Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
(Second of Two Parts)
Although it is not actually a fruit, Dr. Willie T. Ong included coconut as one of the top 10 healthiest fruits.
In his book, Stay Younger, Live Longer, Dr. Ong wrote: “Dr. Conrado Dayrit’s book, ‘The Truth About Coconut Oil’ lists several health benefits for virgin coconut oil, ranging from treating bacterial infection, fungal diseases such as ringworm, and even HIV/AIDS. Coconut water, on the other hand, is good for kidney stones and cleansing one’s digestive tract.”
Coconut has been touted as a “lazy man’s crop.” According to an old legend, coconut is God’s gift to the lazy man. “He sleeps in the shade of the tree, is awakened when a nut falls, drinks the milk, and eats some of the meat. He then feeds the rest of the meat to the chickens and cattle, which produce eggs and milk and meat, respectively. The leaves provide thatch for the roof and walls of his coconut hut, and are also woven into hats, baskets and mats.”
With multifarious uses, coconut is indeed a “tree of life.” In the Philippines, the coconut industry is a pillar of the country’s agriculture.
While most Filipinos know of coconut’s economic importance, not too many are aware of the health benefits coconut gives. Let’s start with coconut milk, which is made from water and grated coconut meat. Coconut milk is said to be high in saturated fat but mostly in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, which are not metabolized the same as the long-chain fatty acids found in animal products.
As such, the fats found in coconut milk are not bad for your health, according to a 2006 article published in The Ceylon Medical Journal. As a matter of fact, people with diets high in coconut milk have lower cholesterol levels and lower rates of heart disease.
Jill Corleone, in an article which www.livestrong.com published, however, cautioned: “While there is some promising research about the benefits of coconut milk for your heart, the evidence is preliminary and more research is needed before formal recommendations for its use can be made.”
So, what about the fats from coconut oil? Pina LoGiudice, Siobhan Bleakney, and Peter Bongiorno, co-medical directors of the New York-based Inner Source Health, wrote: “Conventional thought used to consider fats like coconut oil to be unhealthy and contribute to heart disease. We now know that this isn’t true. In fact, coconut oil is actually a heart-healthy food that can keep your body running smoother in a few different ways.”
Coconut oil is most potent when it’s virgin – that is, extracted through pressing without the use of heat. Thanks to the pioneering work of the late Dr. Julian Banzon and his protégé, Dr. Teresita Espino, the chemistry of virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been known, and its beneficial effects on the human body have been confirmed. Lauric acid is the key element in the VCO that is causing a lot of interest among scientists.
The late Dr. Dayrit was touted to be the Father of VCO. Thanks to his untiring and courageous effort in research on coconut oil, it was found that VCO is sort of a drug that “regulates the body’s functions and defense mechanism. It restores the normal balance of tissues or cells that have become dysfunctional.”
However, much research still has to be done on the benefits of VCO, but preliminary findings and anecdotal reports are very promising. It reportedly removes toxins, manages diabetes, controls allergy, strengthens the digestive system, and enhances the immune system and body metabolism.
Gout strikes like a bolt from the blue. Its excruciating, throbbing pain often hits at night, turning the skin red-hot and leaving the affected joint swollen and tender. Worse, an attack can last for days. VCO can help ease the pain of those suffering from gout.
“Taking virgin coconut oil has not made my gout disappear, or lessened its visits,” Conrado de Quiros wrote in his widely-read column. “But it has made walking much easier, something I’ve been having pains to do for some time now, my left knee in particular having become a little stiff. A rheumatologist once explained to me that gout attacks deplete the joints of fluids, which makes for stiffness. The equivalent, he said, is motor oil slowly drying up on a car engine, which causes friction among the pistons. Who knows? Maybe the virgin coconut oil is replenishing the lost fluids on my knee? That is pure speculation, of course. But I personally don’t care; I like what I’m feeling right now.”
For instance, in the United States, VCO has increasingly become popular in natural food circles and with vegans. It was described in a New York Times article as having a “haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor” that also has a touch of sweetness that works well in baked goods, pastries, and sautés.
Another coconut product that is making waves in the United States is coconut water, which is available in supermarkets, health-food stores, and even in some vending machines in single-serving sizes. One US health magazine hails coco water as “America’s healthiest beverage” for providing enhanced hydration, essential nutrition, and all five essential electrolytes (calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium).
When compared with a popular sports drink per 100 milligrams, coco water has more potassium (294 milligrams versus 11.7 milligrams), less sodium (25 milligrams versus 41 milligrams), more chloride (118 milligrams versus 39 milligrams), more magnesium (10 milligrams versus 7 milligrams), and fewer sugars (five milligrams versus six milligrams).
American nutritionist Jonny Bowden, the author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, considers coco water a “perfectly good option” for people who want to stay hydrated. “It’s high in heart-healthy potassium, with most brands providing about 700 milligrams in an 11-ounce serving – that’s lots more than you get in a banana,” he wrote. “It also has only about 60 calories per 11-ounce serving.”
Another coconut product that is not only healthy but good for people with diabetes is coco sugar. The sugar is derived from coconut sap or toddy, which contains 12-18 percent sugar in its natural form with essential vitamins and amino acids.
“A natural sweetener and functional food, coconut sugar is a much welcome development for diabetics and hypoglycemics,” said the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar drops too low. Because keeping their blood sugar at normal levels requires quite a balancing act, people with diabetes are particularly prone to hypoglycemia.
Compared with refined cane sugar, coconut sugar has a glycemic index (GI) of 35. This is much lower than the 54 GI, the level which nutritionists consider as safe for people who have to watch out for their glucose level.
GI is a measure of the rate at which carbohydrates as glucose enter the bloodstream. “The GI also indicates the rate at which carbohydrates break down during digestion in the small intestine into the simple sugars glucose, fructose and, sometimes, galactose,” explains Dr. Virgilio M. Ofiana in his weekly column for a national daily.
“The glucose is the sugar that is rapidly absorbed and has a reference GI of 100 or greater,” Dr. Ofiana writes. “Both fructose and galactose enter the circulation at a slower rate and need to go to the liver for conversion into glucose: both, therefore, have lower GIs.”
A sudden release of glucose into the bloodstream causes spikes of insulin that are hazardous to health if sustained for some time. “Having a low GI means that people who consume coco sugar will not experience sudden spikes in their blood glucose or blood sugar levels,” explained PCAARRD, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology.
“The amazing thing about the coconut palm is that it provides almost all the necessities of life: food, drink, oil, medicine, fiber, timber, thatch, mats, fuel, and domestic utensils, as well as serving important environmental services such as soil erosion control in coastal regions, wind protection and shade for other crops.” That was what Craig Elevitch, author of various books on tropical agriculture, has said.
Well, he failed to mention the stunning health benefits derived from coconuts!