Fresh coconut is an unusual delicacy for most people who don’t live in an area surrounded by coconut-producing palm trees. Grated and dried coconut can be found in the bakery aisles of most grocery stores, but fresh coconut flesh scraped directly from its shell is better tasting and higher in nutrients. Due mainly to its high fiber content, eating coconut offers some digestive pluses.
Coconut flesh, also called the meat or copra, is the inner, white portion of a coconut. Fresh coconut flesh is soft because it’s saturated with liquid, which is usually referred to as coconut milk when it’s squeezed from the meat. Raw coconut flesh can be eaten directly and readily enjoyed because of its light and refreshing flavor, although it’s typically dried and then shredded or processed into coconut oil. Fresh coconut is rich in saturated fat and a good source of fiber, amino acids and trace minerals. It doesn’t keep too fresh because of its fat content, so it's best to use it soon after you remove it from its shell.
High in Fiber
Raw coconut is a great source of dietary fiber, with one cup of shredded meat containing about 7.2 grams, which is almost 30 percent of your daily recommended amount for the nutrient. The fiber in coconut flesh is mostly water insoluble, but there are some soluble types too. Dietary fiber is important for digestion because it bulks up your stool, promotes regular bowel movements and helps prevent constipation – as long as you drink enough water that is. Soluble dietary fiber helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Coconut is one of the few plant foods that contains saturated fat. However, the predominant type of saturated fat in coconuts is lauric acid, which is an unusual medium-chain triglyceride that’s easily digested and absorbed by your body and readily used as an energy source. In essence, your body is able to digest and process lauric acid much like it does carbohydrates found in foods such as pasta or bread. In contrast, most other saturated fats are stored by your body and not used as an immediate source of fuel. Medium-chain triglycerides such as lauric acid also tend to boost metabolism and curb hunger, which may help promote weight-loss.
Other Digestive Benefits
The natural oils in coconut products act as a mild laxative, which you may have already noticed after drinking piña coladas or cooking with coconut oil. Coconut flesh, oil and milk also display antimicrobial properties, which mean they deter the growth and proliferation of bacteria, fungi and some parasites. These antimicrobial properties are useful for good digestion because it helps prevent vomiting and diarrhea caused by bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal system.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.