Back in the 1960s Americans’ mainstream exposure to coconut products was limited to diabetes-inducing pina colada mix and theater popcorn drippings. Recently coconuts resurfaced with a healthier profile spurring a health-conscious coconut frenzy that’s hit the shelves of Bend grocery stores in a big way.
Newport Market grocery manager Joe Anzaldo remembers ordering a pallet of coconut water for the store a few years ago, thinking it would do well, but wound up giving cases of it away. It was just a little too soon for the Bend audience, but now he sells tons of the electrolyte-packed drinks.
He sells a lot of coconut butter, too. Known for its slight sweetness and combination of coconut meat and coconut oil, it’s perfect for baking. Anzaldo’s wife buys it by the case and adds it to her smoothies to get a dose of healthy fat in the morning.
“It satisfies the sweet-tooth without containing much sugar,” he said.
Now Anzaldo also stocks coconut coffee creamer, coconut milk, coconut sugar, virgin coconut oil and, of course, coconuts, for the recently crazed.
Even Wal-Mart sports the cheapy Southern brand LouAna, a great deal at around $4.50 for 31.5 ounces.
Much like other food trends in the recent past, including the Atkins diet, this coconut craze has been spurred on in recent years by books like The Coconut Oil Miracle and dozens of websites lauding the benefits of all things coconut. In health-conscious Bend, it’s likely the trend is linked to evidence that the kind of fats in coconuts are healthier than the saturated fats found in other foods.
Traditional nutrition charts lump animal fats and tropical oils like palm and coconut together as artery clogging widow-makers, but coconut oils are made differently now.
Understanding all the different kinds of fat out there is pretty tricky. But for the uninitiated, basically unsaturated fats are the kinds found in avocados and whole coconuts. When fats undergo a hydrogenation process, they become trans fats, which increase the risk of heart disease. Pure coconut oil is another kind of fat, called saturated fat.
An expert explains.
“We used to think saturated fats were all the same,” said St. Charles dietician Frankie Mauti. “Coconut oil used to be hydrogenated. Now the virgin, whole coconut oil is what’s being used, which, though saturated, has lower trans fats because it’s not hydrogenated. It still can raise both good and bad cholesterol.”
Bend Nutritional Therapeutic Practitioner Gina Bailey agrees that there are benefits to the kind of fat found in coconut products.
“We know that saturated fats are a critical piece of reducing inflammation,” said Bailey. That means greater protection for your body’s cells and prevention of illness down the line.
One study of the effects of coconut oil consumption on heart disease showed that Pacific Island populations get about 30 to 60 percent of their caloric intake from fully saturated coconut oil, but have nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease.
Despite beneficial stats from other countries, top medical institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic keep a conservative distance.
“For now, I'd use coconut oil sparingly,” said Dr. Walter C. Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in a recently published article on the subject.
The studies showing that coconut oil has a positive effect on cholesterol levels have only looked at these effects in the short term, said Willett.
“We don't really know how coconut oil affects heart disease,” he wrote.
Even if we aren’t sure, yet, about heart disease, Mauti, the St. Charles dietician, sees a growing number of patients harnessing the benefits of coconut products partially because of an elevated awareness of food allergies. Coconuts provide a variety of substitutes for people changing their diets.
“Coconut milk and yogurt are being used by people with lactose intolerance,” said Mauti. “Coconut flour is being substituted for wheat flour by those negatively affected by gluten. Diabetics seeking to lower their carbohydrates also use coconut products.”
No matter what the reason, Bendites are buying in to all things coconut. And if the shelves of local grocery stores are any indication, this trend is nowhere near tapped out.
Department of Culinary Corrections
Last week’s feature on the newly opened Mazza Bistro, “In the Middle of Everything” contained incorrect information about the restaurant's menu. Mazza offers both salads and spicy Zatar fries, which are available as a la carte items. The restaurant hours have also changed, Mazza is open weekdays, 11a.m.–8 p.m.;
weekends, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.,
and Sundays, noon–7 p.m.
Health Benefits of the Coconut
• Alzheimer’s symptom improver
• Thyroid function booster
• Promotes lean body mass and weight loss
• General immune system support
• Kills internal and external
• Antimicrobial skin supporter
• Reduces tooth decay
• Improves digestion
*For a complete list visit The Coconut Research Center here: www.coconutresearchcenter.org
The Many Ways to Eat Coconut
Coconut Milk—This part water, part cream product is aromatic, creamy and good for both savory and sweet recipes like curries and puddings.
Coconut Cream—This all cream product makes heavy, rich sauces and thickens well with heat and cornstarch, rice or tapioca flours.
Powdered Coconut Cream—This powdered version of the cream is great for camping and coffee.
Coconut Water—Some brands of this separated clear water element of coconut milk sport electrolyte levels equal to Gatorade.
Virgin Coconut Oil—Pure fat with heavy coconut aroma and taste, this works deliciously subbing for butter and margarine anytime but frying.
Coconut Oil—Tasteless and odorless, pure fat extraction is bleach processed and stripped of flavor and scent making it useful for innocuous kitchen and cosmetic needs.
Coconut Flour—Unsweetened, this finely ground copra is great as an egg and gluten replacement for baked goods.
Shredded Coconut—Substituting one-third of a recipe’s flour requirement with this adds body and sweetness.
Photo taken by Wiki Commons