If I was marooned on a desert island and was told there were 3 food items I could take they would be salmon (preferably organic boned and filleted so I don’t have to deal with any messy business), any form of nut butter (that I will happily eat with my bare hands) and the third? Well the third item might well be in plentiful supply anyway (if you believe the movies) – it’s coconut. Whether it’s coconut flesh, milk or oil – anything coconut derived floats my boat. I just can’t get enough of coconut related products and all the yummy goodness that comes with them.
After many years of being scorned as an allegedly ‘unhealthy’ and ‘fattening’ food source, coconut products have come back into food fashion. Many well renowned health guru’s such as Dr Mercola, Weston Price, Mark Sisson (to name but a few) have campaigned its innocence and liberated it to be reinvented as a healthy superfood.
I do not claim to be a world-renowned health guru or dietician and my (bordering on) coconut obsession may make me slightly biased, however I do my research and the poor old coconut has been wrongly accused for far too long. Its bad rep was based on some unfounded research back in the 1950s that inaccurately linked saturated fat to heart disease. I won’t go into the details but if you get your google on, you’ll come up with a whole heap of interesting info that will clear the name of the humble coconut. In fact, rather than being guilty of sabotaging your health it actually offers a truck loads of benefits as shown below.
Health Benefits of the coconut
- Potent source of Lauric acid which has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties.
- Supports the immune system
- Supports a healthy thyroid function
- Good for your bones (coconut milk is not high in calcium but it is high in phosphorus which helps strengthen bones)
- Reduces sweet cravings and stabilizes insulin levels
- Promotes a healthy metabolism and assists weight loss (although this doesn’t mean if you eat a metric ton of it on top of 50 Snicker bars you’ll turn into Giselle)
- Good source of dietary fiber
- Great energy source
- Boosts skin health and a youthful glow (you can use it on the skin as well as on your plate)
Yes it’s full of saturated fat, but for all of you that have followed my blog posts so far you’ll know I’m a big fan of fat. Eat fat to burn fat is my motto nowadays. As long as that fat source is natural and in the way natured intended ie not yucky transfat products, which are the mutant relative of fat and should be avoided at all costs (if you see a label that reads hydrogenated anything run for the hills).
This is all good news huh (at least for me because I L.O.V.E. coconut – in any form). The delicious sweetness and versatility of the coconut mean it can become a true celebrity in the kitchen. It’s also a great alternative in its various forms for anyone that may have gluten and dairy intolerance.
Here is the low down on the many faces of the coconut and how you can use it.
- Coconut Flour
This comes from the dried meat of the coconut and is a great gluten free alternative to use in baking and pancakes (including my coconut, banana and blueberry pancakes). It is much drier than conventional flour and soaks up a lot of moisture so you don’t need to use as much of it – general rule of thumb is 1/3 cup of coconut flour equates to a cup of normal flour. I also tend to mix this with either almond meal or LSA (Linseed, sunflower & Almond meal) which adds some moisture back in and balances with the coconut flour really well. It can usually be found in health food stores or have a browse online to find stockists.
- Coconut oil
Coconut oil is actually solid at room temperature and is where many of the health benefits of the coconut can be found in its concentrated form. A saturated fat that remains stable when heated mean it is great for cooking and baking. I use it to fry with, and sometimes as an alternative spread to butter. Another use is to add half a teaspoon to a cup of green or herbal tea as a great way to curb sugar cravings. Coconut oil is great for nourishing the skin and can be used as a massage balm or I even read as an eye make-up remover (although I have yet to try this I must admit).
- Coconut Milk & Cream
Coconut milk is made by mixing water with coconut meat and then straining it with a sieve or cloth. It can be added to curries, smoothies, or as an alternative to milk on cereal or in desserts. Coconut cream is coconut milk without the water – you often find it settled at the top of coconut milk and it is YUM. Or you can buy coconut cream in cans – it basically has less water and is therefore more concentrated. I need to be physically man handled away from a tin of open coconut cream because I keep spooning it out of the can. I often put a dollop of the coconut cream on top of my pancakes instead of Greek yoghurt. You can buy coconut milk / cream from most supermarkets and health food shops. Go for organic where possible and read the label to ensure you opt for one that has no sugar and minimal other additives.
- Coconut Water
This is the fluid you hear sloshing around if you ever shake a fresh coconut. It is like nature’s isotonic sports drink being full of electrolytes but none of the crap you find in the conventional sugar filled sports drinks we are induced to buy nowadays with their high-powered marketing campaigns. You can find coconut water in most health shops or check out this link from the Woman Incredible site that has more info on the benefits of coconut water and on how to get the water out of the coconut yourself (that way if ever you are marooned on a desert island you’ll be sweet).
- Desiccated & Shredded Coconut
This is the meat of the coconut dried and ground. There is not really any difference between desiccated and shredded coconut other than desiccated coconut is ground a finer. This is great sprinkled on fruit (particularly berries), on/in curries or in baking. A top tip I have picked up is to brown some shredded coconut in a dry pan and sprinkle it on breakfasts or curries.
So that’s my 101 intro to coconut and all its related goodness. Experiment with it and see how you can get it to work for you in your everyday nutrition and reap the rewards of the many benefits it delivers.
Delicious Recipe alert!!!
Here is the result of one of my recent successful experiments using various elements of the coconut. I was so delighted with my effort that I posted this picture of these freshly baked little babies on my facebook page and got a call out for the recipe, so here it is.
Carrot Cake Muffins (Gluten and Sugar Free)
Ingredients (makes 12 regular muffins)
- 2 Grated carrots
- Half cup of walnuts
- Half cup of coconut flour
- Half cup of LSA (Linseed, Sunflower & Almond Meal – or plain almond meal works too)
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
- Quarter cup of shredded coconut
- Half cup of sultanas or chopped dates
- 5 eggs
- Half cup of coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 third cup of pure maple syrup, raw honey or alternative natural sweetener such as stevia
- Have a little coconut milk on stand by in case the mixture needs moistening.
For icing (contains dairy so omit if you are dairy intolerant)
- 250g Cream cheese (full fat of course)
- Grated zest of half an orange and half a lemon
- Few teaspoons of pure maple syrup,raw honey or natural sweetner (to taste)
You will also need 12 muffin cases and a muffin tin.
- Preheat Over to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Place walnuts on a tray and bake for 6 to 7 mins (watch carefully so they don’t burn) then roughly chop.
- Soak sultanas / dates in just enough boiling water to cover them in a small bowl (this moistens them and makes them extra juicy).
- Sift the coconut flour, LSA, baking powder, cinnamon and mixed spice into a mixing bowl and then add the shredded coconut.
- Melt the coconut oil and then mix it with all the other wet ingredients together (eggs, vanilla extract, maple syrup) until it is well combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and also add in the grated carrot, chopped walnuts and sultanas (make sure you drain excess water from sultanas). Mix it really well until there is not dry bits left. At this point if the mixture is too dry add a splash of coconut milk to loosen it a little.
- Arrange the 12 muffin cases in the muffin tin and divide the mixture between them.
- Place in the centre of the oven for 25 mins. Check after about 15 and turn the tin around as helps them to cook more evenly – also take note of how they’re cooking as every oven is different so the time may vary.
- Remove muffins when cooked and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile for icing mix the cream cheese lemon zest and maple syrup together with a fork. Stir thoroughly so the mixture is of a creamy icing consistency.
- Once the muffins have cooled thoroughly, cut a circular divot out of the top of each one, fill with the icing and place the circle cut out back on top as per the picture.
Hope you enjoy them. They certainly were a hit with my boys and neighbours, not to mention my belly :0)
Here are some other links and sources relating to coconut products.