Coconut – health benefits. Is it worth adding to your diet?


The inhabitants of Southeast Asia often say: “Whoever plants a coconut palm will have something to eat and drink, clothes to wear, a place to live, and something to leave for their children.”

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera L.) is a plant classified as a monocot and belongs to the family Arecaceae. They are some of the most useful trees in the world. Palms are characterized by many botanical features such as a woody trunk, perennial growth, and fan-shaped leaves. They mainly grow in Southeast Asia. The coconut palm is the most useful tree in the world, often called the “tree of life”, “heavenly tree”, or “tree of abundance”. The fruits of the palm have versatile uses in cosmetics, dietetics, and even medicine. The coconut is covered with a fibrous shell called the exocarp, while inside is a woody endocarp forming the kernel. At the base of the outer shell are three germ pores. The inside of the coconut is lined with white meat (copra) and filled with coconut water.

There are two types of coconut palm cultivation: tall and dwarf varieties. Tall varieties, commonly planted for commercial purposes, grow slower and produce fruit after 6-10 years. They produce medium to large-sized nuts and can live up to sixty to seventy years. Dwarf varieties, on the other hand, grow faster and bear fruit after 4-5 years of cultivation. Their lifespan is only thirty years. The largest producers of coconut in the world are Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. Their annual production is 61, 18, and 16 million tons, respectively.

Coconut products

Coconut palms can be processed in many ways. The fruit of the palm tree is the coconut. You can use almost every part of it. The pulp can be eaten raw, shredded, or dried. It is a popular ingredient in many recipes, especially Indian and Asian cuisine.


The following products can be obtained from coconut:

  • Coconut water is a clear liquid extracted from the inside of a coconut. Due to the high content of electrolytes, it is especially popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It is a natural and healthy alternative to popular isotonic drinks sweetened with sugar. In countries where coconut palms are grown, coconut water, due to its natural composition, is used as a supplement to breast milk [2]. When buying coconut water, it is best to choose products without added sugar, sweeteners, and flavorings.
  • Coconut flesh can be used in countless recipes. It contains a lot of dietary fiber and protein. We also find lauric acid in it. It has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties [2]. The most popular product obtained from coconut flesh is desiccated coconut.
  • Coconut oil is extracted from the pulp of ripe nuts. Suitable for baking, frying and stewing. It works great as an ingredient in frozen desserts. It is the richest natural source of medium-chain fatty acids. These acids are characterized by a quick process of digestion and absorption because they do not require the involvement of lipase and bile (it should be noted here that it is a source of saturated fats, and therefore it should not be used too often in the diet. More on this topic here: https:// – editorial note). Coconut pulp also contains caprylic acid with antibacterial properties. It also contains palmitic acid with antioxidant properties [3].
  • Coconut milk is a delicious, creamy drink obtained from the pulp of a ripe coconut, ground with the addition of water. It is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine. It is an excellent substitute for cow’s milk for people who need to eliminate dairy from their diet. Coconut milk is mainly sold in cans, cartons and in frozen form.
  • Coconut flour gives baked goods a pleasant moisture and light texture. It is used to bake cakes, cookies, and pancakes. It is obtained after drying and grinding defatted coconut pulp. Likewise, it is a good source of protein and fiber. Moreover, gluten-free flour is an excellent substitute for wheat flour for people on a gluten-free diet [4].

Coconut is also used to make cream-like products, yogurts. Nectar, sugar, and even vinegar are also produced from it [2].

Where can you buy coconut?

Currently, most coconut products, as well as coconuts themselves, are widely available. You can find them in most supermarkets, grocery stores, and organic and health food stores. Shopping can also be done online, especially when it comes to the less popular vinegar or coconut amino acids.

How to open a coconut?

People who live in areas of the world where coconut palms grow have relied on coconuts as a food source for generations. In the Samoan Islands of Oceania, a common method of shelling nuts is to fix a wooden post with a pointed end in the ground. By placing the coconut on the pointed tip and pressing hard, we separate the shell from it. Repeat the process until the whole nut is stripped of it [5].

At home, we drill sprout holes, pour coconut water from the nut. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes or in the freezer for 30 minutes. After such treatment, we hit the shell with a blunt object, then the shell should come off easily.

How do you know when a coconut has gone bad?

If, after opening the coconut, you notice that the flesh or liquid has a yellow tint, it means that the fruit is spoiled. It should be discarded [6].

Coconut Nutritional Values

Coconuts have valuable nutritional properties. They contain a lot of fiber, protein, and carbohydrates, but above all saturated fats. Coconuts contain large amounts of vitamins B, E and K. Coconut contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are a quickly available source of energy.

Many studies have been conducted that have proven that the composition of coconut products has a positive effect on our health. One of the most versatile products is coconut water. Due to its chemical composition, and content of vitamins, minerals, and phytohormones, it is traditionally used as a growth supplement in the cultivation of plant tissues [7].

Does the nutritional value differ depending on the country of origin?

Coconut is one of the agricultural products that is traded between the countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is a political and economic organization whose main purpose is to accelerate economic growth and promote peace and stability among South Asian nations. Research was carried out there to check whether differences in cultivation and environmental conditions can affect the chemical composition of coconut flesh and the quality of products made from it. Coconut flesh samples from Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam were evaluated for macronutrients and potential bioactive compounds. The results indicated that the macronutrients and antioxidant activity in the coconut flesh of the studied countries did not differ significantly. This means that the method of cultivation and environmental conditions should not cause any differences in the content of macronutrients and bioactive compounds in finished products [8].

In subsequent studies, three varieties of coconut were analyzed: tall, dwarf and hybrid. The fruits were examined for the physicochemical properties of coconut pulp and water. Sodium, moisture, ash, calcium, iron, magnesium, cobalt, potassium, pH, volatiles, calorific value and total dissolved solids were analyzed. The chemical analysis of the pulp showed a high percentage of magnesium and sodium in the tested varieties. In contrast, coconut water showed a higher content of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium [9].

The next study analyzed the mineral content of different varieties of coconut flesh growing in Nigeria. The samples were analyzed for the content of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium by spectrophotometry. The content of sodium and potassium was determined using the Flame photometric technique. The results indicated that mineral concentrations were generally higher in coconut flesh than in coconut water samples. The highest level of mineral substances was found in the hybrid samples from Badagra. The high content of sodium, potassium, and calcium indicates the high health benefits that can be obtained by consuming coconut flesh and water [10].

Coconut pulp is also one of the richest sources of fiber, which plays an important role in digestive processes. Although dietary fiber does not provide the body with building blocks and many calories, it is considered an essential nutrient. Fiber makes up 71% of the total carbohydrate content in a coconut. The remaining 29% of carbohydrates are starches and sugars [11].

Coconut Health Benefits

Coconut oil is a product around which many myths have grown up. Currently, there is a prevailing opinion that coconut oil is not recommended as the main source of fats in terms of cardiovascular health. Therefore, it is worth using it only as an addition to the kitchen, not the basic fat in the diet. However, it is worth noting that this oil has some unique properties described below [editorial office]

Unlike other fats that are high in long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are unique in that they are easily absorbed and metabolized by the liver. They can be converted into ketones. Ketone bodies are an important alternative source of energy for the brain, and may be beneficial in people with memory disorders and Alzheimer’s disease [12]. Studies have shown that the phenolic compounds and plant hormones found in coconut can help prevent amyloid β peptide aggregation, potentially inhibiting a key step in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease [12]. There are also studies indicating that coconut may be more favorably assessed in the context of obesity, elevated LDL levels, insulin resistance, and hypertension [13, 14, 15].

Coconut also regulates carbohydrate metabolism. Studies have shown that D-xylose derived from coconut reduces the increase in glucose and insulin after a meal in healthy people [13].

The next study was conducted on diabetic rats. The animals were fed arginine-rich protein from coconut kernels. It turned out that the levels of glycogen in the liver and the activity of carbohydrate-metabolizing enzymes in the serum of coconut-fed diabetic rats returned to normal [14].

See Also

The conducted studies evaluated the effect of coconut flakes on the lipid profile in people with moderately elevated serum cholesterol levels. Consumption of cornflakes containing 15% and 25% of coconut flakes, respectively, reduced the concentration of total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides in the serum of all subjects. Apart from being a good source of dietary fiber, the chips have shown a significant role in regulating cholesterol [15].

Comparison of coconut and nuts

TypeEnergy [kcal]Protein [g]Carbohydrates [g]Fats [g]Essential fatty acids [g]
Coconut flesh354315340,6
Brazil nuts67815226624,4
Source: USDA, FDC Published: 4/1/2019.

The list shows that coconut is the least caloric. It also has the lowest content of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Coconut is also rich in fiber (9 g per 100 g), potassium (356 mg per 100 g) and saturated fats (30 g per 100 g), vitamins, and minerals. It also has a low glycemic index (IG=45). Thanks to this, it can be used in the diet of people suffering from diabetes. Coconut is one of the healthiest nuts, classified as “superfood”.


Coconut offers a wide range of nutrients and is readily available in many forms. In addition, the method of processing the pulp into chips, oil, or coconut milk makes this product easy to integrate into our menu, using tasty and aromatic coconut substitutes for dairy products or those containing gluten.

How to eat a coconut?

It is very easy! Tap the coconut with a hammer so that it splits in half. The flesh can be hollowed out with a knife and the shell is thrown away.

Is coconut a nut?

Coconut is a fruit known as a drupe, not a nut. However, it is technically a species of tree nut.

Is coconut healthy?

Coconut is a nut whose health properties have been appreciated for a long time. No wonder – coconut flesh is rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as folic acid. On the other hand, coconut oil is a source of saturated fat, which should not be overused in the diet.

What can you do with coconut?

Firstly, you can drink water from it, which is an excellent isotonic. We can scoop out the flesh and make homemade coconut flakes. From the chips after adding water, we get fresh coconut milk.

Are coconut flakes harmful?

Coconut flakes contain many minerals and B vitamins, which is why they are considered an excellent ingredients for healthy cuisine.


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