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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Health benefits of coconut 'promising'

The humble coconut is fast becoming the next "superfood".
The Straits Times - June 12, 2014
By: The Washington Post
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Health benefits of coconut 'promising'

The humble coconut is fast becoming the next "superfood".

Lured by endorsements from celebrities, consumers are clamouring for all things coconut - oil, water, milk and even cocktails.

They are pouring coconut into coffee, spreading it on toast and swishing it like mouthwash, enticed by the promise that coconut can banish belly fat, boost heart health and even stave off the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

But does coconut offer any health benefits?

Researchers, dietitians and doctors say that coconut's properties are promising, but the data is not sufficient to recommend daily doses.

"It's too early to deem this as the next superfood. We don't have enough evidence," said dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, who manages wellness nutrition services for Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in the United States.

Most of the excitement revolves around the fruit's reputation as a weight-loss tool.

Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are converted into energy more quickly than the long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) found in animal-based products such as meat and dairy.

"MCTs are metabolised faster by the liver, so coconut oil may have a slight edge in terms of weight loss. But the research is limited," said Ms Kirkpatrick.

Agreeing, cardiologist Ashley Simmons, medical director of the University of Kansas Hospital's women's heart programme, said that studies, which have shown modest weight loss in small groups over short periods of time, are simply too small to justify bold health claims.

Coconut oil does have some proven benefits. It contains lauric acid, which reduces inflammation associated with acne, and has been shown to have antimicrobial properties.

There is also some evidence that virgin coconut oil contains antioxidants that may play a role in reducing inflammation associated with arthritic conditions.

But Dr Simmons pointed out that the oil is high in saturated fat. Some 88 per cent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, compared with just 15 per cent in olive oil.

Beyond the kitchen, some even use coconut products for oil pulling, an Ayurvedic method that has been said to banish migraines, whiten teeth and detoxify the body.

Oil pulling involves swishing oil in the mouth for five to 20 minutes, then spitting it out.

The American Dental Association, however, recently warned that oil pulling should not be used in place of tooth brushing or other conventional oral hygiene measures.

The only bright spot is that coconut water - a popular thirst quencher for those looking to replenish electrolytes after workouts - does have high levels of potassium and magnesium.

Unsweetened varieties are also free of sugar, artificial sweeteners or dyes that are present in many conventional sports drinks.

That said, sports dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede pointed out that coconut water is lower in sodium (the main electrolyte lost through sweat) and carbohydrates, compared with regular sports drinks.

While it is a better choice than carbonated or sugary drinks, she would not recommend it over a traditional sports drink after vigorous exercise.


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