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Invaluable nut

An important source of oil, fuel and fibre, coconut is more than a nutritious thirst quencher.



SAFE & SWEET: The nourishing qualities of tender coconut water make it the perfect antidote for dehydration.

STERILE DEXTROSE solution was in short supply during World War II. During emergencies, doctors improvised by directly infusing the water from green coconuts. It worked and saved lives because coconut water is sterile and is rich in sodium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins and sugars. In throat-parching summer, during a bout of gastroenteritis, and in illness and convalescence, its purity and nourishing qualities make the sweet liquid one of the safest and tastiest antidotes for dehydration.

The coconut tree is native to the Malayan peninsula. The green coconut, which floats on water, piggybacked on ocean currents and reached far-off islands in the Pacific. The fruit is central to the cuisines of South East Asia and the Polynesian archipelagos of the south Pacific. Sailors in the tropics discovered that ropes, carpets, mats, rugs and life preservers made from coir withstood harsh seawater. The hard shell is ideal for making ornamental cups and vessels, apart from being a fuel. The shell flour is a filler in the plastics industry. The leaf fibre and midrib are wiry and hardy and are excellent for making brooms, bags, screens, arrows, fish traps and wall partitions.

The edible part of the coconut is the meat-and-liquid endosperm kernel. Depending on whether the meat is fresh or desiccated, the calorie count of the kernel ranges from 80 to 200 calories per 100 gm. Two-fifths of the kernel is fat, most of it saturated. Oil extracted from the dry kernel is even richer in saturated fatty acids. Commonly used in coastal regions in the tropics, it contributes to elevated LDL levels and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Young flower stalks, bound together and bruised, yield coconut palm toddy, a Vitamin C-rich beverage drunk fresh, fermented or distilled.

The delicate, young, treetop bud is a delicious salad vegetable, but slicing off this "palm cabbage" is fatal for the tree. Recently, raw-food faddists began to claim that a diet rich in fresh coconut might lower the blood levels of the HIV virus in infected people. They assert that the lauric acid in the fruit flesh dissolves the fats in the virus envelope. The anecdotes are compelling, but are not yet validated by hard science.

The coconut is a key ingredient in traditional cures for most medical conditions in the tropics — gut worms, dropsy, T.B., malaria, jaundice, dysentery, kidney stones, typhoid, gonorrhoea, syphilis, etc. Most of these claims are bogus, but there is no doubt that the high-energy, fresh fruit meat is a valuable source of clean, nutritious food, ideal for the ill.

If food is medicine, the coconut is full of the energy-dense kind.

RAJIV. M

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