Crazy For Coconut

Until recently, if you cooked with coconut oil or put coconut milk in your smoothies, you were either a vegan or a paleo-diet follower. Not Anymore. The tropical fruit is finally getting a turn in the spot light

No longer relegated to piña coladas, the tropical fruit is finally getting a turn in the spotlight.

    Until recently, if you cooked with coconut oil or put coconut milk in your smoothies, you were either a vegan or a paleo-diet follower. Not anymore. Coconut products have gone mainstream as more consumers discover their many health benefits.

POWER UP One cup of an unsweetened coconut milk beverage (like the So Delicious brand) provides 50 percent of the daily value of vitamin B12 and 30 percent of vitamin D—for a mere 45 calories—making it an ideal dairy-free option for smoothies.
    Coconut water, the clear liquid found in young, green coconuts, packs a potassium punch. In fact, one cup of unflavored coconut water contains more potassium than a banana—about 600 milligrams versus 400. Potassium is vital to heart health, nerve function, muscle control, electrolyte regulation and more, yet Americans often don’t meet their daily requirement of the mineral (4,700 milligrams for ages 14 and up). Coconut oil, which is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts, has been a dietary staple in tropical cultures for thousands of years. Yes, it is high in saturated fat, but not all saturated fats are created equal. The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT ). “MCT s are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they’re likely to be directly burned off as fuel and raise the metabolic rate slightly,” explains Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., a research associate at Columbia University’s New York Obesity Research Center. That means less is available to be circulated throughout the body and deposited in fat tissues. Lauric acid also appears to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood, making it a healthier choice than butter or margarine for cooking and baking.

DID YOU KNOW? Early Portuguese explorers traveling through the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean gave the coconut its unique name. They believed that its “grinning face” (the three dark indentations at the base of the shell) resembled a bogeyman known as “coco” in Portuguese folklore.     Virgin coconut oil is made from pressing fresh, raw coconut—without adding any chemicals—and has a shelf life of several years. This is the kind you want to use. It is white and solid at room temperature, and has a sweet, subtle, nutty flavor.

HOW TO USE Coconut oil can withstand reasonably high heat, so it’s a great choice for sautéing and roasting. Use it to soften the taste of bitter greens, or more deeply caramelize root vegetables like sweet potatoes. It also can be substituted for butter or other oils in most recipes—use a 1:1 ratio. Use it at room temperature to create flaky baked goods, like pie crust, or melted and cooled as a butter/oil replacement.
    To create satisfying, nutrient-packed smoothies, blend a cup of unsweetened coconut milk beverage with a handful of berries, a scoop of protein powder, a tablespoon of chia seeds and a few ice cubes. Or use it as a “creamer” for coffee or tea.
    Looking for a natural alternative to sugary sports drinks? Try unflavored coconut water, which has fewer calories, less sodium and more potassium than Gatorade and its brethren. — Carol Bialkowski

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