The World Goes Nuts For Coconut: Coconuts a healthy alternative?

Living with type 2 diabetes we are always looking for ways to satisfy our sweet tooth and think outside of the box to continue enjoying foods and treats we love in a healthy way. This week we even celebrated World Coconut Day! Every day we are finding new alternatives to traditional ingredients that make our food healthier and safer for people of all dietary needs, especially for us with type 2. 

Coconut products are gaining high popularity among health conscious people.  Although they are high in fat, they contain protein, several important minerals, and small amounts of B vitamins. Coconut meat is rich in several important minerals, especially manganese and copper, supports enzyme function and fat metabolism, copper assists bone formation and heart health. 

Coconuts give us a variety of alternatives that can be used for baking, cooking and even for our hair and skin! In a health conscious world, many people have begun trying to switch out animal products for plant based alternatives. Coconut milk for example is a great way for people to cut out dairy while enjoying a product with a longer shelf life than the traditional cows milk.  

Let’s look at some of the popular coconut alternatives and ingredients and look at the uses for  integrating them into our kitchens. 

Coconut milk - Found in Asian cuisine, this rich and nutritious milk is extracted from the meaty part of the coconut. One good thing about coconut milk is that naturally occurring coconut milk is absent of added sugars. However, coconut milk has a high glycemic Index of 97. This is considered very high and would lead to extremely high sugar levels. Compared to Coconut milk, regular cow milk is lower in Glycemic Index, with only 47.  Therefore, people with type 2 should  limit the amount of coconut milk used in cooking. Using coconut milk in small amounts is okay to add thickness and creaminess to your soups, sauces and a variety of other dishes. 

Coconut water - It’s a thin, sweet liquid, extracted from the inside of young, green coconuts.  Unlike coconut meat, which is rich in fat, coconut water consists mostly of carbs.  In its natural form, coconut water is sweet because of naturally occurring sugars and is an excellent source of potassium, manganese, and vitamin C. One problem with coconut water is that companies add artificial flavors and extra sugars adding as much as twice as much sugar. When having a refreshing and hydrating coconut water make sure you are choosing unsweetened coconut water to make it a healthy choice.

Coconut flour - Coconut flour is a gluten free “flour” that is essentially dried coconut in powdered form. It is made from the coconut solids that are left over after the meat has been used to produce coconut milk. The solids are ground into a very fine, flour-like powder.  Coconut flour is rich in dietary fiber, which can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. As it is low in carbohydrate compared to flour such as wheat and corn, it is useful for people with diabetes because it has a mild impact on blood glucose levels.  

Coconut sugar - Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, which has a GI between 55 and 84. This is because it has a lower proportion of sucrose while the glycemic index in coconut sugar does not exceed 35.  Keeping in mind that the glycemic index is the speed with which a food raises blood glucose level, coconut sugar could be more suitable for people living with diabetes.  However, since it contains between 80 % and 90 % sucrose (the same as table sugar) in addition to 1 to 2 % glucose and 2 to 4 % free fructose, it is important to say that it will undoubtedly have an effect on blood glucose, perhaps not as high as table sugar but it may cause a significant elevation.

Coconut oil - According to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, A new study in animals demonstrates that a diet rich in coconut oil protects against ‘insulin resistance’ in muscle and fat. It also avoids the accumulation of body fat caused by other high fat diets of similar calorie content – although can cause fat build up in the liver. These findings are important because obesity and insulin resistance are major factors leading to the development of Type 2 diabetes.  However, coconut oil is a saturated fat, and the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your total calories. Consumption of saturated fats has been associated with increased total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL), the “lousy” cholesterol. Including too much saturated fat in your diet can lead to an increased risk of coronary artery disease, and people with diabetes are already at a higher risk for heart disease before consuming a high saturated fat diet.

If you have trouble controlling your blood sugar or want tighter control, you should talk with your health care provider about using the glycemic index as part of your action plan.  Keep in mind that there is no quick fix or magic foods for weight loss. Consistency is what helps break what seems like a never-ending cycle of wanting to lose weight.

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