With new coconut craze it is easy to get caught in it. Everything from coconut water to coconut oil is now available, but is it good for you? Some coconut products are better than others.
If you’re purchasing a packaged, shelf stable packaged food like cookies, crackers and non-dairy creamers that contain coconut oil, put it back. There is a good chance it is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, which can increase LDL-cholesterol levels and even decrease HDL-cholesterol levels (the type of cholesterol you want to increase). Virgin, unprocessed coconut oil may not be as “harmful” as processed coconut oils or animal fats high in saturated fat like butter, but studies are still inconclusive. If you do choose to use coconut oil instead of butter when cooking or baking, choose its unprocessed, virgin form; and, like any other fat or oil, use it in moderation. Should you replace your olive oil with coconut oil? Not necessarily – olive oil is lower in saturated fat and provides “heart-healthy” monounsaturated fat, which coconut oil does not. However, coconut oil can withstand higher cooking temperatures than olive oil, so it may be a better alternative to olive oil when cooking at high temperature or a vegan alternative to butter when baking.
Coconut water is naturally high in potassium, and is free of cholesterol and fat. Coconut milk does contain fat and cholesterol. Coconut water is a great, natural alternative to sports drinks that are often higher in sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners. If you are an endurance athlete or a long distance runner, replenishing electrolytes lost with sweat like potassium, sodium and magnesium is beneficial for performance. If you don’t like the taste of coconut water, don’t worry because you can get these nutrients through your food like a sliced banana topped with almond butter (with salt). If you are exercising less than 60 minutes, and chose to drink coconut water as an alternative to soda or another sweetened beverages, choose natural coconut water that is free of any added sugar. Don’t forget to measure your portions – one eight-ounce cup can provide around 40 calories.
By Alexis Rowe, a registered dietitian for the Roper St. Francis Bariatric & Metabolic Services program at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital