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By Nadia Marshall
What are coconuts?
Technically, coconuts aren’t actually nuts, they are drupes - a particular type of fruit that has an outer fleshy part surrounding a hardened shell. They come from coconut palms which are grown widely throughout the tropics and sub-tropic regions of the world. They are very versatile - offering coconut water, fresh jelly-like flesh, hardened fresh flesh, dried coconut flesh, coconut milk and cream and coconut oil. The qualities of all of these products is similar but coconut water and the fresh jelly-flesh are obviously lighter and easier to digest than the other products.
What are their qualities?
From an Ayurvedic perspective, coconut has the following qualities...
Actions on the doshas: Balance Vata & Pitta, increase Kapha in excess
What are its medicinal qualities?
Coconut is a highly regarded food in Ayurveda. It is predominant in the sweet taste, has a cooling effect on the body and also a sweet post-digestive effect. It balances pitta and vata but in excess can aggravate kapha. Although it is relatively heavy and difficult to digest, it is useful in small amounts to nourish and invigorate the body and promote contentment and satisfaction in the mind – due to its sweet taste.
The Western viewpoint.
From a Western perspective, coconut is a gluten-free, alkaline food high in saturated fat and fibre. It also contains protein and some important minerals – calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Due to its high fat content it is low GI and will decrease the overall GI of any meal when added.
How do you eat it?
We mainly eat coconut of the dried, desiccated variety in the form of date and coconut balls (see video on the right!) but also as coconut milk in soups and curries (see Thai Sweet Potato Soup video on the right).
Processed coconut milk is generally considered slightly heavy and difficult to digest in Ayurveda. To make it lighter you can actually make your own! To make 1 cup of coconut milk you will need 1 cup of desiccated coconut and 1 cup of boiling water. In a jug, bowl or large glass add the boiling water to the coconut. Using a stick blender, blend vigorously for 3-5 mins then let stand for 30 mins. Finally, strain the mixture through a fine sieve or muslin cloth and keep the strained liquid.
Why do I love it?
I love how grounding coconut and coconut milk feel in my belly and, having a Vata/Pitta constitution they are the perfect balancing food for me - a mixture of heavy, oily and sweet to pacify my vata and nice and cool to pacify my pitta!
Should anyone avoid eating them?
People with Kapha constitutions or imbalances shouldn’t overdo coconut. In fact, because coconut is quite a heavy and difficult to digest, we should all just have it in small amounts generally.
Where do you get them from?
You can get normal desiccated coconut from all supermarkets and organic desiccated coconut from wholefood stores (it is worth getting the organic - so much tastier!)
“Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing” by Vasant Lad
“Heaven’s Banquet” by Miriam Kasin Hospodar
Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue