Coconut – Miracle Food From an Ayurvedic Perspective
Coconut, the nutrient rich tropical wonder, is becoming increasingly popular in the West, especially now that it has received so much attention from medical researchers. However, there is nothing new under the Sun: modern science is only validating what traditional medicine has known for millennia. And it seems that there is still quite much to discover about this plant. The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, one of the traditional health care systems that keeps coconut in very high esteem, describes not only its benefits, but has a lot to say about the right use of coconut: how and when to use it and when not to use it.
What Modern Research Says
The most important quality that drew the attention of researchers to this plant is its unique combination of fatty acids. Coconuts contain the highest amount of medium-chain fatty acids or MCFAs. Unlike long-chain fatty acids, which comprise 98% of the fats we consume, MCFAs are metabolized differently, and seem to have therapeutic affects on the brain. Some research claims that the use of virgin coconut oil can help with Alzheimer’s Disease. However, contrary to popular belief, coconut oil does not lower cholesterol. It does improve the ratio of “good” (HDL) cholesterol to “bad” cholesterol (LDL), which can be beneficial, but it also increases total cholesterol level.
Coconut oil is one of the rare natural sources of lauric acid, the immunity booster which has antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral properties and is also present in mothers’ milk. Further, the sugar derived from coconut has a very low glycemic index, and moreover coconut is very high in dietary fibers, and has been shown to reduce appetite and sweet cravings. All these qualities make it ideal for weight regulation.
Coconut and the Doshas
Ayurveda’s main caution about this wonderfully rich food item is that it might be difficult for some people to break it down, especially if they overconsume it or take it at the wrong time. Cold, heavy, sweet coconut in all of its forms is probably the best means to pacify Pitta. Fiery Pittas find coconut products wonderfully cooling and it can be nourishing and grounding for Vata. However, it should be reduced or avoided when you want to balance Kapha. Those who have a weaker digestive fire, especially Vatas and Kaphas, might have difficulty digesting coconut products, especially coconut oil. Here is the main advice from Ayurveda on coconut oil: if your digestion is not strong, too much of this heavy, creamy stuff can easily clog the channels of your body which can lead to the build-up of toxins.
The Many Healing Properties of Coconut
According to the ancient Ayurveda texts, coconut is especially nourishing for the brain and excellent for building tissues. Its remarkable cooling properties make it excellent for alleviating problems due to high Pitta and too-sharp Agni. In other words, if you are a typical Pitta person – fair-haired, always hungry and feeling hot, quick-tempered and ever ready for another challenge – coconut can cool you down, both physically and emotionally, and can quench the hellfire in your stomach when you suffer from hyperacidity and similar problems. In India menopausal women use it to alleviate emotional problems and hot flashes.
Here are a few tips on how and when to use coconut products:
Coconut water has the highest concentration of electrolytes on Earth, which makes it an excellent source of hydration. Coconut water and coconut milk can work miracles on hot summer days, though those with a very weak digestion might find them a bit heavy.
Contrary to the advice of many nutritionists, Ayurvedic experts do not recommend coconut oil as an all-purpose cooking oil. Due to its heavy and cold nature it is ideal for strongly Pitta people with a strong digestion in hot weather or in a hot climate, but it can cause problems for others with a less fiery digestive system. Ghee or olive oil is a good alternative for them.
Coconut oil can be used for a cooling ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) for Pittas in hot weather. For others it might close up the pores of their skin. For better absorption, try herbalized coconut oil products or mix it with a pinch of cardamom.
If you cook with coconut oil, use it with mild digestive spices that help its digestion such as coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Grated coconut, coconut meat, and coconut cream can be added to many delicious vegetable dishes. Their sweetness naturally helps balance Pitta and they add extra nourishment to your meal.
New research often creates a huge wave of interest in powerful natural remedies. However, traditional medical lore might be able to provide valuable guidance on using them in a more optimal way. Following Ayurveda’s advice on coconut, we can truly harness its benefits to create balance in the doshas and a deeper feeling of well-being and harmony in our lives.
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