Coconut is a surprisingly versatile food with many potential benefits and uses. You’re probably familiar with coconut oil, or have at least heard of it, and maybe you’ve even heard of or had some coconut water before, but what about coconut milk, meat, or flour? Each has its uses, and they can all be used in cooking and baking to replace other common ingredients. Let’s discuss how to get the best use out of coconut regardless of the form it comes in.
Far and away the most well-known form of processed coconut product, coconut oil is a thick, translucent white fat that’s solid at room temperature, and becomes a colorless liquid if heated. It is a saturated fat, meaning you should take care not to over-indulge, but using it to replace vegetable or canola oil in cooking and baking or adding a tablespoon to smoothies, cocoa, or even coffee is perfectly fine, just treat it with the same caution as any other fat, and use in moderation.
Coconut oil does contain some antioxidants, but the amount is negligible and infinitesimal compared to a single glass of red wine or any variety of darker fruits. Coconut oil does also contain the “good” kind of cholesterol that helps clean arteries, but it also contains plenty of the “bad” kind that clogs arteries, and at best, the effect cancels out. In short, coconut oil has advantages over other oils if you’re going to use oil anyway, but don’t eat gobs of it just because it’s marginally more healthy.
That said, outside of its use in cooking, it’s excellent on your hair and skin. Just rub a moderate amount in wet hair or a small amount on your hands, face, and anywhere else that needs some moisturization. It will absorb quickly and leave your skin and hair silky smooth.
Coconut water is often hailed as a health drink due to its high potassium and electrolyte content, low sugar and fat and cholesterol free status. Coconut water is the liquid trapped in the center of the coconut and has a sweet, nutty taste. It is much better than a lot of sugary sports drinks and sodas due to its comparatively low sugar content, but it does contain 60 calories per serving, which can add up. Ultimately, it does have health benefits, but they are often exaggerated greatly.
Coconut meat is high in manganese, iron, phosphorous, and zinc, essential minerals you need to function. It does, however, contain a lot of fat and carbohydrates, so use with caution. Shredded coconut meat can be used as a dessert topper and a breading for fried shrimp or chicken, among other delicious uses.
Not flour in the typical sense, coconut “flour” is a grain-free powder that can be used to replace wheat flour in most recipes, and is naturally gluten-free, a useful trait for those with actual gluten sensitivity, though gluten-free foods have no health benefits for those with no gluten sensitivity. Because it is made from coconut meat, coconut oil is relatively high in carbohydrates and fat, but it also contains a healthy dose of fiber and protein, so use in moderation in place of flower for a nice boost, but, as is becoming the running theme in this article, don’t overdo it.
Coconut milk is made from the firm white meat of the coconut. It is high in calcium and offers a good alternative to dairy milk for anyone who’s lactose intolerant or just doesn’t like dairy milk for one reason or another. Coconut milk itself contains a large amount of coconut oil, and its health benefits—and drawbacks—are almost identical as a result. Have a cut or two a day, no problem, but don’t overdo it.