Are Coconuts Safe For Your Kid?
In India, the humble coconut is revered for its many benefits. Learn why coconut water is such a great drink for your kids, the benefits of coconut milk for your baby, and the uses of coconut oil.
By Ashwin Dewan
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, drinking and as an essential ingredient in various recipes.
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 giving coconut water or coconut milk is safe for children? We explore…
Coconut water for kids
Many people mistake coconut to be a nut because of the name and think that it can cause allergies in children. However, 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.
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 coconut water and its many benefits before moving on to the benefits of coconut oil and coconut milk.
Benefits of 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.
- Coconut water is entirely natural with no added sugar.
- Coconut water 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 the immune system and keeps you and your children healthy due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Apart from these benefits of coconut water, it also cools the body and provides instant energy, which is important for active children.
Is coconut water good for kids?
Out of all the edible parts of the coconut, only its water can be given to babies who are above 6 months of age. 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.
Coconut oil for kids
Coconut oil is derived from the meat of the coconut and is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and various other nutrients. The various health benefits of coconut oil for children are listed below.
Benefits of coconut oil
- 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, prevents constipation and helps in relieving the symptoms of gastric disorders like 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 the OrganicFacts website, it strengthens the immune system as it is loaded with antimicrobial lipids and acids that have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Aids wound healing and prevents infections
Apply coconut oil to a bruise your child may have. It is an effective remedy against infections and helps in faster wound healing.
Coconut milk for kids
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
- 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 lose 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
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.
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 stomach 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; updated on 19 June 2020
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