What's so great about coconuts?

Just a few years ago, coconut milk and desiccated coconut were the only products we’d see on supermarket shelves. But now you can find it all: coconut oil, coconut water, coconut cream, coconut flour, coconut chips, coconut sugar, and even coconut yoghurt. So what has made coconut so popular? And a great choice for healthy diets and lifestyles? Here's four reasons.

A low-allergen alternative to dairy

Coconut products make an easy, delicious and healthy alternative to dairy. Coconut milk and cream replace traditional dairy and coconut oil or butter is a suitable replacement for butter.

But why not dairy?

Allergies or intolerances to dairy seem to be on the rise. Lactose intolerance is a well known reaction to the natural sugar found in dairy and causes digestive problems. What we also start to see now are reactions to proteins in dairy, such as casein. A true allergic reaction will tend to show immediately with symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, nausea or a rash. An intolerance, however, may cause more vague or long-lasting symptoms such as skin problems or sinus congestion. If you have these types of symptoms, it may be worth cutting out dairy for one to two months to see if things improve.

Some people avoid dairy foods because they contain substances that may have detrimental effects on our health. These include hormones and ‘growth factors’ that promote growth in young animals. Non-organic dairy products can contain traces of antibiotics too.

Dairy foods also contain nutrients and protective substances, so experts are divided on whether dairy has overall beneficial or negative effects on our health. But for those who prefer to avoid it, coconut products are a great alternative.

Healthier fats

Coconut is high in fat, but part of this is in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are absorbed and used in a different way in our bodies to the longer-chain fatty acids that make up the majority of animal fats (including dairy). Longer-chain fatty acids circulate around the body and can easily be stored in body tissues but MCFAs travel to the liver first, where they are directly converted into energy. This means MCFAs may even help with weight loss, as well as boosting energy. This energising effect is the main reason coconut oil has proved popular with sportspeople for helping with energy and performance.

MCFAs can have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects too, meaning they may help to improve gut health and help protect against infection.

Suitable for most healthy diets and lifestyles

Another great thing about coconut products is that they fit well into most healthy diets, including vegetarian and vegan diets, but also gluten-free, grain-free, Paleo, low-carb, and for those who choose to eat real foods and avoid processed foods.

Great for filling you up

Coconut flesh, flakes, chips, desiccated coconut or coconut flour are all really high in fibre and very low in natural sugars. This makes them great for filling you up. Because coconut digests slowly, it also slows down the digestion of carbohydrates and helps balance blood sugar, keeping your energy levels consistent and helping prevent cravings for sweets or carbs. Another reason why coconut may be helpful for managing weight.