nutrients from other foods as well.  The only drawback is that it is high in calories, so all you weight watchers need to beware. 


Potential drawbacks of coconuts 

  • Because coconuts are high in fat, they are also high in calories. 
  • Coconut oil could potentially increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease, so consume it in moderation in the purest form. 
  • Avoid eating coconut or coconut products if you are allergic to it. 


My grandmas’ coconut curry —

  • You will need: 3 tablespoons of coconut oil.
  • Roast on a tava one at a time: 1cup grated coconut, 2-3 dried red Kashmiri chillis, ½ cup of sliced onion, 1teaspoon jeera powder, 1tablespoon coriander powder.
  • Grind together to a thick paste: all the roasted ingredients adding 1 tablespoon chopped and garlic, 2 tablespoons of tamarind water and water if needed.
  • In a kadai heat the coconut oil, add the ground masala, one green chillie (cut long) and fresh curry leaves (kadi patta)
  • Once the masala is well sauted, add one or two cups of water(depending if you want a thick or thin curry) once this comes to a boil add chicken, fish or vegetables. Once cooked add the coconut milk, bring it to a gentle boil, shut the kadai with a thali and switch off the gas.


 Voila! Your delicious coconut curry is ready.

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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