When you think of coconuts the image of palm-lined beaches and clear blue water surely comes to mind, but did you know coconuts also may help protect your heart? Because coconuts contain more saturated fat than butter, at one time many health experts believed that consuming this sweet treat would result in clogged arteries and heart disease. However, studies show that the benefits of coconuts outweigh the possible risks, which should please those with tropical fever. In a study published in Clinical Biochemistry, 2004 1, researchers looked at coconut oil as a component of diet in laboratory animals (Sprague-Dawley rats). In this study, virgin coconut oil, which was obtained by wet process, had a beneficial effect in lowering total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
Even though coconuts do have a high saturated fat count, more than 50% of that is lauric acid. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that although lauric acid raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol, it raises HDL ("good") cholesterol even more. The other 50% of the saturated fat content is made up of fatty acids that have little or no effect on cholesterol. Lowering your cholesterol levels is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, so it looks like coconuts are back on the menu!
This tasty tropical treat is still high in calories, so don’t overdo it. Instead, buy a bag of shredded coconut and have just a handful as a mid-morning snack or mixed into your trail mix. Try to avoid a sudden spike in your blood sugar by making sure you consume bagged coconut that is free of added sweeteners. If you’d like to try cooking with coconut milk, try a delicious grilled coconut shrimp or coconut-crusted chicken on a balmy summer evening for a change of pace. If you’re really in the coconut tropical mood, go ahead and plant a palm tree, buy a set of tiki torches, have a Caribbean cookout, because you’ll be jam’in to a healthier you!