Are Coconuts Safe For Your Child?

In India, the humble coconut is revered for its many benefits, while it is hailed as a superfood worldwide. Now a Harvard professor has called coconut oil, poison. What's the truth? We find out.

By Ashwin Dewan

Are Coconuts Safe For Your Child?

The coconut tree is universally known as the ‘Tree of Life’ or Kalpa Vriksha (sustains life), and with good reason too. Its wood is used for furniture, its branches can be used to build thatched roofs, and the nuts for eating and drinking. Coconuts are consumed on a large scale in India every year. The surplus production makes it a natural choice as an ingredient, which is why it is widely used in Indian cuisine in its raw form, for its milk and as oil. In fact, a survey conducted by the Coconut Development Board says production for the agricultural year 2016-2017 in the country was estimated at a huge 20,789 million nuts.

Coconut has also gained superfood status in the year 2011. However, a Harvard professor begs to differ. In fact, she has gone one step further and has labelled coconut oil as ‘pure poison’. In a widely shared video, titled 'Coconut oil and other nutritional errors', professor Karin Michels states that coconut oil contains a high amount of saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. 

So, if coconut oil is bad for health, can we be sure that coconut is good for children? We explore…

Many people mistake coconut to be a nut because of the name and think that it can cause allergies in children. The article, Giving Coconut Water To Babies, published in Being The Parent, states that this is not entirely correct. In fact, coconuts grow on coconut trees, which are a part of the palm family and are considered to be fruits. Can I Give My Baby Coconut? claims that allergy from coconuts is rare, but you should always consult your paediatrician before giving your child coconut and its related products.

Out of all the edible parts of a coconut, only its water can be given to babies who are above the age of 6 months, according to Being The Parent. Other forms of coconut like the flesh can be difficult to chew and digest, and can pose a choking risk to children. So, until your baby is grown enough and comfortable with solids, stick to liquid forms such as milk and water.

Note: If your baby is suffering from cold and flu, it is not advisable to give her coconut water.

5 myths about coconut:

In spite of its many health benefits, there are various myths surrounding the coconut. We look at five such myths.

Myth 1: It is healthy to drink coconut milk every day

Myth 2: Cooking with coconut makes food taste like coconut

Myth 3: Saturated fats in coconut oil lead to obesity

Myth 4: Too much of coconut water is bad for you

Myth 5: Coconut water is more hydrating than water

Here are some health facts about coconut and the different products we get from it: 

Let’s look at the various ways in which coconuts can be used and how they impact children. We begin by taking a look at the oil and its many benefits before moving on to the benefits of coconut milk and coconut water.

Coconut oil 

Coconut oil is derived from the meat of the coconut. Virgin coconut oil is more expensive than the refined version but is lighter and has a nutty flavour and smell. 

Benefits of coconut oil include:

  • Improves memory and brain function

Coconut oil is considered good for the functioning of the brain as it is a rich source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). A health website says that MCTs bypass bile metabolism and go to the liver directly, get converted into ketones and get transported to the brain to be used as fuel. Cook your food in coconut oil to prevent your child from getting neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

  • Great for the skin and hair

Did you know that coconut oil is a great moisturiser? It also helps in treating many skin problems like dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. Apply coconut oil to your child’s skin before her bath to keep it glowing and healthy. Coconut oil is also good for the hair. Regular use will nourish your child’s hair and prevent her from getting dandruff.

  • Helps in digestion

Using coconut oil in cooking improves digestion. It prevents stomach troubles like the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Cooking regularly with coconut oil gives your child the benefit of antimicrobial properties.

  • Improves immunity

Coconut oil can boost immunity in children. According to OrganicFacts, it strengthens the immune system as it is loaded with antimicrobial lipids and acids that have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

  • Aids healing and soothe infections

Apply coconut oil to a bruise your child may have as it is an effective remedy against infections and speeds up the healing process.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is extracted by grinding the meat of coconut. Dr. Axe says coconut milk is not actually milk but a liquid that is found inside mature coconuts. When you blend coconut meat and then strain it, the resulting liquid you get is coconut milk. 

It is a good source of vitamins and minerals. It also contains essential fats and nutrients like lauric acid, which is found heavily in breast milk. Considered a good weaning food, coconut milk can be safely used as an alternative in case of lactose intolerance in older babies.

Benefits of coconut milk include:

  • Lowers cholesterol levels in children
  • Improves blood pressure
  • Helps children gain weight. A health website says canned coconut milk is very high in calories (445 calories per cup)
  • Builds muscle in children and helps them lost fat
  • Prevents a heart attack or stroke
  • It is free from dairy, lactose, soy, nuts or grains, and is a good option for children allergic to dairy and nut or grain-based milk

Coconut water 

Tender coconut water is a popular drink due to its many benefits. Commonly known as nariyal pani, it is loaded with minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, amino acids and electrolytes, and is an excellent drink for your child.

Benefits of coconut water include:

  • It is entirely natural with no added sugar
  • According to a leading health website, it is low in calories, cholesterol free and rich in potassium
  • It is naturally sterile so you and your child can consume it anywhere without worry of contamination
  • It is a rich source of fibre, relieves constipation and aids digestion
  • Electrolyte content in coconut water restores the loss of valuable salts from your child’s body when she is suffering from diarrhoea
  • It strengthens your body’s immune system, has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties

Apart from these benefits of coconut water, it also cools the body and provides instant energy, which is important for active children.

5 facts about coconut:

Fact 1: You should drink coconut milk in moderation, ideally once or twice a week. Too much consumption might lead to weight gain.

Fact 2: This is not true. Adding coconut to dishes does not make the dish taste like coconut. 

Fact 3: The medium chain fatty acids (saturated fats) present in coconut oil increase metabolism leading to weight loss rather than obesity.

Fact 4: On the contrary, coconut water offers a number of health benefits. It can lower blood pressure, settle upset stomachs and is loaded with nutrients. However, it should not be used as a replacement for water.

Fact 5: Although coconut water helps prevent dehydration in children suffering from diarrhoea because it contains electrolytes, there is no scientific proof that it is more hydrating than water.

Will you give your child a drink of coconut water instead of a soft drink the next time you're out in the sun? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author:

Written by Ashwin Dewan on 2 September 2017.

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