Many people think of coconut as a ‘nut’, but it is a fruit. For generations, Indian homes have been using coconut as an offering to God and in cooking. People who believe in the power of nature, must be aware about the benefits of coconut for health. Coconut plant is widely distributed around the tropical regions of the world. The inner raw coconut meat is loaded with plenty of vitamins and minerals and other health-promoting compounds that are essential for a good health. It is also known as ‘the fruit of life’ due to its various nutritional, health and economic advantages. However, many people still think of coconut meat as an unhealthy food because of its high fat content.
Health Benefits of Raw Coconut Meat
The health benefits of coconut meat include its beneficial effects on heart, skin, brain, and stomach. It supports heart health, fights off infections, delay aging, and improves skin health. It is used for the treatment of gastric ulcer, burns, wound healing and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Let’s debunk some myths about coconut meat and look at the benefits of raw coconut meat:
Nutrient Composition of Raw Coconut Meat
Raw coconut meat is rich in compounds that possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial properties. These compounds are known to have pharmacological and therapeutic activities. These health-promoting substances further protect against heart diseases, premature aging of the skin, cancer and inflammation. Below mentioned are the compounds present in coconut meat:
Each of these compounds possess different medicinal properties, that promote good health and protect against infections and diseases.
Moreover, the raw coconut meat also contains vitamins that are necessary for the maintenance of sound health, such as:
- Thiamine or vitamin B1
- Riboflavin or vitamin B2
- Niacin or vitamin B3
- Vitamin C or ascorbic acid
The coconut meat is further a rich source of protein, fat and dietary fiber.
The list doesn’t end here. Coconut meat also contains minerals that are important for overall healthy living. Here is the list of minerals:
- Zinc (1)
Supports Heart Health
People believe that consumption of coconut is associated with hyperlipidemia and heart diseases, but studies have found that the above-mentioned health problems are uncommon among high coconut consuming health populations.
Raw coconut meat contains fat in the form of saturated fatty acid, which is atherogenic. Unlike other saturated fats, the fat present in coconut is medium chain fatty acids. These medium chain fatty acids are broken down faster and are not stored in the body like long chain fatty acids. Thus, it does not contribute to high cholesterol levels and does not increase the risk of heart diseases too.
In fact, fat present in coconut reduces the LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and increases the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, which is heart-protective. Cocosin, a compound present in coconut meat is responsible for its LDL lowering activity. (2)
Raw coconut meat possesses anti-microbial activity against a wide range of microbes and its activity is comparable with ‘ciprofloxacin’, an anti-microbial drug. Such an activity of coconut against microbes is attributed to the presence of:
These compounds form a complex with the bacterial cell wall and throw them out of the body. Studies have also found that coconut meat possesses anti-microbial activity against:
- aures- causes skin infections, meningitis, pneumonia, bacteremia, sepsis
- coli- causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and loss of appetite
- aeruginosa- causes urinary tract infections, bone and joint infections, dermatitis, bacteremia
- albicans- causes fungal infections (3)
Free radical damage is believed to contribute to a variety of health issues including, heart diseases, uncontrolled blood glucose levels, cancer, arthritis and premature aging. The presence of ascorbic acid and flavonoids in appreciable amounts in coconut meat is largely responsible for its antioxidant property.
Flavonoids form a complex with the free radicals and kicks them out of the body. Ascorbic acid, too, scavenges the free radicals and reduces oxidative stress. Thus, it protects the cells of the body against attack by harmful free radicals. (4)
A drop in the level of anti-inflammatory compounds and increase in the amount of pro-inflammatory compounds cause inflammation, which gives rise to the onset of various diseases and ailments. Coconut meat is a traditional anti-inflammatory medicine that suppresses the growth and multiplication of pro-inflammatory compounds. It also reduces inflammation associated with wounds and burns. Compounds present in coconut meat block the enzymes that are involved in the inflammatory process and production of pro-inflammatory compounds. Lauric acid, a type of fatty acid present in coconut meat is involved in the inhibition of inflammatory processes. (5)
Burns and Wound Healing
Coconut meat is an anti-inflammatory and wound healing agent. Injury to tissues give rise to release of compounds that lead to pain and inflammation. Coconut helps in wound healing by reducing the diameter of the wound and inflammation associated with it. It is also useful for the treatment of burn wounds and it further helps in controlling infections associated with burns. (6)
Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Coconut has been identified as a potential cognitive strengthener. It is a rich source of medium chain fatty acids, which are converted to ketones in the body. Ketone bodies are a vital alternative source of energy for the brain, which may be beneficial for individuals with memory impairment, as seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Amyloid plaque is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques get accumulated between the neurons present in the brain. This causes degeneration and death of neurons, which further has a negative impact on cognition.
Compounds present in coconut prevent the aggregation of amyloid peptides, which is the key step in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, antioxidants present in coconut meat protect the brain cells against damage caused by free radical attack. These antioxidants scavenge the free radicals and act as a protective shield for the brain. (7)
Studies have demonstrated that consumption of raw coconut meat improves diabetic indicators. This is possible due to the presence of protein in it, particularly arginine. Arginine enhances the production of pancreatic beta-cells, which are the main producers of insulin. It further boosts insulin release, which helps in the better control of blood glucose levels.
Raw coconut meat is a rich source of dietary fiber. Eating such a high fiber food slows down the release of glucose in the blood and thus, it prevents spikes in the blood glucose levels.
High blood glucose levels for a prolonged period of time cause a drop in the level of natural antioxidants in the body. This causes an increase in the population of reactive oxygen species, which cause damage to the pancreas and negatively affect insulin production. Compounds present in raw coconut meat help in the restoration of natural antioxidant enzymes, which protects the pancreas against damage. (8, 9)
Protects Against Gastric Ulcers
Coconut is a cost-effective and a natural treatment for gastric ulcers. It is an excellent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-ulcer agent. Consumption of coconut meat reduces the size of the gastric ulcers and helps in its clearance.
Coconut is an anti-inflammatory agent, it suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory compounds and reduces the overall inflammation, which otherwise aggravates the condition.
Coconut meat further protects the inner lining of the stomach against free radical attack due to its high antioxidant content. Oxidative stress plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of gastric ulcers. Coconut meat restores the natural antioxidant defense system of the body and protects the stomach mucosa against damage. (10)