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The Nutritional Value Of Coconut

Lipid is the main nutrient in all mature coconut kernel products; grated, milk, copra, meal, cake, oil and commercial products of coconut milk powder. Coconut oil has been one of the most widely used vegetable oils since the agricultural revolution .They on average  provide 35 g (range 28-70 g) of fat per person per day and therefore most of the fat calories are around 2 2 % in most South East Asian rice coconut staple diets. Coconut provides 5 -  6 g of protein per person per day. The amino acid patterns of the protein is good for adolescents  and adults. It also complements  some deficiencies in rice. Coconut aids in the absorption  of fat soluble Vitamins especially carotene and provides small amounts of the Vitamins of the B Group, Folic Acid and Vitamin C. Coconut im parts a highly prized flavour to various Eastern dishes from sambals, curries, sweet meats and modern confectioneries for millions of men, women and children in the tropics in the coconut growing countries of the Philippines, Indonesia , Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Pacific  Islands and some South American countries for thousands of years.

Coconut lipid, being  almost 90% saturated ,  has labeled coconut a fat to be avoided because of its incrimination in the aetiology of atherosclerosis. One could have expected that the mass nutritional experiment which has been under way with coconut lipid for so many thousand years would have settled the question of its desirability com pared to other oils. Indeed no objec­tions of its use were raised until a few decades ago. Recent reviews based on evidence from epidemiological animal and human studies conclude th at coconut lipid appears  at worst, to be neutral in terms of atherogenesis. The elevation of serum cholesterol in the body of consumers is caused, as understood today, by only two sources of fatty  acids (FAs); (1) natural FAs from saturates of the long-chain triglyceride (LCT) type and (2) trans fa tty  acids (TFAs) from hydrogenation which saturates  the poly and monounsaturates  of vegetable (plant) oils. The effect is cumulative from the two sources. Conversely, the medium and short chain triglycerides (MCT) from coconut, palm kernel and dairy but ter  oils, to th e  e x t e n t  of 62%, 5 5% and 13%, respectively, do not elevate serum cholesterol. C o co n u t oil can be used re fin e d  w ith no disadvantage. Further, the organoloptic properties, a fte r refining, satisfy the most fastidious in the world market. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it constitutes a safe margarine as it does not contain the atherogenic and carcinogenic trans satu rated  fatty acid which other vegetable oils rich in mono and poly unsaturates do when partially hydrogenated. Coconut lipid as a part of a mixed diet (Sri Lankan ric e  - c o c o n u t, pulse v e g e ta b le  le a v e s  fish d ie t) containing enough essential fatty  acid has evidently no disadvantage and many have some advantages. A 3 year study presently underway by the Department of Nutrition, MRI, in association with JIKA, will help substantiate these claims.

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