Coconut Nutrition Facts

2 Health Benefits You May Not Know About

coconut nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Coconuts (Coco nucifera) are the seed and fruit of the palm tree family. They are found in tropical regions where they are harvested for their white flesh, oil, and juices. Despite being high in saturated fat, coconuts are a good source of minerals and fiber.

While whole coconuts can be increasingly found in grocery stores, it takes a lot of effort to extract the fruit and juices. To this end, most of us purchase coconut either freshly shredded or dried and shredded and shredded in desiccated form. The liquids inside are available as coconut milk or coconut water.

Extracted coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years as a "healthier" oil, although evidence remains split as to its actual benefits.

In the United States, fresh coconut is considered an exotic food and is mostly consumed the health enthusiasts. In cultures where coconuts are common, they can make up a large part of the daily diet. In parts of the South Pacific, for example, where more than half of the daily calories can come from coconuts, rates of heart disease are far lower than they are here.

Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1/3 cup of coconut flakes.

  • Calories: 140
  • Fat: 14g
  • Sodium: 7.9mg
  • Carbohydrates: 5g
  • Fiber: 3.5g
  • Sugars: 1.6g
  • Protein: 1.5g

The nutritional value of coconut varies by the part of the fruit consumed:

  • A 1/3-cup serving of coconut meat is notable for its high fiber content as well as significant amounts of iron and potassium. Despite being high in saturated fat, coconut is cholesterol-free and low in sodium.
  • A half-cup serving of coconut milk has 276 calories, 3 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, 29 grams of fat (including 25 grams of saturated fat). It also has 316 milligrams of potassium, 18 milligrams of sodium, 44 milligrams of magnesium, and 2 milligrams of iron.
  • A one-cup serving of coconut water has 46 calories and just under 2 grams of protein. It also has less than half of a gram of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fiber. In terms of nutrients, coconut water has 58 milligrams of calcium, 60 milligrams of magnesium, 600 of milligrams potassium, and 252 grams of sodium.
  • A one-tablespoon serving of coconut oil has 117 calories and delivers about half your daily limit of saturated fats and only scant amounts of "healthy" monounsaturated fat.

Carbs in Coconut

Unsweetened coconut has relatively few carbs and is generally okay for people on a low-carb diet. It can even be consumed in moderation during the induction phase of the Atkins Diet and phase 1 of the South Beach. The same applies to coconut milk and water. In fact, the high fat content in coconut makes it ideal for a ketogenic diet plan.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. For an average 2,000-calorie diet, that would translate to between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day. For the early phases of some low-carb plans, the intake may be limited to no more than 15 to 22 grams per day.

Coconut also an impressive amount of fiber, an indigestible form of dietary carbohydrate. This includes soluble fiber that draws water from the intestines to ease bowel movements and slow the absorption of fat and sugar into the bloodstream. Insoluble fiber provides bulk to stool, preventing constipation and the development of hemorrhoids.

Most experts today recommend a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 30 grams per day with about one-fourth—6 to 8 grams—coming from soluble fiber.

Fats in Coconut

Coconut is one of the highest plant-based sources of saturated fat. Saturated fat is the type mainly derived from meat protein.associated with hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and heart disease.

However, not all saturated fats are created equal. Those found in meat and chocolate are primarily palmitic acid. For its part, coconut consists mainly of the lauric acid and myristic acid.

Palmitic acid is the type associated with increases in "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and decreases in "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—essentially a lose-lose situation. By contrast, lauric acid appears to have less effect on your HDL, while myristic acid may actually boost HDL levels.

Moreover, the saturated fats in coconut are mainly medium-chain fatty acids. These are the types that break down faster and do not accumulate in the bloodstream as much as the long-chain fatty acids found in meat.

Despite this, the saturated fats in coconut will increase LDL levels as much as those in meat and butter. Most dietitians would agree that swapping extra-virgin olive oil for coconut oil would not do your heart any favors.

Protein in Coconut

Coconut meat is a rich source of plant-based protein, offering about half the amount of an equal serving portion of tofu.

However, unlike tofu, beans, and other plant-based proteins, most people don't eat all the much coconut at one sitting. To this end, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may better be served to drink a cup of coconut milk, which delivers around 6 grams of protein per one-cup serving.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). That translates to 46 grams of protein per day for a sedentary woman and 56 grams per day for a sedentary man.

Micronutrients in Coconut

A one-third cup serving of coconut meat offers a fair amount of your daily essential minerals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a serving of coconut offers the following reference daily intake (RDI) of the following nutrients:

  • Manganese: 20% of the RDI
  • Copper: 15.4% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 4% of the RDI
  • Iron: 3.9% of the RD
  • Phosphorus: 3% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 2.7% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 2% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 2% of the RDI

Coconut is a less rich source of vitamins, the highest of which in include B vitamins such as folate and thiamine. 

Health Benefits

While coconuts have gain popularity for their purported disease-fighting properties, many of the claims are either unsupported by research or simply inflated by food manufacturers. With that said, there is evidence that components of coconut may promote weight loss and better heart health.

Weight Loss

Research published in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of Food Science suggests that the fatty acids in coconut contain powerful antioxidants that help boost the immune function and reduce systemic inflammation in the body. It is these antioxidants that some believe may help reduce the risk of metabolic and aging-related diseases by eliminating free radicals that cause cell damage, 

For example, the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut and coconut oils are believed to increase the rate of metabolism by as much as 5 percent over a 24-hour period, burning body fat quicker and promoting weight loss. Coconut oil alone is comprised of 55 percent MCT.

A 2018 review of studies published in PLoS One further supported these claims, suggesting that the MCTs in coconut and coconut oil could enhance fat burning, increased energy expenditure, and even suppress appetite if included as part of a low-fat diet.

Heart Disease

More controversial, perhaps, are claims that coconut can prevent heart disease. While many scientists believe that these cardioprotective properties have been exaggerated, a 2016 study from the University of Otago in New Zealand suggests that coconut oil could potentially alter the blood lipid profile in a way that is beneficial to the heart.

The researchers insist, however, that simply changing to coconut oil in a Western diet will do little to decrease the cardiovascular risk. Rather, it would demand that you make significant changes in your diet, perhaps ones similar those used by the people of Tokelau in the Polynesian Islands.

According to epidemiological research published in 1981, Tokelauans, for whom coconut represents 60 percent of the daily diet, had no evidence of heart disease or hypercholesterolemia despite the high intake of lauric and myristic acid. Whether this approach is realistic in the West is debatable, but it does illustrate how changes in dietary fact can profoundly affect your cardiovascular health.

Recent claims the coconut, coconut, or coconut oil can boost mental function in people with Alzheimer's disease remains largely unsupported.

Common Questions

Is a coconut a fruit, a vegetable, or a nut?

Coconut is a one-seeded drupe. A drupe is a fruit that has a hard covering on the seed, like a peach or cherry. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans are also drupes, but we commonly refer to them nuts. So it's up to you; you can choose to call coconuts either a fruit or a nut.

How do shell a coconut?

A shell of a whole coconut is extremely hard. While some people will tell you the smash it against a concrete floor to crack the shell, you are likely to lose many of the juices inside. Instead, try shelling a coconut with five simple tools: a hammer or mallet, a long metal skewer, a butter knife, a vegetable peeler, and some kitchen towels.

To break down a whole coconut:

  1. Poke the skewer through the softest of the three "eyes" of the coconut, working it around to create a 1/2-inch hole.
  2. Drain the coconut water into a bowl. There should be around 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup. If the juice does not taste fresh, throw the coconut away.
  3. Holding the coconut with a towel, firmly tap the shell with the hammer, turning as needed, until the shell starts to crack in half.
  4. When it is cracked all the way around, split the shell and lay the coconut cut side down on a kitchen towel. 
  5. Tap the shell firmly to loosen the flesh.
  6. Carefully pry the flesh from the shell with a butter knife.
  7. Once the flesh is release, remove the thin brown skin with a vegetable peeler. You can grate, shred, or juice the flesh as needed.

Refrigerate the coconut meat for up to a week, or freeze it for up to three months. Coconut milk should also be refrigerated and consumed within three days.

Is fresh coconut better than dried?

A one-ounce serving of dried coconut has only slightly more calories than a serving of fresh coconut (185 vs.140 calories, respectively) but otherwise has more or less similar nutritional value.

Many desiccated coconut brands are unsweetened. Commercially produced sweetened coconut often contains propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze which acts as a preservative.

Recipes and Preparation

Use toasted coconut flakes as a topping for desserts and side dishes, or add it to a trail mix or your favorite granola recipe. You can also incorporate it into baked goods.

It is easy to toast coconut. Start by preheating your oven to 325c F. Spread coconut flakes thinly on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for around five or 10 minutes until they're golden brown. Keep an eye on them because they toast quickly. It helps to stir them once or twice so that they brown evenly.

If you are a coconut lover, try these tasty recipes at home:

Allergies and Interactions

Coconut allergy is rare but can occur, particularly in people with a known allergy to hazelnuts or walnuts. If an allergy were to occur, it would most likely be in the form of contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction caused when coconut or coconut oil comes into contact with skin. Coconut-derived compounds such as diethanolamine, cocamide sulfate, and cocamide DEA are sometimes found in cosmetics.

Less commonly, people may experience a food allergy after eating coconut. Symptoms can include nausea, stomach pain, swelling of the lips, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting, and an itchy or burning mouth sensation.

Anaphylaxis, a potentially deadly all-body reaction, is exceptionally rare when eating coconut, according to a 2017 study from Texas College Hospital. Even so, coconuts are classified as nuts by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and must be disclosed as a possible allergen on food product labels.

There are no known drug interactions to coconut, coconut oil, or coconut water.

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