The talk on coconut and diabetes surround claims that this one-seeded island drupe has nutrients that can be beneficial to pre-diabetics and people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition caused by excess glucose in the blood. This happens in people who are insulin resistant or their body does not sufficiently make or use insulin.
In managing diabetes, diabetics need to watch the foods they eat to regulate blood sugar, prevent weight gain, reduce diabetes symptoms, and maintain their overall health.
Scientific studies have been done to test claims that including coconut in the diet can help improve diabetes symptoms naturally.
Getting the Scoop on Coconut Facts
Let’s take a look at some important facts about coconut, some of its main by-products, and the role they can play in helping to manage or prevent type 2 diabetes.
Coconut is not a fruit
Many people can’t decide whether coconut is a fruit, nut, or seed. Some say it’s a fruit with a nut, others say it’s a seed contained in a shell with tasty flesh or meat lining the inner shell.
Coconut is officially classed as a drupe containing a single seed. It grows on a palm-looking tree called a “coconut tree” growing plentiful in tropical zones such as the Caribbean Islands and Asia.
Ripe and immature coconuts are edible
Both immature and mature coconuts can be used for food. The immature coconuts are green or yellow and provide about 8 ounces of coconut water. The flesh is soft and jelly-like and ready to eat.
Both the water and jelly are potent with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
The mature or ripe coconut has a brown fibrous shell which is separated from the seed before cracking open the nut. A mallet or hammer may be used to whack the nut and crack it open to remove the hardened edible flesh.
Ripe coconuts contain a smaller amount of coconut water which is also good for drinking.
Coconut is a versatile food
Coconut is quite a versatile food. The meat of a ripe coconut can be grated or dried to make copra and used as the source of many food and non-food by-products on the market.
- shredded coconut
- coconut milk
- coconut oil
- coconut butter
- coconut sugar
- coconut cream
What may be even greater news for diabetics and pre-diabetics is that unprocessed coconut and foods made from it may be healthy alternatives to include in their diet.
Coconut is packed with nutrients
This seeded drupe is known for being rich in antioxidants and good fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
It’s a source of protein and dietary fiber. Coconut water is low in cholesterol and is loaded with essential minerals and vitamins including these:
- Vitamins C and E
- Thiamin (vitamin B1)
These nutrients are also found in raw coconut milk or meat but are diminished in the by-products such as coconut oil, butter, and lard due to processing.
With just about 4 grams of sugar per half cup serving, coconut milk is considered a healthier alternative to cow’s milk.
Why Diabetics Must Monitor Blood Sugar and Manage Weight
Pre-diabetics have borderline diabetes, but like type 2 diabetics, they too need to manage their blood sugar. Managing diabetes includes eating healthy and staying active to prevent weight gain and fluctuating blood sugar.
The normal blood sugar range is 70-140 mg/dL. High or low levels of glucose in the bloodstream can cause mild to severe diabetes symptoms.
Diabetics typically take insulin or diabetes drugs to counteract fluctuating blood sugar.
At the extreme end of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), diabetics are at risk of developing a serious medical condition known as Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS).
Prediabetics can develop a potentially life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis due to excess fatty acids in the urine.
Hypoglycemia or extremely low blood sugar can cause seizures or a diabetic coma. Fluctuating blood sugar also causes excessive thirst and hunger increasing the risk of weight gain due to overeating or reaching for sugary beverages.
Therefore, diabetics need to carefully select their foods to prevent blood sugar spikes or dips leading to weight gain, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, HHNS, or ketoacidosis.
With this in mind, can coconut play a role in diabetes management and reduce the need for diabetic medications and their associated side effects?
How Coconut May Help People with Type 2 Diabetes
Coconut water, coconut oil, and coconut butter are all by-products of the shelled coconut.
When used in their organic state, they can retain much of the nutrients which are said to be beneficial to an individual’s health, in general.
Studies also found all of these products may help relieve certain diabetic symptoms. However, precautions should be taken to avoid possible health risks that may be associated with using coconut for diabetes.
Take coconut water, for example.
This liquid develops within the seed of the coconut. It appears opaque in immature coconuts but becomes milky in the ripe ones.
The milk is processed into coconut cream and coconut powder. Coconut water can rival sugary drinks on the market since it is low in calories, low in carbs, and fat free.
The calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphate it contains make it a good source of electrolytes for diabetics who need to stay hydrated without the added sugars.
Its magnesium content may reduce insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels to prevent hyperglycemia in prediabetics and those with type 2 diabetes.
There’s also coconut oil.
Scientific studies done on animals suggest that this oil can improve type 2 diabetes symptoms and obesity, a weight condition many diabetics trouble with.
This is because coconut oil appears to improve insulin resistance. The oil is made from the cream of the coconut milk. It could be used for cooking, e.g., frying or baking, on salads, or in soups the same way other cooking oils are used.
Both virgin and refined coconut oils are edible although they are high in saturated fats—good saturated fats. A medium-chain fatty acid known as lauric acid is at the heart of claims that virgin coconut oil can lower fat storage to fight obesity and help insulin work better to move glucose out of the bloodstream.
Next is coconut butter, a sweet-tasting, edible spread made from shredded coconut flesh.
Instead of extracting the oil from coconut milk cream, coconut butter is made by grounding the coconut meat into a smooth paste.
Called a superfood, this butter is creamy like peanut butter and packed with nutrients and healthy fats.
You can eat this healthy butter alternative straight out of the jar, on bread, fruits, blended into your coffee or smoothies, or use it for baking.
The fats in organic coconut butter may help lower blood glucose levels similar to the way coconut oil does.
Coconut Recipes for Diabetics
If you decide to give coconut milk, oil, or butter a try, here are some simple recipes you can include in your diet.
Coconut Water Lemon Twist
- 1½ cups coconut water
- ½ cup water
- 4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- ½ tsp grated ginger root
- 1 tbsp honey
Add and blend all the ingredients in a blender. Add a sprinkle of sea salt for taste.
Enjoy the fresh taste of this electrolyte-loaded drink and stay hydrated.
Coconut Oil Vinaigrette
Combine these ingredients in a jar or small container.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin coconut oil (cold pressed)
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp raw honey
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt
Cover and shake the ingredients until fully mixed. Pour over your fresh veggie salad and eat up! (Makes 2 servings)
Coconut Butter Flavored Winter Squash
- 1 winter squash halved and scooped
- 2 tbsp coconut butter
- a dash of sea salt and cinnamon to taste
Place squash in a baking dish or roasting pan and cook in the oven at 375 degrees for 30-55 minutes or until the flesh is soft.
When finished, sprinkle cinnamon and salt over the squash while still warm, then top with coconut butter to flavor.
Tips and Precautions When Using Coconut for Diabetes
Current information relating to coconut and diabetes suggests that this versatile drupe, commonly grown in the tropics, is capable of making the body use insulin more effectively and prevent a rise in blood sugar.
But there are some possible health risks, mainly heart disease, associated with the use of coconut as a natural therapy. The high level of saturated fats contained in coconut milk, oil, and butter may be of concern.
Check in with your doctor first. Foods can affect everyone in different ways. Weight, genetics, family health history, all possibly have a role.
Some Other Benefits of Coconut
Rich in antioxidants, mainly coconut water.
Lauric fatty acids have antibacterial properties.
Skin care, e.g., oils, creams, lotions made from coconut.
May help reduce stress due to antioxidant properties.
May reduce blood pressure.
Contains electrolytes to combat dehydration.
May improve nausea or vomiting.
May prevent kidney stones.
May raise good cholesterol level and promote heart (according to other studies).
What Does All of This Mean for Diabetics?
Coconut has a variety of healthy nutrients that can be beneficial to prediabetics and type 2 diabetics.
Studies have not determined the usefulness of coconut in type 1 diabetics.
Generically speaking, coconut is a much better food than chips or a cola!