Coconut: The Tree of Life

September 17th, 2012 Posted by Farm to Table 2 thoughts on “Coconut: The Tree of Life”

As I linger in the last few warm days of summer, fall slips in with cooler mornings, shorter days, yellow school buses and the decline of berries at the farmer’s market. My confused tastebuds crave the brightness of blue, red, and green foods one day and savor the comfort of cinnamon and spice the next. During this in-between time, I look to foods that satisfy the warm and the cold – and this September, I’m loving the coconut.

Grown mostly in the tropical regions of India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the coconut’s (actually a seed) summertime qualities are obvious, but its wonderfully high fat content is what makes it nourishing to both the body and the soul this time of year. Long noted for its vast beneficial qualities, the coconut palm is known in the Philippines as “the tree of life” and the Sanskrit word for the coconut palm literally means “the tree that supplies all that is needed to live.”

The Nutritional Qualities of Coconuts Include:

  • Coconut oil is the most stable of all vegetable oils, making it ideal for high-heat cooking like baking or frying.
  • Protects cardiovascular health by raising HDL levels. (Even though it’s a saturated fat? YES!)
  • Coconut milk and human breast milk are the most abundant sources of lauric acid. Converted in your body to a substance called monolaurin, lauric acid helps you defend against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens and strengthens your immune system, protecting you from a wide range of diseases.
  • Enhances kidney function
  • Coconut contains abundant medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which don’t need to be digested by bile salts (secreted by the gallbladder). That’s why if you have trouble digesting fats, have had your gallbladder removed, or are beginning to reintroduce fat to your diet, it’s best to begin with coconut oil.
  • It’s good for your brain. Remember, 60% of your brain is composed of fat. The saturated fats in coconut oil protect your brain chemistry by building strong cell membranes.
  • The saturated fats in coconut can protect your liver from toxins like alcohol and Tylenol.
  • Your body needs sufficient fats for proper hormone function. The wrong type of fats (from trans fatty acids) can inhibit the production of stress and sex hormones.

How to Use Coconut Everyday:

  • Coconut Oil: Great for high-heat cooking like frying or baking as well as topically (on the skin). Coconut oil is white when solid, and clear to creamy colored when liquid. Look for organic, virgin coconut oil sold in most health food stores. My favorite, easy-to-find brand is Spectrum Virgin Coconut Oil.
  • Coconut Milk: Coconut milk is a rich, creamy liquid that drips out of coconut meat when it has been pulverized in water and squeezed. Slightly thicker than cow’s milk, it has a delicious, satisfying, slightly sweet taste. Use only whole coconut milk, which contains the oil, (not “lite”) in smoothies, cream sauces, curries, desserts and soups. You can buy BPA-free cans here or learn to make your own here.
  • Unsweetened Desiccated Coconut: Tiny flakes of air-dried coconut can be used as a coating for sautéed shrimp or chicken, sprinkled on fruit, and added to macaroons and other desserts. Look for unsweetened, desiccated coconut in health food stores, but read the ingredients to make sure they don’t contain sweeteners or additives. My favorite brands are: Bob’s Red Mill and Let’s Do Organic.
  • Coconut Cream: When it contains no emulsifiers, coconut milk will separate into a cream (which rises to the top) and a more watery portion (often sold as “lite” coconut milk) on the bottom. The cream can be used in various desserts, even whipping up like cream. Coconut cream is not normally available in stores, but can be purchased online here.
  • Coconut Water: The water from young coconuts is delicious and very rich in minerals, especially potassium, calcium and magnesium, making it an excellent remedy for replacing electrolytes or rejuvenating the body on a hot day. Even better is cultured or fermented coconut juice, the ideal drink for athletes and the elderly. My favorite sources are: Cocobiotic, Amy & Brian, Wilderness Family Naturals and Kevita.
  • Coconut Sugar: Made by boiling the sweet water sap that drips from cut flower buds on the coconut palm, much as maple sugar is made by boiling and dehydrating the sap of maple trees, coconut sugar is a wonderful, nutrient-dense natural sweetener. It’s pale in color and either soft or gooey, depending on how long the sap was reduced. The pale color makes it excellent for coconut desserts since it does not turn them brown. My favorite sources are: Navitas Naturals and Wilderness Family Naturals.

Mint Chip Coconut Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is so simple – I wonder why we don’t enjoy it more often! This is a fantastic way to enjoy the benefits of coconut and the indulgence of ice cream without the sugar or preservatives!

Recipe inspired by The Spunky Coconut Dairy-Free Ice Cream Cookbook


  • 2 ½ cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. peppermint extract
  • ¼ cup dark chocolate chips


  1. Place coconut milk, honey, vanilla and peppermint in a blender and blend well.
  2. Blend in chocolate chips until they are in tiny pieces.
  3. Pour into ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Serve and enjoy!
This post can be seen at the following blog carnivals: Fat Tuesday, Better Mom Mondays & Monday Mania. Hop on over to check out some other posts you might enjoy!


Drew Parisi

Drew Parisi

Drew Parisi, NC is a certified nutritionist, foodie, and amateur gardener, helping entrepreneurs and other busy people develop nourishing food habits to fuel their dreams. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband, son, and 1,000 paper cranes.

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2 thoughts on “Coconut: The Tree of Life”

  1. Avatar Dana Solof says:

    Great post. I love coconut – the milk, water, flour, butter and especially virgin coconut oil! Definitely wouldn’t want to live without it. 🙂

    1. drew drew says:

      Coconut flour and butter are great too! Maybe I need to write a follow-up post 🙂

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