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What's the Healthiest? Coconut Oil vs Coconut Water vs Coconut Milk

May 8, 2014

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Next time you visit your favorite holistic grocery store, a quick scan of the store shelves should make one thing pretty clear: People are going cuckoo for coconuts. You can buy coconut water, milk, oil, butter, flakes, flour or even the whole coconut itself, shell and all. But is this coconut craze fueled by hype, or solid science? And if coconuts are the new wonder-food, how does anyone tell all the different products apart, let alone know which is best for you?

If you live on the Pacific Islands, where coconuts are integral to every aspect of daily life, you might have a good idea. But assuming you don’t, you might need some guidance. Here, we’ve put together a quick guide comparing the health benefits and uses of three of the top coconut products: coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil. Once you tap into their benefits, you may even feel like you’re living on a tropical isle yourself!

Coconut Water

This is where all the action is these days. The water that collects on the inside of the coconut has been a popular drink for islanders for many generations. Today, coconut water is sold as the hottest new healthy hydration drink for workouts and yoga. Its popularity comes from serving up plenty of electrolytes and minerals, including twice as much potassium as a medium-sized banana, a healthy level of sodium, and trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. However, don’t let the “water” part deceive you: there are 45 calories in eight ounces of coconut water, so go easy on the coconut water and supplement it with plenty of plain H20.

Uses: Coconut water is great as a quick refreshing drink after working out, or a tasty electrolyte and mineral booster in smoothies.

Coconut Milk

When you grate the meat of the coconut and mix it with water, you get the sweet, fragrant milk that is essential for authentic pan-Asian cuisine, along with a host of other exotic dishes. The problem with coconut milk is its saturated fat, which is the kind of fat you want to avoid. Coconut milk is like cream, with each cup containing 445 calories and 48 grams of fat, almost all of which is saturated fat. Use it sparingly, or seek out low-fat versions. However, due to the way the body processes coconut milk (much like the way it processes breast milk), it offers a much healthier alternative to other sources of fat. Coconut milk contains medium chain fatty acids, which promote weight maintenance, as well as HDL, the “good” cholesterol that can lower blood pressure. While the debate over the health benefits of cholesterol continues, common sense says that you shouldn’t overdo it with anything that tastes this creamy.

Uses: Use it as a replacement for dairy cream or processed creamers, a flavor-booster in recipes like this coconut-blueberry quinoa , or mix into soups for a massive dose of healthy vitamins and minerals.

Coconut Oil

The beauty benefits of coconut oil can’t be overstated. From skin care to hair care to everything in between, coconut oil is basically a fountain of youth to help you look and feel younger. Like coconut milk, the oil is extracted from the meat and pressed. A block of the oil can last for two years without spoiling, which makes it handy to keep in the kitchen. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat like coconut milk, but it is absolutely essential for making the perfect curry, and vegans swear by coconut oil, especially for baking and pastries.

Uses: The high smoke point of coconut oil makes it perfect for stir-frying or sautéing . It’s also a great choice if you’re looking to try oil pulling.

Now, let’s hear from you. How do you use these three products? Share with us in the comments!