Lets Look At Coconuts!

April 26, 2012

Cocos nucifera. Wikipedia.

Cocos nucifera is popping up all over the place. In the media. In blog posts like this one.  In the store, packaged in various ways from whole to canned water or milk. Many claims go along with the products being sold. Like any new thing, there are tons of companies out there ready to make a mint off of the latest, greatest research and development. There are also people out there wanting to get the news out there about coconuts, whether talking about the palm tree, the seeds or the fruit.

 

So, lets take a good look at this brown, hairy, egg-shaped “smiling face” (the meaning of cocos). Like other nuts, the coconut is quite high in fat, but unlike other nuts, almost all it’s fat is saturated. Coconut oil has the highest saturated fat content of all oils, making it extremely stable for cooking. Its richness also makes it useful for beauty and skin care products, and detergents.

 

The coconut palm is one of the oldest food plants, originating somewhere in the Malayan archipelago but soon was dispersed throughout the tropics. It is known to have survived floatation across entire oceans. The Hindu Vedas say that coconut nourishes the body, increases strength, and promotes beautiful hair and skin–a claim that several avid coconut user friends of mine firmly believe. (When I first began learning about coconut oil, one friend of mine said that a teaspoon a day on toast or in food cleared up her acne quite quickly.) Ayurvedic medicine infuses coconut oil with herbs to treat a variety of skin diseases such as scabies and head lice.

 

The immune-boosting medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are also traditionally believed to promote all-around well-being, a practice adhered to in Thailand, where coconut appears in every dish of national cuisine, which is attributed to the lowest cancer rate of the fifty countries surveyed by the National Cancer Institute. In the Philippines, the coconut palm tree is called “the tree of life” and virtually every part of the plant is used medicinally. Some treatments include:

 

  • The roots are used for dysentery and other intestinal complaints.
  • A poultice from bark soothes tooth- and earaches.
  • The fibers of the trunk are used as a diuretic, to treat tapeworm, and to soothe throat inflammation.
  • The milky liquid of the coconut (coconut water, as it’s 95% water) is astringent and slightly acidic when fresh (but soon loses astringency), and holds a solution of proteins, sugars, and salts that treat intestinal worms and urinary disorders, amongst other things.

 

Coconuts are sources of manganese, molybdenum, and copper. They also contain selenium and zinc. Until recently, the nut was mistakenly accused of contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. Implicated by health experts as a culprit in raising cholesterol levels along with saturated meat fats in a research test that fed rats fully hydrogenated coconut oil, it was later discovered that it was not the oil itself, but its hydrogenation and purposeful alteration, which made it completely devoid of any essential fatty acids, that was the cause of the rats’ elevated cholesterol factors. It continued to receive a bad rap despite other studies showing that fresh/raw coconut oil does not cause elevated cholesterol levels and actually increases high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol–your good cholesterol.

 

There are other benefits as well. Approximately 50% of the 12-carbon MCFAs are composed of lauric acid. The only other abundant source of this health-promoting fat is human breast milk. Lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, an antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride (single fat glycerin) that destroys a wide variety of disease-causing organisms by dissolving the lipid and fatty phospholipid envelope surrounding them, resulting in their disintegration. It eliminated lipid-coated viruses (such as the Herpes simplex 1, HIV, and measles), inactivated pathogenic bacteria (many from the Staphylococcus and streptococcus groups) and H. pylori, an organism that has become resistant to several antibiotics but appears to be unable to develop a resistance to coconut’s natural antimicrobials.

 

Lauric acid, and its derivative monolaurin, also kill or inactivate many fungal, yeast, and protozoan infections. Monolaurin has been shown to kill bacteria by by interfering with signal transfer, a disruption that prevents bacteria cells from interacting with potential host cells. Lauric acid has beens hown to interfere with virus assembly and maturation.

 

Another beneficial MCFA found in coconut is capric acid, which is converted into monocaprin, which shows antiviral effects against sexually transmitted diseases. There is also some research suggesting that coconuts antiviral properties are so potent, they are being investigated as a potential treatment for AIDS. Furthermore, coconut oil protects against heart disease, promotes weight loss, and its MCFAs are a preferred source of energy in the body and they may increase the body’s metabolic rate.

 

Not only is coconut good for you, it is delicious. Moreover, it is simple to add coconut into your diet. Sprinkle unsweetened, dried shredded coconut over sweet or spicy soups or salads, or garnish broiled fish for a tropical taste. Adding blocks of creamed coconut to heated sauces, curries, broths and soups, or desserts imparts a rich, velvety texture and taste. Try substituting coconut milk for cow’s milk. Add some coconut milk to a bowl of chicken soup with some freshly ground black pepper. Substitute nutritious coconut palm sugar for regular sugar, a one-to-one switch…or less! (A personal favorite of mine since I have a sweet tooth. Here’s another thought just for you.)

 

When looking for coconut in the store, avoid hydrogenated, adulterated products. Hydrogenation is shown to increase blood cholesterol levels, and therefore heart disease. Avoid shredded coconut that has been sweetened and/or preserved with propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze.

 

The biggest concern, however, is nut allergy. Nuts are among the most common food allergies, and when people react to them, the reaction tends to be severe. Since allergic reactions tend to be “fixed” (people do not outgrow them), and one out of four people with a nut allergy tend to suffer severe reactions, know what to look for:

 

  • Tingling in the lips or mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling in the throat, causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing
  • Asthma symptoms
  • Vomiting
  • Cramping abdominal pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Faintness and unconsciousness
  • Death due to obstruction of breathing or, more rarely, extremely low blood pressure (anaphylactic shock)

 

Take some time to enjoy this yummy, sustainable nut, being aware that moderation in everything is key. I have had great success with organic virgin coconut oil in my own cooking. It adds great flavor and has never scorched. As more research comes out regarding the benefits of coconut, take the time to research the topic thoroughly. But, as Dr. Oz said in his post at the end, humans have been eating diets fairly high in fat for a very long time, and heart disease was very uncommon prior to the 1920s.

 

Do you like coconut? If so, how do you use it? Leave some comments and/or recipes! (Wanted you to have a video, but please don’t feel like I’m trying to sell you anything! I know Dr. Mercola has a website. I briefly looked at it. You can find good, organic coconut oil in the stores.)

 

 

***

Major Resource:

Murray, Michael, N.D., Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D., and Pizzorno, Lara, M.A., L.M.T. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books, New York, 2005; pg. 406-407, 419-425.

I am working on researching the benefits and drawbacks of coconut oil, and hope to write about it next week. In the meantime, I just received the latest e-version of the American Council on Exercise’s Journal and thought you would enjoy a few articles on food and food-related health issues.

 

7 Nutritional Strategies

Coconut Oil

Food and Depression

Exercise-induced Anaphylaxis (yes, it is food-related)

 

Enjoy the rest of the week and strive to reach your goals! Remember, start small and take one step at a time each day. Don’t get low if one day doesn’t go according to plan. (P-A-L-N as my father-in-law says.) Life is always fluctuating and full of surprises.

I will preface this post by saying two things. First, I do not often stand up and make social or political commentary on my blogs. Everyone has a right to their own opinions, and I value that right. I do not try to throw my own viewpoints onto others. However, I believe that viewpoints affect our personal mindsets and, therefore, health. Second, I believe that, at a certain point, people ought to stand up for what is right, not for what is easy. This post is an opinion and it not easy to write because it discusses topics many consider social taboos. I respect your opinion to believe that. I only ask that you respect mine as well.

 

***

Van Heemskerck. Iustitia. Wikimedia commons.

Perhaps you have heard of this:

Florida: A young African-American teenager is gunned down by a Hispanic-white neighborhood watchman. The watchman claims that he acted in self-defense.

Or how about this:

Knoxville: a young couple were kidnapped, gang-raped (the woman for four days), tortured, and eventually murdered. Five suspects are in custody.

The first case will sound very familiar. The death of Trayvon Martin has hit home in many communities due to widespread media coverage, political and social commentary. People are outraged that a youth has been murdered by someone who is supposed to protect them. The parents want closure. They want justice.

The second case is less well-known; you may never have even heard of it. In fact, I did not until I saw a post on Facebook. The couple names were Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian. They suffered genital mutilation, humiliation, torture by fire, and death. The district attorney general is not sure whether or not he will seek the death penalty. Their families, too, want closure. They want justice.

What makes me upset about the latter is a simple statement made my an acquaintance of mine. See, the person who started the spread of the Newsom/Christian case asked a few questions and made a few assumptions. S/he asked where the media was. Why politicians were not speaking out against the crimes. Why there was no social outrage. His/her answer: the couple was Caucasian.

And the statement that upset me: If this is your viewpoint on things, I’m very disappointed in you.

My response is, and will always remain the same. Murder, regardless of whom is killed, is wrong. My reason for posting the incident (as I said before, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, even the person who started the Facebook post) is to bring awareness. Murder happens every day to whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, drug addicts, wealthy business men, the stay-at-home mother next door. You name gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that separates us into groups and you’ll have yourself a murder victim.

Murder destroys lives.

Murder destroys families.

Murder can, and does, destroy communities.

Halle (Saale). Allegory of Justice. Wikimedia commons.

Think about that for a moment. Murder destroys communities. America, supposedly the most open-minded of countries, cannot get past the issue of race (or gender or sexual orientation…etc). Whether we want to admit it or not, hate crimes abound. In fact, our distinctions–what makes us different–are used against us. Politicians capitalize on voting blocs. (To another outcome, businesses also highlight distinctions.) They target specific groups of people, talk about the issues that trouble that specific community. They want us to know that we are different, that skin color or ethnicity, or gender, or what have you identifies you as different and–they propose with toothy grins–unique. Divide and conquer, as the old adage goes. Politics is a game of power, of domination, of control. And, as another saying states, it corrupts absolutely.

That was why the American founders instituted a separation of powers. Pertaining the justice, this idea states that judges and justices, free from manipulations of a group of politicians, may dutifully administer investigations and punishments to those responsible for crimes. They administer justice. They give closure to families, friends, and communities by upholding what is right, what is true, and what is good.

I have lived overseas. I have been a minority. I have been looked at with suspicion and regard because of past histories between America and the country I lived in. I have overcome those suspicions. I went out of my way to show respect and politeness. I went out of my way to be humane and honest. I was told by many natives that I was a rare exception to the Americans they’ve known.

Why? I believe it is because we place an unhealthy emphasis on distinctions. I have spent many hours in the company of foreign nationals. Inevitably, we get on the subject of the differences between America and Country X. They ask me why Americans are so bent on black vs. white, Christians vs. atheists, young vs. old, gay marriage vs. traditional marriage, etc. My usual response is to say that we are blinded by our fears–for which we excuse, soothe, or deny with our personal beliefs–and our innate nature to destroy.

Yes, I’ve said it. Man is destructive. Why else has virtually every race, every religion, every philosophy, every belief system and tradition placed such a huge emphasis on self-control–one’s actions, words, and thoughts–until very recently? Why else are there sayings like, If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all? Why do practitioners of Jainism live in asceticism and isolation? Why do Buddhist friends of mine speak out against cruelty toward all living creatures? Why does the Christian strive to overcome his dark parts through study, meditation, and prayer? Why does anyone?

History is full of hatred. As a student of history, I thrive on researching it. I am fascinated by it. I do so for my writing but also for myself. I have come to believe that one of the reasons for hatred (and there are many, in my opinion) is that believe too strongly in our distinctions. However, I do not believe that–particularly in this day an age when the Internet is at our fingertips–that we can excuse our outbursts or our vengeance on misunderstandings. We can understand if we choose to open our eyes. Understanding, I also believe, is a choice: to learn or to ignore. Mind you, learning does not require an education. You don’t need a degree to see that something troubles the crying person “from the wrong side of the tracks.” Where you learn is by choosing to act…or not.

Peace, then, comes from mastering the side of ourselves that seeks vengeance, that wants to lash out at another because of the hurtful thing they said or did, or because our parents told us that the color of their skin makes them less than human. No man, regardless of skin tone, is less than human. What makes him humane or inhumane is how he acts when faced with fears, new situations, or those whom he believes are in the wrong.

Peace, then, requires constant self-study. Peace comes when each individual tries to treat others better than themselves. Peace does not arise from a political or social organization telling everyone what to think, how to behave, or what is “peaceful.” That is tyranny. Such behavior infringes on the innate rights of mankind: to choose who and what to be, and to act accordingly.

This does not mean that you cannot have your own beliefs and opinions. I certainly do. I’m not ashamed of them; neither should you be. They help make you who and what you are. Rather, you should use your beliefs and opinions to guide your actions, to help make the lives of those around you better. When you strive to reach out and touch another life, you bring peace. You bring goodness.

Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo (Brescia, Italy). Iustitia et Pax. Wikimedia commons.

What I am ashamed of is that true justice may never be truly done in the Martin case because the system of justice has been hampered by social pressures and political intervention–something the American founders fought to avoid. What I am ashamed of is that most deaths, like the Newsom/Christian case, go unnoticed by external eyes. (I do not think that they need to have massive media coverage or politicians weighing in. Rather, they should be remembered by their families, friends, and communities for the good things they brought to Life.) What I am ashamed of is the callousness of American society at large: that we would tell a friend about our disappointment in them because they shared a viewpoint that differs from our own; that society glorifies unwholesome things in music and movies but demonstrate when one of them happens to a young man or woman; that we cling to our distinctions, and therefore our prejudices, rather than mastering ourselves so that we may be better citizens. Public servants, as the term was formerly called. For, although man might have a destructive nature, he was given the gift of reason to conquer it.

Through reason, through self-restraint, peace is possible. When one is at peace, one’s health is better, one’s mind is clearer, one’s intentions are more wholesome and bent toward goodness. When goodness is done, there is less hatred, less ignorance, and less crime. Choices become clearer. Then, when another chooses to commit an unlawful wrong, justice can be delivered, unhampered.

Rest in peace, Trayvon Martin, Christopher Newsom, and Channon Christian. Though I never knew you, I hope for the best: that justice is served to those who committed the crimes and that we, as a people, will strive to better ourselves. May your families, friends, and communities find peace, for strengthening peace is the power of love.

Sugar from the date palm. Wikipedia commons.

This past Sunday, a Facebook friend of mine sort of lost it at the proverbial they when the media began their formidable war against….dut-duhduhduh!…sugar! Now, as someone whose said that sugar in the vast quantities we consume these days (without knowing it, usually), this comes as no surprise. However, my friend totally has a point. What is it?

 

Stop blaming the food for the problem and start holding consumers (and certain business and government entities who’ve manipulated them) responsible. (Her a political side note: stop distracting the viewer from what’s really going on in this country.)

 

Yes. I said it. I’m not ashamed of saying it. There is no food in this world that will make you fat or sick (unless you possess an allergy) or anything else if consumed:

 

  1. As a whole (or as whole as possible) food.
  2. In moderation.
  3. Responsibly.

 

It is time we, as a society, stop blaming others and start taking responsibility for ourselves. As I often tell people, we only have one vessel (body), so lets take care of it! Yes, the advertisements look scrumptious. Yes, box/frozen meals are much quicker in this day and age. Yes, we seemingly don’t have the same amount of time that our predecessors did.

 

(I’ll argue this point: our ancestors–even 100-200 years ago–worked a whole lot harder than we do for a whole lot less. They worked hard for their food. They worked to produce and make almost everything they owned, or for money with which to buy what they needed. Their entertainment was a book, or knitting, or some other occupation. What they did not have, they worked to get. To boot, they made virtually every meal they ate. Even the wealthy still had duties within the home. The majority of the population were not sedentary; no one had television; very few disregarded the benefits of exercise because they were too busy–caring for the body was looked upon as a responsibility.)

 

What I mean to say is they were just as busy, or busier, than us. Moreover, they considered it shameful to shirk such an important responsibility as caring for our bodies. Take my grandfather, for example. He’s about 85 now, has had a couple heart attacks (genetics the major reason) and a hip replacement. Still, his doctor says he has the heart of a middle-aged man, he gets up and exercises every day (he took up yoga at the age of 82), and then goes about his business of tending his garden, caring for his two dogs, and cooking his own meals. (Admittedly, he does not eat as much as he used to because he suffers from GERD.) I have never once seen the man put on an extra ounce of weight.

 

This mean that, regardless of age, proper maintenance of the body is doable. It requires discipline and determination, persistence and patience, and an understanding that what we do to ourselves is our responsibility. Our doing. Sometimes, we cannot unmake what we’ve done. Why? Because our bodies can only take so much abuse. By abuse, I mean disuse and over- or under-feeding.

 

We were made to move. We were made to eat within reason. Vegetables, meat, sugar–there is nothing on this planet that we cannot digest and that is not beneficial to the body. Certainly, some things we ought to intake in lesser quantities. Meat, for example. Sweets is another. It does not mean that we cannot have them, nor that we should not enjoy them when we do.

 

Becoming anxious when we decide to indulge in a weekly dessert shows that the proverbial they have exerted some control over you. They want you to be anxious, nervous, fearful. They have an agenda, after all. (Everyone does; not all agendas are bad, but I believe than no agenda should place people into uncomfortable situations or negative mood swings.) They want you to do or buy or start whatever it is they are trying to sell at that time. The dieting companies, for instance, insist that you’ll shed those pounds by following their guidelines. But, honestly, do you really need someone to tell you exactly what to eat or how to exercise? Has our common sense been tossed out the window?

 

Sanchertorte. Wikipedia Commons.

In many instances, it probably has. However, I note with great enthusiasm that people are starting to take their common sense back. Farmers’ markets are popping up everywhere. People are growing gardens and making their own preserves. People are returning to some of the old ways of doing things–crafts, sewing, etc. They are taking back the control that the proverbial they had grasped and helping themselves. My own aim, as a fitness professional, is to give people to tools they need to help themselves. I have no desire to become a leaning post, or one of the proverbial them. I believe everyone can be healthy.

 

It is a simple process, actually. First, one recognizes what they want to work on. Say, losing 20 pounds. Then one identifies the hurdles that hinder success. For me, I have a sweet tooth. Once they have been identified, one ought to seek some council with one’s doctor, particularly if you have an eating disorder or disease, or may suspect that something is not right with your body; or, to see the areas you need to work on. Appointment done and advice in hand, one must then next pick the simplest hurdle to overcome. Yes.The simplest. One ought to see progress even from the start of a diet and/or exercise regimen.

 

One of the main ideas behind the practice of Ayurveda is that good, wholesome foods and proper exercise/meditation promote self-healing. I do not think one has to read too deeply into the practice to get something out of it. If you think a specific food hinders the process of weight loss/healing, cut it out of your diet for 2-3 weeks. Then reintroduce it to see if the side effects you experienced return. If they do, eat less of it or avoid it altogether. If not, the answer may lie in something else you eat. The same goes for exercise: if a certain kind taxes your reserves too much, it may not be the right exercise to start with/do. (Remember, you can gradually work into new sorts of routines, but start slowly and build with care.)

 

Continue the process, repeating the steps, until you see the results you desire. (Please remember that my suggestions do not compromise a recipe for success. They are suggestions. What works for some does not always work for others. Tailor your diet/exercise plan to yourself, seeking help from fitness, nutritional, and medical professionals along the way if, and when, needed. This means use that staff at your gym; they’re usually bursting with information.)

 

All in all, is sugar toxic for you? Any food large quantities ails the body, and I believe the engineering and processing that our foods undergo these days promotes disease and defficiencies. My opinion, then, is that should one want to be a healthy, responsible individual (it is a choice that you alone can make; don’t do it just to please others or because certain business/government officials say you should), take charge. Be responsible. Do your research carefully. Talk a lot with people, preferably people who know something on the subject. Eat and exercise responsibly, within reason. These are not obsessions. Do not let them become so. The projected images of beauty and wealth are undernourished, pubescent-like bodies. You are a unique person, made to be you. Not the proverbial they. You.

 

Be you. Love yourself and find happiness within, not from the outside. Care for your vessel. Reach for your dreams. Keys to success? I think so.