Nutrition: Coconuts, The World’s Only Low-Calorie Fat, by Julie Daniluk

The survival of ancient civilizations has a lot to do with the types of food they live off. It’s no wonder many ancient foods, like the coconut of the Pacific Islanders, have all the nutrients to sustain such robust societies. These foods are now called superfoods in today’s society, in contrast to villainous fast foods. However, these superfoods were considered the norm by history’s most productive civilizations.

Coconut is a superfood in a class by itself because it contains saturated fat – yes, the fat we’ve all been told to avoid like the plague! There was a time when this tropical fruit was shunned for being high in saturated fat, but research has vindicated the coconut revealing that it contains a type of saturated fat that is beneficial to health. How can that be? The answer lies in the length of the fatty acid chain.

Here’s a lesson in chemistry 101. Fatty acids are composed of a long chain of carbon and hydrogen molecules. The number of carbons determines the length the fatty acid while the number of hydrogens determines the level of saturation. In the body, longer chain fatty acids have been found to have negative health effects while shorter chain ones may confer benefits. The saturated fat in coconuts and coconut oil is medium chain in length and easily absorbed into the body. This means that energy from coconut fat burned up faster with less accumulation of the fatty deposits we all want to avoid. The medium chain fat in coconut has actually been called “the world’s only low-calorie fat” because it metabolizes much like carbohydrates, serving as a readily available, long-lasting energy source for the body. There’s even evidence that eating a diet rich in coconut can aid weight loss.

It’s not just its special type of fat that makes coconut a healthful superfood. The raw flesh of a coconut is high in fibre and, like other nuts, provides an excellent source of B vitamins, iron and zinc. Drying coconut concentrates these nutrients given them more nutritional impact per gram weight. Dried coconut is a versatile ingredient that is delicious in granola or trail mix or sprinkled onto a simple bowl of fruit. Coconut is naturally sweet so there’s no need to use the sweetened dried coconut flakes. You can also obtain the wonderful nutrition of coconuts in coconut milk, coconut water and coconut oil.  When using coconut in recipes, beware that heat destroys its nutrients so avoid cooking them at high temperatures.
Julie biopicJulie Daniluk, RHN, hosts Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that highlights the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition by using unique groups such as bikers, dragon boat racers and ballroom dancers to challenge their taste buds with nutritious foods. Julie is excited that her show was chosen to be part of OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network). Similar to Oprah’s book club, programs on OWN explore stories of strength and transformation. Television viewers also recognize Julie from her “busted” segments on The Right Fit (W Network) and The Marilyn Dennis Show (CTV) where she examines the foods people need to stay healthy, acting as a nutrition encyclopedia. Her fun and engaging style comes in handy when she creates a recipe a week that is packed with health tips for www.chatelaine.com. Her new book Meals That Heal Inflammation is available in stores now.