Coconut has been traditionally cultivated for its raw coconut meat, oil, milk, water and most recently for its flour. The Philippines is now the largest coconut producing country and was first to produce flour as a byproduct from its production of coconut milk. The growing demand for the use of natural, non-toxic plants as medicinal aids to prevent and treat illness has highlighted the various health benefits of consuming coconut products.
Many researchers now recommend the addition of coconut flour to supplement any healthy diet because of its many benefits including antibacterial and antifungal properties. Whether you are on a strict paleo diet, seeking an allergy free flour source or you simply desire to stimulate your digestive and immune system, coconut flour is an excellent addition to your meals and a pantry staple.
What is Coconut Flour?
Producers of coconut flour originally sold the nutritious coconut milk byproduct to farmers in the form of coconut meal. Farmers understood that coconut meal was an excellent source of organic fertilizer and animal feed supplement. As more research emerged supporting the numerous health benefits of coconut flour, human consumption of the valuable superfood also increased in the past few decades.
Coconut flour is derived from grating the meat of fresh coconuts. The meat is then dehydrated and defatted which means the oil is extracted. The result is a fine powder that looks and feels similar to wheat or grain flours. The most pure and organic form may even fool a seasoned foodie because of its lack of coconut flavor.
Coconut Flour: A Functional Food
Coconut flour has different health benefits than those of other coconut products such as the oil for instance and it offers a great alternative to conventional flour. Considered a functional food, coconut flour exhibits properties that significantly benefit health and is a valuable source of nutrition. This functional food is a great source of dietary fiber, is high in protein, does not contain gluten and has a low glycemic index (GI).
Coconut flour is especially recommended for those with inflammatory issues that result when wheat or gluten is consumed. Coconut flour is safe for consumption in individuals with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, leaky gut syndrome, as well as those with diabetes.
Coconut Flour Nutrition
Although much research still needs to be conducted regarding the many health benefits coconut flour promotes, studies support that the nutrition in the coconut meat is not lost in the process of converting it into flour.
Coconut flour is a source of electrolytes because it is rich in ions such as manganese, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium. These minerals have been shown to lower blood pressure and aid in the elimination of toxins from the body.
Coconut flour can thus be considered a chelator because of its ability to remove metals from the body. The two minerals in greatest concentration, phosphorus, and potassium, are necessary minerals with many functions including supporting bone and nerve health as well as a healthy digestive system.
Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of life because they are the foundation upon which proteins are created. Consider a Lego kit for example. Each block represents an amino acid that when attached with another amino acid in the correct order, you can produce a truck, perhaps a building, or individual characters. Each block has its purpose and I am sure I don’t need to explain how much disappointment a missing block can create.
Although our bodies naturally synthesize amino acids, some essential amino acids must be sourced from food.Coconut flour provides 18 various amino acids necessary in promoting human health including valine, arginine, tyrosine, leucine, lysine and glutamic acid.
Amino acids work together to keep the entire body and its various systems functioning through growth and repair. The following provides a few examples of the important roles of amino acids in promoting health:
Essential amino acid required for muscle growth. The reason why you feed your body a high protein smoothie after an intense workout is to provide the torn muscles the amino acids they require for repair and growth. After all, why would you want to do all of that hard work and not receive any of the benefits that healing provides?
Supports circulation and reduces discomfort resulting from diabetes and arthritis. Arginine also acts like an antioxidant by reducing lipid peroxidation which is a harmful process that creates cell damage from free radicals.
Essential amino acid which is vital for scalp and hair health.
Although this amino acid is produced by the body, athletes involved in rigorous training benefit from added glutamic acid for muscle health.
Dried coconut meat contains 11 vitamins available for absorption by the human body including folate, vitamin B-6, and niacin. Greatest in concentration is vitamin C. Vitamin C is excreted in urine and therefore your body requires this necessary vitamin to be continuously supplied through food.
Aside from the various roles vitamin C is responsible for in tissue growth and repair, vitamin C is also an antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge the body seeking free radicals which create inflammation and age our cells and our appearance. Especially if you do not consume other sources of vitamin C daily from fruits and vegetables, it is essential to supplement your diet with a source of vitamin C to prevent common colds, illness, and cancer.
10 Reasons to Bake with Coconut Flour
1. Coconut Flour is Low Glycemic
The Glycemic Index (GI): The glycemic index measures how quickly a specific food will raise your blood sugar levels. The more rapidly carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, the sooner blood sugar spikes and insulin levels create an exhibit that wave like appearance from rapidly rising and then plummeting.
Instead, what a healthy body requires is not the wave effect that triggers nausea on a roller coaster, but instead a slow and shallow curve that nourishes the body with a slow sugar release.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the following GI values represent foods categorized into three different glycemic loads:
High Glycemic Load: 70-100: Examples of foods that are rapidly broken down into sugar are white bread and pasta.
Medium Glycemic Load: 56-69: Examples include whole wheat and rye bread.
Low Glycemic Load: 55 and lower: These foods are slowly broken down in time and sugar is released. Examples include coconut flour and non-starchy vegetables.
2. Decreases Risk for Diabetes
Especially compared to conventional flours, coconut flour is strongly correlated with a decreased risk of diabetes. Coconut flour contains less than 10% digestible carbohydrates making it a low carbohydrate flour source. The slow breakdown of carbohydrates prevents the surge of sugar into the blood and improves the release of insulin.
Coconut flour is therefore, an excellent flour source for individuals seeking a low carbohydrate diet, diabetics or any individual with problems regulating their blood sugar levels such as those with hypoglycemia.
Postprandial blood glucose is a measurement of the sugar levels following a meal. Individuals consuming coconut flour also exhibited a stable and low blood sugar response hours following a meal containing coconut flour. Part of this effect results in increased satiety and decreased hunger. This therapeutic property to lower blood sugar is partially due to its high fiber content.
3. High Dietary Fiber Promotes Health
The high fiber content provides coconut flour with many of its health benefits including a healthy gastrointestinal tractand blood sugar regulation. How is that so?
Compare a multigrain loaf of bread for example. Multigrain contains only 10% fiber and has a high glycemic index of approximately 85. Coconut flour has a relatively low glycemic index of 45 and is comprised of 60% dietary fiber. Compared to wheat flour, coconut flour contains 5 times more fiber! So which type of flour slows the absorption of sugar? Of course, it is the flour containing more fiber.
Dr. Bruce Fife is a naturopathic physician and expert on coconut products and the use of coconut for prevention, treatment, and cures of common ailments and disease. In an interview, Dr. Fife compared the fiber in coconut flour to a sponge because of its affinity for moisture.
As a result, dietary fiber creates bulk by pulling in carcinogens along with harmful bacteria. Intestinal space becomes freed up for the release and absorption of nutrients as well as for a healthy gut microbiome in which beneficial bacteria can flourish.
4. Decreases Risk for Colon Cancer
The high fiber content of coconut flour makes it an excellent weapon in the fight against colon cancer. Incidences ofcolon cancer continue to increase and become more prevalent as a result of our bad eating habits.
One study took a close look at the role of bacterial microflora in the gut and the occurrence of colon carcinogenesis, or cancer development. Amazingly, with the introduction of only 25% coconut flour in the form of cake, there exhibited a dramatic reduction in tumor growth.
5. Coconut Flour Contains Healthy Fats
Lauric acid is a medium-chain (MC) fatty acid found in natural products and makes up almost 50% of the fat content contained in coconut flour. MC fatty acids are metabolized differently in the body than the more predominant long-chain fatty acids commonly found in our diets.
One significant health benefit that MC fatty acids provide is that they have strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. MC fatty acids destroy bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, dental cavities, and cause urinary tract infections among other problems. Medium-chained fatty acids, specifically lauric acid, in this case, destroy the lipid membranes or fatty envelopes that protect bacteria.
6. Skin Treatment
Lauric acid contains such strong antimicrobial activity that is it used as an effective treatment for acne therapy. Lauric acid has not only been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause skin inflammation which leads toacne, but it also prevents the growth from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
For these reasons, lauric acid is used in pharmaceutical drugs to treat skin irritations such as acne. Why pay pharmaceutical giants for ointments loaded with chemicals that are unpronounceable when natural products not only provide the desired health benefit but are also cheaper?
7. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
Lauric acid not only benefits a healthy gastrointestinal tract but it also has heart health protective properties. Lauric acid is directly absorbed from the intestines and immediately metabolized for energy by the liver. As a result, this fatty acid does not contribute to synthesizing or transporting cholesterol.
Studies have shown that when coconut flour is consumed daily, there is a major reduction in cholesterol levels. Harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and stored fat in the form of triglycerides are both reduced.
Lauric acid is also responsible for killing pathogenic bacteria that lead to atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in artery walls. Some of the bacteria that lauric acid effects are known to cause phenomena.
8. Antiviral Properties
Lauric acid further promotes immune health by stimulating the production of another fatty acid called monolaurin. Together, the two fatty acids have a synergistic health benefit. Created by the body in the presence of lauric acid, monolaurin exhibits strong antiviral properties.
Monolaurin inactivates viruses by either destroying or weakening the virus. An example of the virus affected by monolaurin is cytomegalovirus, commonly referred to as a type of herpes virus.
9. Oral Hygiene Care
Compared to other medium-chained fatty acids, lauric acid has the highest antiviral activity. When combined with the antimicrobial properties of lauric acid, coconut flour can prevent mouth sores, oral infections, and dental decay.
Furthermore, the properties of lauric acid are transferred to a mother’s breast milk. Research supports the safe consumption of coconut flour for nursing mothers because of the added benefit of providing a nursing child with protection from different pathogenic bacteria.
10. Coconut Flour Is Gluten Free
Coconut flour is both gluten and grain free and can be substituted with white or wheat flour in cooking. Gluten is a protein found in many grains linked to various disorders including Celiac disease and adversely affects 1 in every 7 people in the United States.
On the contrary, coconut flour is an excellent source of protein, approximately 10%-12% protein, and is a safe alternative for individuals who are unable to savor the sweet treat of many baked goods containing gluten.
Gluten: A Health Hazard
Individuals with a gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance have an allergic reaction when gluten is consumed. Glutenstimulates the immune system to go on immediate alert causing such extreme inflammation that individuals with Celiac disease experience abdominal pain, nutrient deficiency and are at a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer.
In one study, individuals that were unaware of their gluten intolerance were four times at greater risk of death than those who were aware. When the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed in individuals even slightly intolerant of gluten, cellular damage can reduce the ability of the intestines to absorb vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and leads to a weakened immune system.
Certain health concerns that can arise include depression, arthritis, anemia, fatigue and even more severe conditions such as dementia, colitis, psoriasis, and osteoporosis.
Advice on How to Use Coconut Flour
Despite the fact that coconut flour may look, feel and perhaps even smell like conventional refined flours, coconut flour can be frustrating and costly to cook with without some needed guidance. Don’t forget Dr. Fife’s description that coconut flour is like a sponge and cooking with such an absorbent food provides its own challenges to be overcome.
A few tips follow on how to achieve success in substituting 100% coconut flour in recipes for wheat flour:
- Due to the high absorbency, coconut flour is an excellent thickening agent for soups, stews, and even smoothies. For this reason, it is also recommended to store coconut flour in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer to avoid moisture clumps.
- Experiment! In general, for every one cup of traditional flour, you only need approximately 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of coconut flour.
- Recipes commonly include an additional protein source such as extra eggs or hemp powder to make up for the binding properties that gluten normally would provide. Flax seed is an excellent binder and contributes its own health benefits.