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Coconuts' health bounty

The coconut palm is traditionally known as the ‘tree of life’ for the many health benefits of its products. David Hughes reports.

Aficionados of Mutiny on the Bounty may recall that trouble really kicked off when Captain Bligh accused his Lieutenant, Fletcher Christian, of stealing from the ship’s store of coconuts.

Historians have neglected to consider whether Bligh’s annoyance was due to the value of coconuts in managing weight loss, boosting the immune system, aiding digestion, helping dental health and bone density, balancing high blood pressure, reducing stress and protecting the skin – but no doubt these benefits came in useful for Bligh during his subsequent 46 days in an open boat.

Fletcher Christian’s descendants, and the rest of us, can now readily obtain coconuts without risk of being hunted down by the Royal Navy. Indeed, demand is booming, fuelled by a desire for natural health care, increasing scientific evidence for the benefits of coconut products, and the ongoing rehabilitation of high-fat foods.

Avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, nuts and olive oil – all have a high fat content, yet all are now pronounced good for our health. So it is with coconuts and coconut oil, among the richest sources of saturated fat on the planet (more than 90 per cent of the fatty acids in coconuts are saturated).

However, this particular saturated fat is not as unhealthy as it might seem. Coconut fats mostly comprise medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are assimilated well in the body. However, experts still advise caution and the use of coconut oil in moderation. 

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