Jul. 30. 2013
McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

I know what you’re probably thinking, I’m nuts about coconut with all these posts having coconut milk, coconut flakes, coconut water, or coconut flour in them, and you’re right! I’m crazy for coconuts (in a good crazy kind of way?). Today, let’s talk all about the nutrition contained in all things coconut, how to use, how to eat, and different types of coconut.

Whenever I mention coconut oil as another cooking oil to be used I hear roughly the same thing “Eeek! McKel, that’s a saturated fat!” It sure is. Coconut oil is comprised of about 90% saturated fat. So why do personally use and recommend this oil in cooking? The type of fatty acids that make up coconut oil’s saturated fat content are medium chain triglycerides, about 65%. Unlike long chain fatty acids (the majority of fats in our diet), which must go through modification prior to being digested and absorbed in our bodies, medium chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract to the portal system (i.e. our bodies find it super easy to break down the fat before getting rapidly absorbed and used for energy by the body). Coming from a clinical background, MCT’s are very commonly used in treating people who have malabsorption issues, ketogenic diets, or for increasing calories without much volume.

Several studies explore and show the this type of saturated fat in coconut does not negatively effect cholesterol levels nor overall heart health like we were once told (especially because this is a solid fat at room temperature… oh no, not that! *sarcasm here*). Some studies have shown coconut oil moderately increases metabolic rate, which is often a “selling” point that it helps boost your metabolism and contribute to fat loss or weight control, I’ll let these studies herehere, and here tell you what we do know. Coconut and the different varieties of coconut may have antimicrobial properties, gut and digestive health (here and here), skin moisturizer/integrity (here, here, and here). For even more studies to read the science behind coconut oil/medium chain triglycerides, feel free to check out one of my favorite resources here.

Pictured // mature coconut

Nutrition Stripped nutrient breakdown of COCONUT |
*for specific coconut sources and their nutrition information check out this great chart resource

  • Healthy fat // saturated fat (65% MCT, medium chain triglycerides)
    • Fatty acids in coconut // 49% lauric acid, about 18% mysteric acid, 9% palmitic acid, capric and caprylic acid at 7-8% respectively, 5-6% oleic acid, about 3% stearic acid, and 2% linoleic.
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Sterols
  • Fiber (in coconut meat)
  • Electrolytes } potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium (coconut water)

How to choose, store, and crack fresh coconuts | 

  • Choose // heaviest for their size with a lot of liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it (yep, you need to do some shakin’)
  • Store // in the refrigerator after opening, room temperature before opening/cracking.
  • Crack // in mature coconuts, there are usually 3 “eyes” at the top, use these dots to crack into the coconut. Take a hammer and crack open, it helps to use the sharp side versus the flat head of the hammer. In young coconuts, a machete works great, but I don’t know too many people who have machetes laying around their garage (I sure don’t). I used a sharp cleaver knife (like this one), and took three big swings at the top of the young coconut where the tip is, and sliced three lines to form a triangle surrounding the top tip (see video here).

Pictured // a young coconut with the green outer shell cut off. This is how you will typically buy it from a store.

Pictured// young coconut with coconut water inside

Different forms of COCONUT  |

Coconut meat // this is the white flesh within the coconut. The coconut meat will vary depending on whether it’s a young coconut (with the green softer shell) or a mature coconut (with the brown hard shell). Young coconuts have very soft coconut meat similar to a gelatin, which is very soft and chewy- great for blending in recipes. Mature coconuts have a very hard, dense, and fiberous coconut meat with a stronger coconut flavor than young coconuts.

Coconut water // this is the clear liquid that is within the coconut. Young coconuts will yield a greater amount of coconut water than the mature coconuts. Coconut water is high in natural electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and a small amount of simple sugars, perfect for post-workouts or add to water and sip all day long to keep hydrated instead of standard sports drinks with additives and food dyes (no thanks!).

Coconut milk // this is the liquid that comes from grated coconut meat and is thick, creamy and white (hence the name “milk”). I use it in sweet and savory dishes, here are a couple of examples Spicy Coconut Curry and Simply Coconut Milk Ice Cream. 1/4 cup= 12g fat, 10g is saturated.

Coconut oil // is the edible oil extracted or pressed from the mature coconut meat. This oil will be solid at room temperature and melts around 76 degrees F. NOTE// when possible always choose organic cold pressed oil and stay away from any coconut oils that say hydrogenated (no!). Not only is coconut oil great for cooking and eating, but you can also use it in your hair as a deep conditioner (you’ll need to wash it out after), and as a skin moisturizer. 1 Tbs.= 14g fat (12g is saturated).

Coconut butter // made by pureeing unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut meat, the ending result is a combination of coconut oil and coconut meat. It’s great to use instead of butter, it has a naturally sweet flavor and thick creamy texture. 2 Tbs.= 16g fat (14g is saturated)

Coconut flour // simply dried and ground coconut meat. I’ve talked about the uses of coconut flour here as well. It’s high in fiber and great for gluten free, low carbohydrate baking. 2 Tbs.= 1-2g fat, 1g is saturated, 10g carbohydrate (9g fiber), and 2g protein.

Coconut shredded flakes // This is simply mature coconut meat either shredded into very small slivers or in large light flakes. Both are used in baking, raw desserts (my Almond Coconut Date Globes), and toppings. These can be toasted in an oven until golden brown for a nice toasted nutty flavor. 1 oz= 18g fat (16g is saturated), 7g carbohydrate (5g fiber), and 2g protein.

Coconut shell // What can you do with the shell of a mature coconut? Beauty scrub! Ladies (and gents, no discrimination here), crush the brown shell after using the meat/water from the coconut and add a little of the tiny ground pieces to your body wash. This is a perfect all natural skin exfoliant.

Where to find |

Are you crazy for coconuts too? What’s your favorite coconut variation and how do you use it? Share below, I’d love to hear what you like coconut with!

Have a coconutty day,

xo McKel