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Coconut is a treat for my little family, something we use judiciously and tenderly. While, 90% of the foods my family consumes arrive from farms and ranches near to home, I treasure other foods, foods whose benefits warrant the distance – cod liver oil most certainly, unrefined cane sugar as a treat, wild-caught fish, and coconut. Coconut reminds me of the tropics, of beaches, of the sea and of warmth – all of which we lack in my humble town tucked far away into the folds of the Rocky Mountains.
I value coconut for not only its luxuriant flavor and excellent application in both sweet and savory dishes, but also for its nutrient profile which pairs rich and healthy fatty acids with protein and fiber. For this reason, I often use its oil and milk in curries and sweet desserts while saving coconut flour for protein- and fiber-rich desserts like the Coconut Flour Cake I always make when birthdays roll around.
Coconut in Traditional Diets
In rereading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I was struck by how often the reliance on coconut and coconut oil benefited the health of the South Pacific Islanders who paired coconut products with wild-caught fish, root vegetables, wild greens and tropical fruits. It’s no wonder those who adhered to this traditional coconut-inclusive diet saw outstanding health. Coconut oil is rich in immune-supportive fatty acids like lauric acid, and other saturated fats that, when paired with a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can systemic wellness and skin health in particular.
In our home, my husband and I emphasize the importance of a traditional, unprocessed diet not only for our own sense of well-being, but also for that of our son. Years ago, when we first began the foray into traditional cooking, one of the first steps we made was to begin including coconut oil, and eventually, other coconut products into our diet.
Coconut oil is a softly sweet tropical oil rich in saturated fats like lauric acid which boasts immune-supportive and antimicrobial effects. I take care in choosing coconut oil, as many oils found on supermarket shelves are often extracted through heat or chemical solvents; rather, I prefer and emphasize coconut oils that are processed without heat or chemicals. Minimally processed oils retain a higher level of nutrients and food enzymes, and more closely resemble the oils traditionally consumed by healthy peoples in the South Pacific studied by Dr. Price.
After our first few forays into the world of traditional foods, we expanded our experience with coconut beyond coconut oil, to other coconut products like coconut spread. Coconut spread is prepared similarly to other nut butters – ideally delicately handled, prepared raw to maintain food enzymes, and free from additives. Coconut spread is the critical ingredient in my homemade coconut frosting for this coconut cake, though I also often use it as a replacement for nut butter in my son’s sandwiches when he leaves home for daycamps during the summer time. Coconut spread is prepared from whole coconuts, so it retains not only the beneficial coconut oil, but also the protein, fiber and other components of coconuts. It is a whole food in its truest sense.
Coconut Flour and Flakes
We also use coconut flour and coconut flakes which can provide texture and flavor to not only homemade, grain-free desserts and baked goods, but also to savory dishes like curries as well. I sprinkle coconut flakes on sweet baked goods, in replacement of commercial baking sprinkles. Coconut flour, by contrast, is a fine powder-like flour highly suitable for gluten- and grain-free baking. It is rich in protein and fiber, and absorbs liquids readily, for this reason a small bit goes a long way and coconut flour baked goods can be highly satiating.
Coconut Milk, Cream and Water
Second to coconut oil, many cooks use coconut milk frequently, and coconut water is growing in popularity for its thirst-quenching properties and is rich in electrolytes, making it particularly helpful for hot days, illness or recovering athletes. Coconut milk and coconut cream, by contrast, are richer, and fattier – making suitable substitutes for heavy cream and whole milk in custards, soups, and ice creams. Take care to purchase additive-free coconut milks.
Other Coconut Products
My family also uses other coconut products in different ways. While our culinary uses of coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut flakes and coconut milk take most of our focus, we also use coconut products for personal care and cosmetic reasons. The skin is our largest organ, and readily absorbs what we put on it. In my routines, we often use coconut oil or coconut-based beauty products as moisturizers, for oil-pulling or in other applications, and in this way we know our skin care is just as nutrient-dense and safe as the foods I take pride in feeding my family.