Coconut or Cocos nucifera is a drupe that forms a regular part of the diet of many people in the tropics and subtropics. It has a wide range of medicinal applications and culinary uses. Some of its health benefits include aiding digestion, preventing cardiovascular disorders, aiding weight loss, supporting thyroid function, and boosting immune system.
Coconut, also called Cokernut is a seed of the coconut palm, a tree of the botanical family Palmae. It usually reaches a height of about 20 meters and its fruit can weigh up to 5 pounds (2.5 kilos). Under normal conditions and good soil fertility, a coconut tree can yield more than 70 fruits per year. But this is not achieved generally, due to poor cultivation practices. Most farmers do end up with less than 30 fruits per tree at the end of every year.
Though, as the name implies “coconut”, the fruit is botanically not a nut but a drupe. The coconut fruit is enclosed in a rough orange or yellow husk (exocarp), followed by a fibrous mesocarp and then the endocarp (which contains the seed and the white edible pulp).
The coconut palm entirely is sometimes referred to as “the tree that provides for mans need “. Well, this is because of its uses to man, such as, the use of the fronds and palm trunks for textiles, sandals and even houses. The fruit also provides liquid for drinking and solid food, and also its fiber can be used for toothbrushes, ropes and so on.
These important uses of the coconut palm make it stand out in the botanical family Palmae. This as well makes it a very important tree in the tropics.
- Coconuts are very versatile. They are used widely in culinary preparations.
- Coconut oil is widely used in cooking, frying, and making of margarine. Apart from culinary uses, coconut oil is used for many medicinal purposes. It can be used to improve skin health and hair growth, fight teeth decay, and aid weight loss.
- The milk from coconut is used widely in many dishes around the world.
- The water from this wonderful fruit is consumed throughout the humid tropics, and is widely adopted as the main component of processed sport drinks.
- Coconut can also be grounded into flour, which can be used in baking. It may also be dried and used as a filling for many chocolate bars.
- The coconut tree is grown throughout the tropics for decoration.
- Industrially, coconut is used widely in the cosmetic industries. Most of your daily beauty products including moisturizers and body butters are made of coconut.
- Coconuts also have a long history of use in medicine. Many folk healers use its root to fight diarrhea and dysentery. A decoction of the roots is also used as a mouthwash to fight infections and toothaches.
- Apart from its root, the bark, flowers, and the fruit itself are used for many other traditional medicinal practices. Most of these uses have now been attributed to their antiseptic, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, and hepatoprotective properties.
The contents of coconut fruit varies with its degree of ripeness. An unripe fruit contains higher amount of water and is poorly concentrated in nutrients. A ripe one may be less in water and is usually more concentrated in terms of nutrients.
A 100 gram raw, ripe coconut fruit (USDA):
- Energy – 354 calories
- Carbohydrate – 15.23 g
- Dietary fiber – 9 g
- Proteins – 3.33 g
- Fat – 33.49 g
- In terms of vitamins, it contains B group vitamins and vitamin C in small amounts.
- Mineral present in rich amount includes manganese. Others contained in significant quantities are iron, copper, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and potassium.
Some benefits and medicinal uses of coconut
- Aids weight loss
- Supports thyroid function
- Manages diabetes
- Strengthens musculoskeletal system
- Aids digestion
Aids weight loss
Coconut, especially its oil, is said to have beneficial effects for those who want to lose weight. The fatty acids in coconut oil may help reduce appetite, and this can affect your body weight on the long run; because the less amount of food you eat, the leaner you will become.
A research conducted in 2009, reported how use of coconut oil was able to cause a reduction in abdominal obesity of some women (1). This research also attributed the weight-loss effect of this oil to its fatty acid contents which have powerful effects on metabolism. Many have even argued that coconut oil is world’s most weight-loss friendly fat.
Supports thyroid function
With time, the vegetable oils we consume damage cells of the thyroid gland, and this causes a hindered thyroid hormone production. We all know that thyroid hormone helps regulate our body temperature, mood, metabolism, and heart rate.
Coconut oil may help boost an under-active thyroid gland. This has been associated with its ability to boost metabolism. However, there are currently no scientific evidences to back up this claim. So, you should consult your doctor for help in cases of hypothyroidism or if you feel you want to try out coconut oil.
Recently, there are emerging evidences that coconut oil may help with diabetes. A research conducted in 2013 found virgin coconut oil to have beneficial effects in diabetic laboratory animals. The coconut oil was able to reduce blood glucose level, and enhance insulin secretion (2).
Magnesium is mainly found in the bones and muscles, which contributes to the bones hardness and healthy cartilage in the joints. Lack of magnesium in the muscles produce cramps and nervous excitability. Calcium and phosphorus are also of great importance to the musculoskeletal system. A coconut provides all these minerals in adequate proportion, thus, contributes to the formation of healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
A raw, ripe coconut contains significant amounts of dietary fiber, up to 9% of its weight. Fiber helps boost overall digestive function. It improves peristaltic action of the gut, and stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. It can also boost the growth of beneficial gut flora. In fact, fiber consumption is just so-friendly to the gut, as it can prevent conditions like constipation, gastric inflammation, and even colon cancer.
Other benefits of coconut and its oil include:
- It has great antioxidant properties, which can help fight the activities of free radicals, and boost the body’s immune system.
- It has great anti-microbial properties, which can kill disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and viruses.
- It may help boost brain function and fight cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- It helps prevent tooth decay. This benefit is an age-long medicinal practice used by folk healers for hundreds of years ago. It acts by fighting the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, and bad breath. No wonder, there are currently many researches trying to figure out how its oil can be used in toothpastes and mouthwashes to improve oral health.
- It helps enhance athletic performance by providing quick energy.
- It helps keep the skin healthy and free from wrinkles. Protects it from sun radiation, prevents aging, and fight dark spots.
- It can boost hair growth and improve its texture.