Coconut which is regarded as functional food has provided food and nourishment to so many people around the world for thousands of years. Many people in the tropics, including Maldivians, consume coconut in their diet as staple food. Coconut is very nutritious as it is rich in fiber, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. As food, coconut provides a nutritious source of juice, milk, oil and meat. It is a great gift of nature with lots of natural and health benefits.
|Coconut: the national fruit of Maldives|
Young coconuts that have not reached maturity are most valuable as food. The endosperm or kernel of the young coconut is semisolid and jelly like. Coconut water is the liquid endosperm of the coconut. Both the coconut water and the kernel of young coconuts are very beneficial for the digestive system and other parts of the body.
Coconut water comes with a number of health benefits more than some of its consumers are aware of. Coconut water of young coconuts is rich in nutrients and it has curative properties. It is a great and delightful thirst quencher that cools, hydrates and energize the body. As the coconut ages, the water inside is replaced by kernel and air. Therefore it’s best to use the precious coconut water when the coconut is young.
For drinking purposes coconut is harvested when it is tender and not completely mature. The water inside young, tender and undamaged coconuts is sweet, crystal clear and sterile. It provides nutrients and other chemicals such as sugars, amino acids, vitamins, cytokines and minerals that is beneficial for the human body.
Tender coconut water is a source of B complex vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and folates. These vitamins are needed by the body to help release energy from foods. Coconut water also contains vitamin C which is an antioxidant that helps in healing and fights against infections. Minerals such as calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese and zinc are found in coconut water, which is required for normal bodily functions and good health.
The electrolytes in coconut water (potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium etc) are essential in maintaining electrolyte homeostasis which regulates water content and blood pH in the body. They are also required for proper functioning of muscles and nerves. Coconut water can be used to rehydrate the body as it contains a good supply of sugar, electrolytes and water. It can be given to replace the water and salts lost during diarrhea and vomiting while it helps to settle the stomach and reduce vomiting episodes. Hence coconut water is found useful in treating diseases such as cholera and typhoid and other conditions that induce vomiting.
Coconut water is found to be the only natural substitute for human plasma. It can be given as an intravenous fluid as it is sterile and free of pyrogens and provides an isotonic electrolyte balance in the body. As coconut water provides energy and nutrients it is given to people who are sick and cannot take solid oral foods. It is a safe drink that can also be taken during pregnancy. Coconut water is increasingly used in isotonic drinks such sports drinks as a source of energy and to replace nutrients lost during physical activities.
Coconut water contains enzymes such as catalase, diastase, peroxidase and acid phosphatase which aids in digestion and metabolism. Coconut water is given as a treatment for digestive disorders, and when drunk regularly it helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Coconut water is also found to be a very effective remedy for intestinal worms. In tropical countries it is often given to infants and children with intestinal disturbances to kill intestinal worms and improve digestion and bowel function.
Coconut water helps to maintain a healthy urinary system. It is a good remedy for urinary system ailments such as kidney stones and bladder infections. It is believed to dissolve kidney and urethral stones. The electrolytes, magnesium and potassium, prevents the formation of calcium oxalate stones in the kidney. Hence it is recommended for people with kidney stones and also as a preventive measure against kidney stones. Coconut water, being a diuretic, helps cleanse the urinary system while flushing off harmful bacteria and other pathogens. Regular use of coconut water helps ward off urinary tract infections.
Coconut water contains cytokinins, which are plant hormones that are involved in cell division and differentiation. Research shows that the cytokinins in coconut water are found to have anti-cancerous, anti-thrombotic and anti-aging properties. In the human body they have a marked effect on cell replication. Cytokinins reduce the risk of developing cancers, spread and growth of cancers, and age related diseases. The anti-thrombotic property of coconut water may help lower the risk of clots forming inside blood vessels.
Coconut water has many other benefits, including its aid in improving insulin secretion and use of glucose in the body which helps to control diabetes. It also hydrates the skin when applied to dry and cracked skin. Coconut water is also cardioprotective (due to its high potassium and magnesium content), which helps in the regulation of blood pressure and improving blood circulation. As coconut water contains monolaurin, an antimicrobial which is naturally found in human breast milk, it helps fight against many viral, bacterial and protozoal infections including HIV, SARS, influenza, hepatitis, pneumonia, throat infections, gonorrhea, urinary tract infections, amoebiasis etc.