From a sprinkling of desiccated coconut on sponge cake or coconut milk in creamy curries, it hardly seems the stuff of super-healthy diets.
Yet coconut has had something of a reinvention as a health food, with coconut-based products becoming increasingly popular, fuelled by growing numbers of people cutting out dairy. Sales of coconut water in Britain soared by 120 per cent in 2014, while Sainsbury’s reported a 400 per cent rise in sales of coconut oil.
Devotees claim coconut contains ‘healthy’ fats, which are better for the heart and can even aid weight loss.
But Helen Bond, a dietitian and spokesman for the British Dietetic Association, isn’t convinced.
‘People think that because coconut is natural it must be healthy – unaware it carries surprising amounts of calories and saturated fat,’ she says. Here, she assesses the most popular coconut products…
Coconut oil is touted as a good alternative to other oils because it has a slightly higher smoke point, meaning that when it’s heated it produces fewer harmful free radicals – molecules linked to ageing and disease – and loses less of its nutrients.
It is also been claimed to speed weight loss; a Brazilian study in 2009 found obese women on coconut oil supplements lost more weight around the abdomen than those on a soy bean oil supplement.
‘I can’t see how it could aid weight loss,’ says Helen Bond. ‘Coconut oil has the same calories as olive oil, but 1 tbsp provides 13g of saturated fat, compared with 2.1g in olive oil.
‘A woman is recommended to have no more than 20g saturated fat in a day [and a man 30g], so that’s a huge amount.’