The Kalpavriksha is a divine, wish-fulfilling tree mentioned in early Sanskrit literature and Mythology. While the idea of a Kalpavriksha is surreal, the title has been given to many trees over the ages. Our humble coconut tree is truly deserving of this title. Not to invalidate the claims of other hugely beneficial species, but to honour the most maligned one for sure.
We were taught in our Masters of Food Science and Nutrition program to treat the Coconut with suspicion and only in a few instances of liver and pancreatic disease were we ever advised to prescribe it. This is the way the entire world started to view coconut fat after a few studies showed that it increased cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.
However, apparently these studies used partially hydrogenated coconut oil which, as everyone now knows, is a trans-fat. Similar studies also vilified all saturated fats around the same time. Can you believe none were conducted on unprocessed coconut oil let alone cold-pressed organic (which is the gold standard)? So we have been mightily misled as regards our South Indian staple’s actual healing power.
This table displays the nutritional content of different parts of the coconut used:
Form of Coconut
Calories (per 100g / ml)
Saturated Fat (per 100g / ml)
Dietary Fibre (per 100g / ml)
Protein (per 100 g / ml)
Other important nutrients
Iron, Manganese, Copper, Magnesium, Phosphorus, B vitamins,
Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Cytokinins
Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus
Phytonutrients, antioxidants and MCTs
13g (can vary)
13g (can vary)
Inulin, Polyphenols, Antioxidants
You may notice that there is only a mention of saturated fat. This is because coconut fat is mostly composed of saturated fat and for a long time, scientists believed all saturated fats were bad for us but in the past decade, we have seen a turn-around on that theory.
It is now known that all saturated fats are not equal. Those from plant sources are seen to be of superior quality containing beneficial phytonutrients namely polyphenols which have antioxidant properties. Cytokinins (especially in CW) such as trans zeatin and kinetin show anti-ageing, anti-thrombotic and anti-carcinogenic effects. The fatty acid composition of CO is unique with beneficial saturated fatty acids such as Lauric, Myristic and Caprylic Acids comprising the major percentage of Coconut fat. These are chemically classified as Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) and are credited with increased energy available for immediate use, favourably affecting blood lipid profile, help clear atherosclerosis and speed up metabolism. The coconut is also a good source of fibre, minerals and vitamins.
Although pretty much any component from the fruit to the flour is rich in healthy nutrients, the degree to which these are available to the humans who eat them depends on the extent of processing and chemical treatment they have been subjected to.
The following studies and their results deserve special mention:
Coconut huskfibre – A decoction from this part of the plant is shown to have antimicrobial, anti- viral, pain-blocking, anti –inflammatory and anti-helminthic (anti-parasitic) activities.
CM and CW both have the effect of healing ulcers and coconut milk is the more powerful of the two.
CO can be used on skin having the effect of the best moisturizer. Much better than commercial mineral oils as proven in one study. Mineral oils such as well known baby oils and lip balms are absorbed (may cause harm), they clog pores and don’t give your skin anything beneficial.
Dietary intake of CO elevates HDL (good cholesterol) and reduces abdominal obesity in both men and women.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) of CO increase cognitive performance in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Oral intake of CO can be given alongside chemotherapy as it reduces the side effects.
CO has anti-inflammatory activity and has a beneficial impact during fevers .
CO has been shown to kill candida yeast infection (Urinary Tract Infections, Thrush).
CO has been shown to reduce ruminal fermentation and methanol production in lactating dairy cows. When methane emitted from cattle is labeled as a major cause of global warming, this particular effect takes on new significance.
CO promotes beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system when used in conjunction with exercise.
CO topically applied on wounds can improve healing.
Virgin CO improves liver fat metabolism.
MYTH vs FACT
Myth 1…. Only Virgin Coconut Oil is good……not true…just make sure you buy organic cold-pressed regular coconut oil. It is the best cooking oil as its MCTs don’t break down when heated and the oil’s antioxidant capacity is actually increased on heating.
Myth 2…. Long term usage of coconut oil may not be good for the heart since it is a saturated fat.
There is a bias in ‘modern science’ against saturated fats which we are just getting over. We were taught to almost never prescribe this oil for fear of increasing heart disease risk. Coconut Oil in fact raises good cholesterol, HDL and beneficially alters the lipid profile of blood so as to protect the circulatory system and heart.
Myth 3…. Saturated fats present increase weight and may lead to obesity.
This is not true as MCTs increase the rate of metabolism so the body consumes more energy and burns more fat.
Myth 4 Coconut Oil is thick and not absorbed easily on skin.
It is neither sticky nor greasy and is readily absorbed by the body.
Myth 5 Coconut Oil goes rancid very easily. Not true, cold-pressed coconut oil is more stable than other cold-pressed oils .
Children benefit greatly from coconut oil as they need moderate amounts of fat to fuel growth, generate hormones and absorb nutrients from food. Coconut water is said to be the most beneficial and can even cleanse your little one’s intestine of parasites. Active kids also need to rehydrate often and coconut water has the closest electrolyte composition to that of blood.
How to add coconut into your kids meals:
- Use Coconut oil and flour in your baking and cooking.
- Add the oil to curd (in a bowl without sugar).
- Add the coconut fruit (meat) raw in smoothies, milk-shakes, soups, etc or can just be eaten raw.
- The tender coconut water and the tender fruit make a great evening snack.
- Coconut milk can be made at home and the residual meal can be dried and used in baking.
- Coconut Sugar can be added instead of white sugar as your staple sweetener.
- Use the oil, fruit, milk and flour in desserts instead of the usual suspects.
Benefits of Coconut for our Mouths:
The antimicrobial properties of coconut have now been proven so it makes sense to use it in our mouths for that purpose. To back it up, there are many blogs, articles and videos of people to whom these next 2 practices have made a difference. Everything from plaque removal and whitening of teeth to healing of dead teeth.
Coconut Oil Toothpaste: The ultimate recipe is 1 teaspoon of Coconut Oil + a pinch of baking soda + a quarter teaspoon of turmeric + a few drops of peppermint oil.
Oil pulling : This Ayurvedic practice involves swishing coconut oil in your mouth for around 20 – 30 minutes after you brush your teeth first thing in the morning. All the bacteria and toxins from your mouth are pulled into the fat, cleansing it. Plaque in your mouth is not water soluble – it is fat soluble and so it makes sense that only a fat would have the capacity to rid our teeth of this build-up. Studies have shown that at the very least, oil pulling with coconut oil is equivalent to using a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, your choice.
If you now choose to go to your nearest organic outlet or online retail site, kudos on making a valuable addition to your kitchen superfood cabinet. However, we must use it sensibly and not overdo it, for that will cause an imbalance and has consequences for the body. Use 1 – 2 teaspoons per day for children and 1- 2 tablespoons of it a day per adult and ensure your family is using other healthy un-refined fats like sesame (til), mustard, groundnut, ghee, etc. If you want to use it only on a weekly basis, that’s OK too. A blend of such fats in your family’s daily diet will supply all essential fatty acids and heal the body.