Coconut Milk & Water - Health & Fitness Implications?

Is there a difference between coconut milk and water??

In terms of chemical structure, appearance and taste, the answer is yes. With regards to calories, total fat and the effects it can have on your overall health...the answer is yes again!

Coconut milk is made from heating, pulping and squeezing the flesh/meat of the coconut, meaning you are extracting most of the fat and calories that is stored in this part of the coconut, into the milk. Coconut milk contains approx 400kcal per 200ml, 5x that found in skimmed milk, whereas the water contains a mere 35kcal per 200ml. Therefore the potential for coconut milk to add unwanted body fat is clear to see, but does the coconut water weigh up in terms of nutrition...read on to see the verdict!

Health Implications

Coconut milk is highly nutritious, but it has received some bad press due to its relatively high levels of saturated fat which can negatively impact on cholesterol. However, the only way the fat in coconut really exerts a negative effect (increasing risk of heart disease) is when it is consumed in excess or in isolation i.e. without ingesting other forms of fat alongside it...and how many of us really do that? This is because coconut milk is lacking in essential fatty acids (EFA), so if we consume the milk on its own without other dietary sources of fat, we can develop a deficiency which will negatively impact on our body’s cholesterol levels, increasing LDL cholesterol relative to HDL.

It is acknowledged that an excess of saturated fat does elevate LDL (bad) cholesterol, but there are intricacies in the chemical makeup of coconut milk that counteracts the negative associations! Firstly, it is a concentrated source of the medium chain triglyceride (MCT) Lauric acid. Research presented in the American Society of Nutritional Sciences explains how the MCT lauric acid found in coconut milk and water, could lead to improvements in serum lipid profile (fat in the blood), which would positively impact on cholesterol. The MCT’s (lauric acid) have also been seen to promote fat loss because MCT’s are utilised by the body in similar ways to Carbohydrate! MCT’s are not broken down into lipoproteins, which are usually stored in the body as adiposity (fat stores), but are instead sent to the liver where they are metabolised for an immediate energy source to the body! The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology presented findings on the thermogenic effect of MCT’s compared to long chain triglycerides (LCT), found in most other fats or oils. MCT’s inherently contain fewer calories because of the shorter length of their carbon chains, and it is also likely that due to MCT’s being actively metabolised for energy, instead of being stored as adiposity, they will exert more of a metabolic response i.e. energy burning, than their long chain counterparts (De Roos, Schouten, Katan, 2001).

The wonders of coconut water

Coconut water seems to deliver the best of both worlds. It is high in lauric acid (MCT) which delivers energy and boosts metabolism. It is also very low in calories, low in saturated fat, high in fibre, vitamin C and potassium, and almost exactly mirrors the electrolyte composition of human serum. Not only this, the abundance of lauric acid is converted into a fatty acid compound called monolaurin which has anti- microbial and infection fighting properties (Walling, 2009)!

Hydration

It has been said that coconut water is so similar to human blood plasma in terms of composition that the World War II doctors occasionally resorted to using it as a makeshift intravenous drip! The similarities in electrolyte content and osmolality (number of particles in solution) between plasma and coconut water means it is basically a natural isotonic beverage! ‘Isotonic’ means the relative osmolality of a solution is similar, or the same as that of the bodies, resulting in a physiological balance and thus vastly enhanced absorption. The MCT content serves as an energy source, the fluid itself is the hydration, and the electrolyte content promotes the osmotic shift of fluid into the blood stream maximising absorption (Shenker, 2011).

The coconut is often described as one of Nature's greatest gifts to mankind, is this valuable source of nutrition something you could be missing out on?

References

De Roos, N, M., Schouten, E, G., Katan, M, B. (2001). Consumption of a Solid Fat Rich in Lauric Acid Results in a More Favorable Serum Lipid Profile in Healthy Men and Women than Consumption of a Solid Fat Rich in trans-Fatty Acids. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences. 2: 242-245.

Shenker, M. (2011). Livestrong.com. Coconut water and weight loss. Retrieved 23rd August, 2012, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/279867-coconut-water-weight-loss/

Walling, E. (2009). Learn About the Many Benefits of Lauric Acid in Coconut Oil. Natural News. Retrieved 23rd August, 2012, from http://www.naturalnews.com/026819_lauric_acid_coconut_oil.html#ixzz24NewGtpE

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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