Kids and adults alike can get on board with coconut’s subtly sweet flavor, rich texture, and floral scent. And while foods like coconut oil, coconut flour, and coconut milk are becoming more popular than ever, the question remains: Are coconut-based foods, which are typically high in saturated fat, a healthy choice for families? Here’s what you need to know—plus how to use the new crop of coconut foods in your kitchen.
The case for coconut
Used to be, everyone thought all foods high in saturated fat—like red meat, full-fat dairy, and yes, coconut—were bad for us. And while families shouldn’t go overboard eating foods with saturated fat (they should make up less than 10 percent of your total calorie intake), experts are discovering that the saturated fat in coconut is different than the type found in foods like red meat or whole milk. “Coconut’s saturated fat is made up of lauric acid, which the body is able to convert into long-lasting energy, rather than immediately storing it as fat,” says Allison Reyna, a holistic nutritionist in Austin, Texas, and founder of Cheer Up Buttercups, an online resource for parents. Some research suggests that the fat in coconut oil could also increase the body’s levels of good cholesterol.
There’s more: Lightly refined and unrefined virgin coconut oil boast antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study from Ireland found that coconut oil could combat harmful bacteria in the mouth, staving off cavities. It’s also high in polyphenols, the same health-promoting antioxidants that are found in things like red wine and dark chocolate, explains Louise Goldberg, a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition based in Houston.
Cooking with coconut
Ready to add more coconut to your meals? Here’s how to do it.
COCONUT OIL It works well as a nondairy substitute for butter in baking, and is a good choice for
It works well as a nondairy substitute for butter in baking, and is a good choice for stir-frying, since it can withstand higher temperatures than oils like olive or canola. Look for unrefined, virgin coconut oil. One to try: Nutiva Organic Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil.
COCONUT FLOUR The gluten-free flour is made from coconut that’s been dried and ground. Swap up to 20 percent of wheat flour for coconut flour in baked goods for extra fiber and a sweet, nutty flavor. Find it in the gluten-free or baking aisle.
The gluten-free flour is made from coconut that’s been dried and ground. Swap up to 20 percent of wheat flour for coconut flour in baked goods for extra fiber and a sweet, nutty flavor. Find it in the gluten-free or baking aisle.
COCONUT MILK Use canned coconut milk to add tropical flair to soups and sauces. Swap coconut milk beverages (like SO Delicious) for dairy milk in cereal, smoothies, or baked goods. You’ll spot canned coconut milk in the ethnic foods aisle; coconut milk beverages will be either in the dairy case or with other non-refrigerated
Use canned coconut milk to add tropical flair to soups and sauces. Swap coconut milk beverages (like SO Delicious) for dairy milk in cereal, smoothies, or baked goods. You’ll spot canned coconut milk in the ethnic foods aisle; coconut milk beverages will be either in the dairy case or with other non-refrigerated milks.
Double Coconut Banana Muffins
On busy mornings, slather these muffins with your child’s favorite nut or seed butter for a filling breakfast she can eat on the go.
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 37 minutes
- 1 ¾ cups white whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 large ripe bananas, mashed
- ½ cup virgin coconut oil, plus more for greasing the muffin tin
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup 1 percent milk
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a standard muffin tin with coconut oil.
- In a medium bowl, add the flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk to combine.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the mashed bananas, coconut oil, eggs, and sugar. Beat for about a minute, until well mixed. Add the milk, vinegar, and vanilla and beat one more minute. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until just combined.
- Use an ice cream scooper or ⅓-cup measure to pour the batter into the muffin cups. Bake 24 to 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before serving, or store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Makes 12 muffins
Per muffin: calories 282, fat 11 g, protein 6 g, carbohydrates 39 g, dietary fiber 7 g
Easy Coconut-Veggie Curry
This mild, saucy curry is more sweet than spicy, making it a great way to introduce your kids to fresh global flavors.
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
- 1 ½ cups coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
- ½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
- 1 pound small waxy potatoes, quartered
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- Salt, to taste
Cooked brown rice, for serving Chopped cilantro and scallions, for garnish
- In a small bowl, add the coconut milk and curry paste. Whisk well to combine, and set aside.
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion in the coconut oil with a pinch of salt until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and another big pinch of salt and cook 5 more minutes. Add the coconut milk mixture and the vegetable stock, along with another pinch of salt. Cover, bring to a boil, then remove the lid and gently simmer until the potatoes pierce easily with a fork, about 10 minutes.
- Add the broccoli and the cauliflower to the pot, stirring to combine. Cover the pot to let the vegetables cook in the coconut broth until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
- Taste the broth for seasoning before ladling the curry over bowls of brown rice. Garnish with cilantro and scallions and serve.
Per serving: calories 328, fat 22 g, protein 8 g, carbohydrates 28 g, dietary fiber 5 g