Post Categories: March 2015

Trending Tastes: Crazy for Coconut—Does It Live Up to the Hype?

march2015-tasteOnce demonized as a source of unhealthy saturated fat, coconut has seen an impressive resurgence in the last five years. From coconut water to oil to chips, consumers now seem ready to snatch up nearly anything with coconut in its name. According to Packaged Facts, coconut water alone netted over $100 million in 2012. And industry experts predict coconut’s luster will only continue to shine bright in 2015, as additional coconut products, including coconut sugar, enter the mainstream.

Part of coconut’s rise in popularity is an overall backing away from the idea that all saturated fats are bad for you. In recent years, studies have shown that while saturated fats may increase cholesterol, that doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct increased risk of heart disease. Another factor is consumers increasing desire to improve their health through food rather than medicine. Proponents say coconut can aid in everything from exercise recovery and weight loss to managing diabetes and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, products containing coconut can be found in almost every aisle of the store. Offerings include classic coconut oil that can stand in for butter, shortening or vegetable oils; coconut-based yogurt, milk and ice cream for the lactose-free crowd; and gluten-free sandwich wraps and baking mixes containing coconut flesh or flour. One of the newest members of the coconut lineup is coconut palm sugar—said to be a lower glycemic alternative to regular table sugar, which may reduce its effect on blood sugar.

march2015-taste2So of all the claims out there, what does the science actually support? “The science we have is interesting, but it’s too early to deem this the next Superfood,” said Kristen Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services for the Cleveland Clinic, in a recent interview with The Washington Post.

Some early studies have shown moderate weight loss benefits, but long-term research regarding coconut’s effect on cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions is lacking. As coconut-based products become more popular, the benefits—and potential risks—are likely to become clearer with time. One thing most nutrition experts agree on so far is that there’s no need to add coconut to your diet. But if you want to add a little tropical flavor to your diet, coconut-based products can be a reasonable alternative to conventional products—as with everything, in moderation.