​The humble coconut, once only seen in drinks stalls at hawker centres or used in your local favourites like nasi lemak and bubur cha cha, has seen a surge in popularity lately. From hip and innovative coconut infused drinks, to the deluge of coconut oil products, this tropical produce has slowly seen mass market appeal and success.

But are the many health benefits surrounding a coconut actually true? Let our dietitians from Dietetic & Food Services at Changi General Hospital (CGH), a member of the SingHealth group, lay down the facts for you!

Coconut shake vs coconut water vs coconut milk vs coconut oil vs coconut flesh

Coconut shake

Do you know that your favourite coconut shake could be packing as much as 300 to 350kcal (kilocalories) and up to 15 to 20g of fat in a regular-sized cup?

"Coconut shakes and dessert drinks not only contain natural sugars present but also added sugars / syrups, and contain fats, in particular – saturated fats from coconut flesh, coconut ice-cream / coconut cream or milk found in common recipes," shared Dietitian Miko Yeo.

"Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels and in turn, increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Such high calorie drinks can also contribute to excessive calorie intake and lead to being overweight or obese, just like many of the sugar-containing drinks such as bubble tea or sweetened bottle drinks," Yeo added.

To enjoy coconut shakes in a healthier way, you can:

  • Choose to avoid added sugars/syrups at the point of purchase ​– requesting for 0% sugar level

  • Avoid upsizing the beverage

  • Try making it yourself, and replace coconut ice-cream, coconut milk / cream often used in common recipes, with low fat or skim milk and avoid adding sugar

Coconut water / juice

Coconut water is touted as a great tool to rehydrate after exercise or a bout of diarrhoea as electrolytes such as potassium, sodium and manganese are present. However, plain water works just as well for hydration under most circumstances. Do note that coconut water contains at least 50kcal and up to 10g of sugar per 250ml (1 cup).

Coconut milk

Not to be confused with coconut water, coconut milk does not occur naturally, but instead refers to the reconstitution of coconut flesh and water.

Coconut milk is a source of several vitamins and minerals essential to our body. One cup (250ml) of coconut milk contains 600 calories and one cup of coconut cream (canned) contains 1500 calories, most of which come from fat. Coconut milk is rich in saturated fat, which has been shown to raise harmful Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. High LDL cholesterol levels increases one’s risk of heart diseases and stroke.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil should be taken in limited quantities due to high saturated fat content. Coconut oil has also seen a boom in topical use as a product for the hair and skin due to its postulated moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties. While hairstylists and beauty specialists swear by coconut oil products, these benefits have yet to be substantiated by medical studies.

Many health claims for coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are posited to aid in weight loss, because they are more efficiently turned into energy. However, studies have yet to be conclusive, and any excess MCT will still be stored as fat in the body. It should also be qualified that commercial coconut oil contains mostly lauric acid, which is not an MCT.

Coconut flesh

The fleshy interior of the coconut provides 175kcal per coconut (50g of flesh). It contains 4g fibre, which may be useful for digestion and satiety. Similar to coconut oil and milk, the flesh also contains high levels of saturated fat.

The coconut contains many vitamins and minerals, and if you are a fan, please continue to enjoy it. The keyword is: Moderation! Don’t go (coco)nuts!

Ref: J22

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