The health benefits of coco rediscovered

Subscribe Now October 04, 2011 at 03:35pm

WHEN President Benigno Aquino III recently visited the United States, he was surprised to know that buko juice is very popular in the United States. Famous people like Madonna are drinking them. "Drinking what they call coco water, and what we call buko juice, is a growing trend in the US," the president told the press when he arrived from the working visit. "Because of its nutrients, because it is natural and environment friendly, it is becoming the new natural sports drink in America and is now a hundred-million-dollar industry."

The announcement was good news for coconut farmers of the country. "I support the development and the bringing back of coconut industry," Davao City Councilor Al Ryan Alejandre said. "The industry has been down for quite some time now and it is timely that we uplift it now. With buko juice now becoming very popular abroad, our farmers will have another source of income."

The Philippines is only second only to Indonesia as the world's top producer of coconut products. There are 3.5 million coconut farmers and about 25 million people benefit from the coconut industry (directly and indirectly) and not surprisingly, coconut product exports is one of the top five dollar earners for the county.

According to Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, the market for coco water is increasing by 40 percent annually. Although the country can manage to supply the current demand, the Philippines needs to plant new trees to make its participation in the business sustainable.

Most of the country's coconut trees, the trade secretary said, are already 80 to 100 years old and their yields are only 20 percent of what they used to be. New trees would yield more coconuts.

Why is there so much ado about buko juice in other countries? Some health experts touted it as "nature's sports drink," due to its high electrolyte content. "Medically, the buko juice is one of the purest sources of energy in the world," said Dr. Jose P. Naval, an occupational physician based in Davao. "It is considered to be sterile because of its sealed enclosure in the nut shell."

Nutritionist Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, considers coconut water to be a "perfectly good option" for people who want to stay hydrated. "It's high in heart-healthy potassium, with most brands providing about 700 mg in an 11-ounce serving, that's a lot more than you get in a banana," he wrote. "It also has only about 60 calories per 11-ounce serving."

Diabetics can also benefit from drinking coconut water. The Philippine Coconut Authority informs: "Potassium content of water is remarkably high at all nut ages. Together with sodium and phosphorus, potassium content also tends to increase with the ages of the coconut to peak at nine months. This characteristic of coconut water makes it a very good drinking water for diabetics. Diabetics waking from a coma recover quickly after drinking coconut water."

Also good for diabetics is coco sugar. "A natural sweetener and functional food, coco sugar is a much welcome development for diabetics and hypoglycemics," said the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development (Pcarrd).

Compared with refined cane sugar, coco sugar has a glycemic index (GI) at 35. This is much lower than the 54 GI, the level which nutritionists consider as safe for people who have to watch out their glucose level.
"Having a low GI means that people who consume coco sugar will not experience sudden spikes in their blood glucose or blood sugar levels," explained Pcarrd, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) agrees. Research results have shown that diabetics who use coco sugars are able to stabilize their blood sugar levels, PCA said in its website.

One coconut farmer who is now exporting coco sugar is Benjamin Lao from Bansalan, Davao del Sur who was named by the Department of Agriculture as one of the country's outstanding farmers in 2007. He has been producing coco sugar since 2005 but it was not until in 2008 that he launched Donna Belle Coco Sugar. For the last two years, he has been exporting his products to the United States and Canada. "My coco sugar is guaranteed 100-percent free from chemicals," he says.

Another coconut product that may also make waves abroad is the virgin coconut oil (VCO). The common coconut oil used for cooking is not really pure because it has undergone refining, bleaching and deodorization process to make it suitable for human consumption. It is often hydrogenated and has no taste at all due to refining.

VCO, on the other hand, is a naturally processed product from fresh coconut meat. It is the purest form of coconut oil, water white in color and certified free from heat and chemical treatments. It retains the fresh scent and taste of coconut.

VCO is rich in lauric acid, an acid naturally found in mother's milk that helps develop and strengthen the immune system of newborn babies. A product from coconut oil called monoglyceride is about 75 percent lauric acid.


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