Coconut trees are considered the most naturally widespread fruit tree on the planet and are native to Southeast Asia and the islands between the Indian and Pacific oceans (
Today, coconuts are cultivated around the globe and have become increasingly popular for their flavor, culinary uses, and many potential health benefits.
This article will explore five potential benefits of coconuts, along with some simple ways to add them to your diet.
If you have a whole coconut, you can scrape the raw meat out of the shell and eat it. In its processed form, you’ll usually find it sliced, shaved, or grated.
Dried coconut meat is usually grated or shaved and used in cooking or baking. It can be further processed and ground into flour (
Coconut oil is also extracted from the meat and can be used for cooking in place of other vegetable oils (
Coconut meat is tasty and slightly sweet, and can be enjoyed raw or dried. Many related products are produced from it, including coconut milk, cream, and oil.
The minerals in coconut are involved in many functions in your body. Coconuts are especially high in manganese, which is essential for bone health and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and cholesterol (
|Protein||3 grams||7 grams|
|Carbs||15 grams||24 grams|
|Fiber||9 grams||16 grams|
|Fat||33.5 grams||64.5 grams|
|Manganese||65% of the Daily Value (DV)||119% of the DV|
|Copper||48% of the DV||88% of the DV|
|Selenium||18% of the DV||34% of the DV|
|Magnesium||8% of the DV||21% of the DV|
|Phosphorus||9% of the DV||17% of the DV|
|Iron||14% of the DV||18% of the DV|
|Potassium||8% of the DV||12% of the DV|
Much of the fat in coconut is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) (
However, more research is needed to evaluate whether the potential benefits associated with MCTs also apply to coconut oil (
Although coconut meat is high in fat, it also contains MCTs, which are metabolized differently than other types of fat. The meat also provides carbs and protein along with many essential minerals, such as manganese, copper, iron, and selenium.
Though more research involving humans is needed, some studies have found that coconut oil could help block the growth of certain bacteria strains.
Another study involving 50 children found that swishing with coconut oil after brushing their teeth was as effective as chlorhexidine, a common disinfectant, at reducing the growth of Streptococcus mutans (
What’s more, one test-tube study demonstrated that an emulsion containing coconut oil and water was effective against Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli, two strains of bacteria associated with foodborne illness (
Some studies in test tubes and some involving humans suggest that coconut oil could reduce the growth of several different types of bacteria.
Coconuts are low in carbs and high in fiber and fat, which may be beneficial for blood sugar control.
One review even suggested that coconut oil may help lower blood sugar levels, which may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant content (
Another study involving 48 people with metabolic syndrome found that replacing other fats in the diet with virgin coconut oil improved triglyceride levels and reduced fasting blood sugar after 4 weeks compared to a control group (
On the other hand, one recent review concluded that adding coconut fat to meals could actually increase insulin resistance long term, which could worsen blood sugar control. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the effect of coconut on blood sugar regulation (
Though more research is needed, coconut is low in carbs and rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber, which could potentially support blood sugar control.
Coconut meat contains phenolic compounds, which are antioxidants that can help protect cells from oxidative damage. The main phenolic compounds identified include (24):
- gallic acid
- caffeic acid
- salicylic acid
- p-coumaric acid
According to another test-tube study, certain antioxidants in coconut could even help protect against DNA damage (
What’s more, some test-tube and some animal studies have also shown that antioxidants found in coconut oil may help protect cells from damage and death caused by oxidative stress and chemotherapy (
Coconuts contain polyphenol antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage, which may
aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
Flaked or shaved, coconut adds a nice flavor to savory dishes. Its meaty texture and flavor work well in curries, fish stews, rice dishes, or even on breaded shrimp.
Be aware that some brands contain added sugar, which you may not want for savory dishes, so be sure to check the ingredient label carefully.
Shredded coconut is great for baking and adds a touch of natural sweetness and moisture to cookies, muffins, and quick breads.
A sprinkle of raw coconut adds texture and a tropical flavor to oatmeal. Stirred into pudding or yogurt, it’s also a delicious calorie booster for someone who wants to gain weight.
Coconut flour is used in baking as a substitute for wheat flour. It’s gluten-free, nut-free, and a popular option for anyone who’s counting carbs.
Because it’s grain-free, the flour is also good for those on the paleo diet, which does not allow grain products like regular wheat flour.
However, coconut flour is best used in recipes that have been tested, as it won’t rise like wheat flour and absorbs more liquid than other types of flour.
Additionally, coconut oil is a delicious heat-stable fat that can be used in place of other oils for baking, sautéing, or roasting.
Coconut is versatile in the kitchen and works well in both sweet and savory foods. It’s a great choice for those on low carb, paleo, gluten-free, or nut-free diets.
Because coconuts are so high in fat, they are also high in calories.
Depending on your calorie needs and intake, they might promote weight gain if you don’t account for the extra calories elsewhere or make adjustments to your diet.
Furthermore, some research shows that coconut oil can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease (
While studies show that saturated fat consumption is not directly associated with a higher risk of heart disease, some health organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend limiting your intake to less than 5–6% of total daily calories (
Therefore, it’s best to enjoy coconut oil in moderation as part of a balanced diet, alongside a variety of other healthy fats like olive oil.
You should also be sure to address any concerns with your healthcare professional before adding coconut to your diet, especially if you have high cholesterol levels or are at risk of developing heart disease.
Additionally, some people are allergic to coconuts, though this is rare. If you have this allergy, you should avoid consuming all coconut-derived products (
Coconut is high in calories and contains saturated fat, which may be linked to increased cholesterol levels. Check with your healthcare professional about eating it if you have very high cholesterol or are at risk of heart disease.
Coconut is a high fat fruit that is highly nutritious and has been associated with a wide range of health benefits.
In particular, coconut is rich in antioxidants, has powerful antibacterial properties, and may support better blood sugar control.
However, coconut is very high in fat and calories, so be sure to moderate your intake if you are trying to lose weight or need to follow a low fat diet.
Still, coconut meat is delicious, nutritious, and easy to incorporate into both sweet and savory dishes.
Just one thing
Try this today: Coconut chips are a simple snack that’s delicious and easy to make at home. Simply spread unsweetened coconut flakes on a baking sheet, toast for 3–5 minutes at 350°F (177°C), and enjoy!