Coconut (Cocos nucifera) is an important multipurpose perennial crop of the tropics. The coconut is generally composed of coconut water and the kernel; Coconut can be labelled a ‘functional food,’ which provides health benefits over and beyond the basic nutrients. The coconut tree has been called the “tree of life” because of its value as provider of so many useful products. This species provides food, water, oil, medicine, fibre, timber, and fuel for many people especially those living on islands in the Pacific region. High quality coconut oil is used for cooking or in the manufacture of margarine and ice cream. Coconut oil is also processed into soap, detergents, cosmetics, shampoos, paints, varnishes and pharmaceutical products. Remnant fatty acids and alcohols and their methyl esters find application as components of emulsifiers and surfactants. Let’s dig into the nutrition of coconut products such as coconut oil and coconut water.
With the novel processing technologies in the food industry, a great array of commercial commodities can now be produced from coconut including coconut water, coconut yoghurt, coconut milk/cream & coconut oil which is the dominant product of the coconut, from the tasty kernel.
Coconut oil is made by pressing fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat called copra (refined coconut oil). It contains the most concentrated food source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Research has shown that MCTs derived from coconut oil possess unique properties with some nutritional and medicinal applications. MCTs have been proposed as a tool in the prevention of human obesity due to their overall effect on body weight through mechanisms that result in an increased energy expenditure and increased satiety resulting in a negative energy balance, decreased food intake and decreased adiposity.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are a class of lipids (fats) in which three intermediate carbon length saturated fats are bound to a glycerol backbone to form triglycerides. Within the gastrointestinal tract, MCTs travel directly to the liver bypassing peripheral tissues such as adipose tissue. Such transport for MCT allows for quicker absorption and utilization of MCT. MCT are mostly oxidized by the liver for use as energy source and therefore have been reported to act more like glucose than fats. Research indicates that MCT can up-regulate energy expenditure leading to an energy imbalance that may assist in weight loss or in the prevention of obesity. Furthermore, MCT consumption may increase satiety thus promoting weight loss.
Increasing attention has also been given to the use of coconut oil for biofuels or as biolubricants, not forgetting the demand for coconut oil with an emerging use in cosmeceuticals.
Coconut oil has a high content (about 90%) of MCFAs, with lauric acid making about 50% of it, followed by other fatty acids such as myristic and palmitic fatty acids. The fatty acid content of coconut oil is strongly influenced by the processing process. In the body, lauric acid will change its form to monolaurin to make it more functional in maintaining health. It was established that lauric acid (C12) from coconut oil has a potent antimicrobial activity and inhibit the growth of bacteria such as Pneumococcus, Streptococcus, Micrococcus, Candida, S. aureus. Several studies have suggested that some MCFAs disrupt the bacterial cell wall or membrane to protect host cells against infection. This is not so much of a surprise knowing coconut has been used in the pharmaceutical and beauty industry to manufacture hand creams and gels and other skin products.
Virgin coconut oil may have antioxidant properties. In another study, it appeared to reduce stress resulting from exercise and chronic cold. Researchers believe that virgin coconut oil could be useful in treating depression.
Coconut water is one of the world’s most versatile natural product with increasing scientific evidence that support the role of coconut water in health and medicinal application, due to it nutritional composition. Coconut Water is the nutritious clear liquid inside the coconut fruit which is rich in vitamins and minerals. While still in an undamaged fruit, coconut water remains sterile and stable, but it may become unstable when extracted from the fruit and stored for a few days at 4°C. Medicinally, coconut water has been proven to possess various pharmacological activities like hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, wound healing, anti thrombotic, anti-ageing, antioxidant, diuretic, hypoglycemic and renal regenerative actions. Coconut water or milk is abundant in unripe fruit but is gradually absorbed as ripening proceeds.
Coconut water is a natural nutritious beverage that can be considered as a functional food/nutraceutical as it contains several biologically active components. Green Coconut has much water and is rich in carbohydrates (sugars), vitamins (B1, B2, B5), proteins, minerals (calcium, Phosphorus, iron, magnesium, iodine, chlorine, sulphur & potassium); the water also helps the hydration of the body. Sugars (Sucrose, sorbitol, glucose and fructose) are the main fraction of soluble solids in coconut water.
Coconut water is the richest natural source of cytokinins. Cytokinins can retard the effect of aging in plant cell as well as human cell. They inhibit platelet clots that may lead to heart attacks and strokes. Cytokinins has potential for the treatment of degenerative brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Coconut water has also been used as a sport drink in treating dehydration and as part of a remedy of a number of diseases such as congestive cardiac diseases, diabetes and some infectious diseases. Its specific gravity and pH closely approximate that of blood plasma. Tender coconut water is a natural isotonic beverage with almost the same level of electrolyte balance as we have in our blood, hence also used in treating diarrhoea.
Moreover, the consumption of coconut water reportedly prevents hypocitraturia, a metabolic disease frequent in people suffering from kidney stones. This is because coconut water is rich in alkalis that inhibit renal reabsorption of citrate, an inhibitor of kidney stone formation, thereby increasing urinary citrate excretion.
Nutrition profile of Coconut
A fresh coconut kernel provides on average 358 calories (kcal) per 100 g. A portion of coconut weighs on average 30g, which represents an energy intake of 115.5 kcal approximately.
Coconut is source of fibre as it provides more than 1.5 g of fibre per 100 kcal; Coconut is also a source of manganese. Manganese contributes to:
· normal energy-yielding metabolism,
· maintenance of normal bones,
· normal formation of connective tissues,
· protection of cells from oxidative stress.
Fatty acids in the coconut kernel provide essential nutrients, but nutritionists advise on moderate consumption. If people use coconut oil, they should look for extra virgin coconut oil. Extra virgin coconut oil comes from the fruit of fresh, mature coconuts. Processing for extra virgin does not involve high temperatures or added chemicals. If you choose to use coconut oil, try and opt for the least processed type.
Here are some tips for buying, storing, and using coconut oil:
- Check the label and avoid oils that contain partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
- Store coconut oil in a cool, dark place. Like other saturated fats, it is solid at room temperature and liquefies when heated.
- Use coconut oil in baking for a light, sweet, “nutty” flavour. It substitutes well for butter and shortening, and it is suitable for vegan recipes.
- People should always consume oils and fats in moderation, as part of a varied diet. They should also ensure that their activity levels are high enough to burn off the calories they consume.
Raw coconut meat can be grated and pressed to make coconut milk and cream and later used in soups, sauces or curries. 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 kernel and can be used for cooking in place of other vegetable oils. Coconut flakes and yoghurts can be used in breakfast cereals, granola and smoothies recipes. Be cautious as some brand contain added sugar.
Today, coconuts are cultivated around the globe and have become increasingly popular for their flavour, culinary uses, and many potential medicinal uses have also been attributed to coconut palm. The roots are considered antipyretic and diuretic. Milk of young coconuts is diuretic, laxative and anti-diarrheal. The oil is used to treat diseased skin; coconut oil is an effective moisturizer for skin and hair.