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The coconut has shaped memories for each one of us: from spooning the white milk into Indian and Thai curries, drinking tender coconut in summer to having coconut ice cream.... Whatever you choose, the fruit brings with it many nutritional benefits.

The new sugar

Move aside gur (jaggery), sugar and organic offshoots of stevia. Coconut sugar is the new buzzword. It is Paleo-diet-approved and has plenty of takers around the world.

So how good is it? “Coconut sugar contains a fibre called inulin that slows down glucose absorption in blood, keeping glucose levels under control," says Chennai-based dietitian Deepalekha Bhattacharjee. “Inulin also stimulates the growth of the intestinal bifidobacteria, boosting the body’s immune system," she says. Coconut sugar contains traces of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that reduce blood sugar, inflammation and cholesterol in a better way than any other sweetener, she adds.

“But coconut sugar comes strapped with calories equivalent to regular table sugar, and tucking it in in large quantities isn’t a good idea. For coconut sugar to actually benefit you in terms of nutrient value, you need to double your consumption of the sugar. Daily intake of 3-4 tsp is optimum for a healthy person. That translates to a higher number of calorie intake," cautions Richa Anand, chief dietitian at the Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai.

Coconut sugar has a low glycaemic index but is still not advisable for diabetics. Yet it is a good substitute for granulated white sugar in desserts for non-diabetics. Overall, 2-3 tsp of the sugar is good for a person in a day, she adds.

Not everyone agrees. Sarika Nair, a Mumbai-based dietitian and founder of SlimnHappy, says, “Since coconut sugar has the same number of calories as regular table sugar, with even vitamins and minerals present in just traces, my recommendation would be to avoid all kinds of sugars and to reduce their intake in your daily life."

The new oil

Over the years, rice bran and olive oil have taken over from mustard and coconut oils as the cooking medium in kitchens. Cut to 2017. Virgin (unrefined) coconut oil is gaining popularity owing to its high smoking point of 177 degree Celsius. “Like ghee, coconut oil will not get oxidized when heated to deep frying temperatures. Oxidation degrades oil quality and that is bad for the heart. Coconut oil is perfect for using to sauté or stir-fry, since its high saturated fat content makes it suitable for high temperatures," explains Nair.

“Both refined and unrefined coconut oil contain the same amount of beneficial fatty acid," says Nair. “Unrefined coconut oil, however, is richer in phytonutrients than refined coconut oil. Polyphenols, which act as antioxidants in the body, are damaged by the bleaching and heating process used to produce refined coconut oil. Choose unrefined coconut oil if you desire the fullest coconut flavour and the most phytonutrients. Choose refined coconut oil when cooking at higher temperatures."

Still debating? “Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are metabolized faster because they do not need to be broken down in the intestines first. This means that your body is more likely to use them for energy and less likely to store them as fat. Compared to the same amount of calories from other fats, MCTs increase feelings of fullness and lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake, thus leading to weight loss," explains Nair.

Says Anand, “Virgin coconut oil is extracted from coconut milk and processed through micro-expelling (without using chemicals ). Utmost care is taken to avoid involvement of heat during the entire process. While using this oil for cooking, ensure that you do not cross the smoking point. When oil is heated past its smoking point, it generates toxic fumes that alter the food’s nutritional content and may also prove to be carcinogenic to the body. An intake of not more than 2 tbsp of coconut oil a day is recommended for both men and women."

New forms

From conserves in combination with fruits to smoothies made by blitzing the malai of the coconut with the fruit water, the coconut is undergoing a radical facelift. You too can try being innovative.

“Prepare coconut flour by grinding. Use it to bake cookies, add it to soups as a thickening agent or even stir into your oatmeal for a nice creamy texture," says Nair. “Coconut salsa is a healthy preparation you can make using tender coconut and any coloured vegetables and fruits of your choice," says Bhattacharjee. “Toss in mixed herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keep the marinated filling in a refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then add fresh, crushed mint leaves, mix and add a spot of coconut water. Fill in coconut shells and serve. This sour-sweet-salty salsa packs in macro- and micro- nutrients, vitamins and minerals." For a dose of vital iron, roll freshly grated coconut and deseeded dates in the ratio of 1:4 into laddoos and eat one a day, says Anand.

PS: Coconut is a fibrous one-seeded drupe which is a category of fruit. In general, it can be described as a fruit, seed and nut.

***

Calorific content in 1 tbsp (8g) of raw coconut

Energy: 36 kcal

Protein: 0.4 g

Carbohydrates: 1g

Fat: 3.3g

—Richa Anand, chief dietitian at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital,
Mumbai.

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The fact sheet

Why you should include coconut in your diet

About 50% of pure (not hydrogenated) coconut oil is lauric acid—converted by the body into monolaurin, which has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It can destroy the lipid membrane of viruses like HIV, measles, herpes and influenza. Another 7% of coconut oil is capric acid, an antimicrobial agent.

Studies show that coconut oil helps prevent Alzheimer’s. The lauric acid present in coconut oil improves levels of good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. You can use coconut butter as a spread (don’t interchange it with coconut oil for cooking, for it will burn).

One tablespoon of coconut butter provides fibre as well as potassium, magnesium and iron.

—Sarika Nair, dietitian and founder of SlimnHappy

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