Name: Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
Otherwise known as: Tenga
Habitat: The tallest of the family Palmae, growing up to 20m in salty and sandy soils throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions. The tree has a slender trunk which is topped by a crown of pinnate leaves that may each achieve a length of 6m and resemble gigantic feathers. The flower spikes attain a length of 2m and produce the familiar nuts in clusters of 10 to 20 depending on available nutrients. The tree reaches maturity in its seventh year and will then yield fruit.
What does it do: The coconut is the most useful of all the palm family, providing food, oil, alcohol, fuel, textiles and building materials. Its name derives from the Spanish ‘coco’ meaning grinning face.
Coconut oil used to be one of the most popular fats used in the preparation of food products, such as cakes and biscuits, and in the cosmetic industry. It did not go rancid as rapidly as other oils and was believed to promote good health. In the 70s in the US research centred on the growth in their society of heart diseases and obesity. The conclusion was that the culprit was saturated fats, which have a high concentration of hydrogen and cholesterol, found in red meat, dairy products and coconut oil. The result did not disappoint the American producers of corn and bean oils that were able to dominate the market with their home grown unsaturated oils and claim that they were contributing to the health of the nation. Coconut oil producers, mostly from Southern Asia and the South Pacific, lost 70 per cent of the market.
However, evidence has since emerged to indicate that the original research was misinterpreted and coconut oil far from being injurious to health is highly beneficial. The nuts, that are rich in fatty acids, are known to contain compounds such as lauric acid, which is anti-bacterial, antiviral and anti-protozoal. Now being used to combat the lipid coated viruses such as HIV, Herpes and Influenza, a derivative called Lauricin is also a treatment for such pathogenic bacteria such as Giadia Lamblia, a protozoan that contaminates drinking water, and is now associated with ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).
Capric acid, another compound of coconuts, is a treatment for Herpes Simplex, Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases. It balances body lipids and guards against alcohol-related liver damage. There are numerable claims that coconut oil enhances the immune system and is a proven anti-inflammatory.
Ironically, coconut products are flooding the weight loss market. Research revealed that by consuming the medium chain fats contained in the nut, which go straight to the liver, they are converted into energy and speed up metabolism thereby burning calories and promoting weight loss. People that consume coconut products as a major part of their diet have been found to be thinner, healthier and with a much lower incidence of bowel and liver cancer.