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I’ve got to admit…the past few months of cold winter weather have me fantasizing about the tropics.  What I wouldn’t give to taste some sweet tropical fruit right now – like fresh pineapple, mango or papaya.  While those are a little out of reach (at least until my spring break vacation), there is one tropical fruit with incredible health benefits and flavor that can be enjoyed year round: coconut!

Coconut has been getting a lot of press lately for some important health and weight loss benefits, some of which are not found in any other fruit.  Coconut’s use in cooking is not limited to just the grated variety.  Many tropical cultures use coconut oil and coconut milk for cooking.  Coconut water is also enjoyed as a refreshing drink for rehydration.  Coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water are becoming more popular in North American and European kitchens as people begin to hear about and experience the benefits.

Not only are these coconut products healthy…they taste incredible!  Let’s look at some of the health benefits and uses of coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water.

 

coconut oil weight lossCOCONUT OIL FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Coconut is being touted by many sources as the secret to a healthy metabolism.  Coconut oil is one of the most abundant natural sources of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), the type of fatty acids which are the easiest for our bodies to metabolize.  Long-chain fatty acids such as those found in the polyunsaturated oils typically used for cooking (like corn, canola, soy and sunflower oils) are more difficult for the body to break down and use for energy, so they are usually stored as fat in the body.  Conversely, the MCTs in coconut oil are mobilized as energy and are rarely stored as body fat.

Several studies have shown that MCTs can help in the process of burning excess calories and promoting the burning of body fat.  In one study, it was found that MCTs could increase metabolic rate by up to 48% percent for up to 24 hours.  In obese individuals, the increase was as high as 65%!  In another study, overweight men and women followed a low calorie diet that included either MCT-containing oil or olive oil.  The group using the MCT oil lost an average of 7 lbs while the olive oil group lost just 3 lbs.  It also seems that coconut oil can be helpful in promoting satiety, thereby decreasing overall food intake and further promoting weight loss.

Coconut oil is as high in calories as are other oils, so if you’re looking to lose weight it’s best to replace other cooking oils with coconut oil, rather than simply adding more oil into your diet.

 

COOKING WITH COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is excellent for frying, cooking and baking.  First, it’s extremely light, so it spreads quickly in the pan upon heating.  This means you can use less of it to cook with than you would with a more viscous oil.  Coconut oil also has an extremely high smoke point – this means that it withstands a high level of heat before it begins to burn and smoke.  This makes coconut oil healthier than other oils, which can oxidize and produce free-radicals when heated.

Coconut oil imparts a nice coconutty flavor when used for cooking, which is actually quite tasty in chicken and meat recipes.  It’s also perfect to use for cooking fruits like bananas or apples, in baking or even to blend into a smoothie.

Finally, coconut oil is also a miracle beauty serum.  There are many articles touting coconut oil for hair care and skin care.  Eating coconut oil regularly will also help keep your skin and hair hydrated.  In fact, this author has found that her chronically dry skin has been cured by eating coconut oil and coconut milk just a few times per week!


coconut healthyCOCONUT MILK FOR COOKING

Like coconut oil, coconut milk is also full of health and weight loss promoting MCTs.  It can also be used for cooking or baking and is a suitable substitute for dairy or other milks.  We all know it can be used to make incredible curry dishes, but have you ever tried it in a smoothie?  Many food companies have also begun to offer coconut milk yogurts and ice creams which are extremely tasty and healthy!

 

COCONUT WATER FOR HYDRATION

Perhaps you’ve heard of or tried coconut water as a hydration drink?  In recent years, it’s almost become a nutrition craze and with good reason.  Coconut water is naturally fat and cholesterol free, low in calories, packed with potassium and electrolytes, and super hydrating.  It’s an excellent alternative to sports drinks which can contain lots of added sugars, chemicals and calories.  Check out this previous blog post to read about how several celebrities have embraced the coconut water trend.

 

Have you ever tried cooking with coconut oil?  Or, have you ever used coconut oil for your beauty regimen?  Share your experiences below!