So you want lean muscle mass, eh? Then put down that burger and listen up! Regardless of all that propaganda out there telling you that beef is the best way to increase your muscle mass or that egg whites and chicken are foods you should eat to get lean, those health hypes couldn’t be further from the truth. While animal products are a source of protein, they also come with a major price. Inflammation, cancer, heart disease, clogged arteries, diabetes, chronic digestive problems, and even some hormonal problems have all been tied to animal protein intake.
Why Coconut is Packed With Benefits for Your Muscles and More
We all know we need protein to maintain lean muscle mass, even if that’s not as much as bodybuilders eat. Plant proteins are easy to come by and your body can use these proteins just as well as it can animal proteins. Not only are plant proteins easy to prepare, but they’re also delicious and sustainable.
Along with popular options like lentils, chickpeas, black beans, soybeans (edamame), peas, chia, hemp, tempeh, quinoa, tofu, and vegan protein powders, we should also be considering adding another food to our plates to pump up our muscles: coconut. That’s right – the tropical fruit most of us relate to just an exotic healthy fat source is actually packed with nutrients that improve lean muscle mass and support the overall body.
The important thing to remember is that the whole coconut meat is what we’re referring to – not just the oil. Coconut oil may come with some benefits, especially when applied topically, but it’s largely still a refined food. It’s fine to bake with it occasionally or use in place of butter to coat a griddle pan, but don’t rely on it as a fat source alone. Opt for whole coconut meat that’s either fresh or dried, which is where most of the nutrients are found.
Check out the benefits of coconut and why it’s now the new “other white meat”:
It’s Armed With Amino Acids and Protein
Coconut may not be a complete source of protein, but it’s still packed with amino acids. Containing 17 amino acids out of the 20 amino acids needed for optimal protein formation, it’s particularly high in threonine, an amino acid needed to protect the liver, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and to support the formation of collagen in the body. For your muscles, it builds connective tissues and maintains elasticity in the body, even in the heart. Threonine also supports healthy tooth enamel, and it speeds up healing from wounds or injuries throughout the whole body. Coconut contains almost 97 milligrams of threonine in 1/2 cup of fresh coconut meat, and while coconut is not the highest source of all foods (watercress actually is), that’s still pretty impressive for a fruit! In terms of overall protein content, there are 3.5 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons of coconut flour, 8 grams of protein in 1/2 cup fresh meat, and 2 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons of coconut butter. Coconut oil contains virtually no amino acids and 0 grams of protein.
An Unknown Source of Dietary Iron
Coconut is also a great source of iron, especially for a fruit. Two tablespoons of raw coconut butter contain 6 percent of your iron needs, while 1/2 cup of fresh meat contains 11 percent. Iron is needed to ensure optimal blood flow to the muscles and for optimal energy needed for exercise. It’s completely possible to eat a vegan diet and get enough iron; the important thing is to eat a variety of sources.
Fights Abdominal Weight Gain
Coconut may not help you drop a significant amount of pounds, but it has been shown to reduce body fat in the abdominal region. This pertains to raw unsweetened coconut, not sweetened varieties or other highly refined sources of coconut (like the ice cream or flavored milks). Coconut’s fats are used by the liver for energy, and they help reduce insulin surges in the body, unlike sugary processed foods or refined grains. This can lead to a reduced amount of fat stored in the stomach, which often happens due to erratic insulin levels.
The fiber and medium chain tryglyceride fats in coconut also help boost the metabolism due to the way they are used during digestion. Not only does this give you energy, but also creates a thermogenic effect in the body where your calorie burn is increased naturally. Keep in mind, this doesn’t apply for eating coconut in excessive amounts, but instead to using it in small to moderate servings in place of sugary foods, refined grains, processed foods, fast food, etc., so use a few tablespoons a day to see how you benefit.
Folate is a B vitamin we need for healthy metabolism and red blood cell function. It’s also essential for healthy brain development in infants. Coconut meat contains 20 percent of your daily folate needs in a 1/2 cup of fresh meat. Avocados, asparagus, bananas, spinach, and beans are also great sources of folate too.
Potassium is an incredibly important mineral for our health. It reduces high blood pressure and aids in water balance in the body to counteract too much sodium (bye-bye bloat!). We need 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best source, and coconut is a great option. The tropical fruit contains 285 milligrams of potassium in 1/2 cup of fresh meat. Coconut water is even higher, while coconut flour and butter are a bit lower.
To add to the list of benefits, coconut is even a fantastic source of dietary fiber. Fiber keeps you regular which improves your energy, takes care of your heart, and can even help whittle your waistline too. Coconut meat contains more fiber than wheat bran or any other grain per serving! In 2 tablespoons of coconut butter, you’ll get 5 grams of fiber, while 2 tablespoons of coconut flour will give you 7 grams, and the meat of the coconut contains around 10 grams per 1/2 cup. Coconut oil contains no fiber.
Easy to Digest
Best of all, due to the way your body processes coconut, it is very easy to digest compared to meat, eggs, and even some nuts, seeds, and beans that may not be as tolerable. What you digest from food is just as important as what you eat, so always choose foods that are easier on your digestive system while supplying you with nutrients at the same time.
How to Enjoy Coconut:
You can use coconut in a variety of ways, since it’s one of the most versatile foods out there in terms of available forms. For instance, you can use coconut flour in place of other flours, or stir some into your morning oatmeal. You can even put a couple tablespoons in a smoothie to thicken it up and add fiber in a flash! Or, try mixing it with non-dairy milk and coconut yogurt to make an instant dessert pudding.Top some fruit with coconut yogurt, use coconut shreds in your raw vegan snacks, and be sure to try coconut butter in oatmeal, smoothies, right off the spoon, or used in place of cow’s milk butter.
Of course, if you can get your hands on some fresh coconut meat, please do enjoy the purest form of this amazing food for all of us; it’s the best! While you needn’t go crazy with serving sizes, coconut is a great food to eat in small doses daily and in addition to a diet full of vegetables, greens, other fresh fruits and other healthy fats.
See all of our coconut recipes for more ideas to use this marvelous “other white meat” and tell us, what’s your favorite way to enjoy coconut?
Lead Image Source: Esme Vos/Flickr