Does Coconut Help or Harm IBS?

1
Coconut Products and IBS

half a coconut with knife and fork
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Coconuts - long the mainstay of the diets of people who live in tropical areas - have become a hot new food craze. This is due to the purported health benefits given to coconut in its many forms. People are now eating more coconut itself, as well as stocking their kitchens with coconut oil, milk and water. If you have IBS, you may be wary about foods that are a little more exotic than the foods you grew up with. In the following slides, we will take a look at which coconut products might be beneficial to add to your IBS diet, and which products you should probably avoid.

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Shredded Coconut and IBS

shredded coconut
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Dried, shredded coconut is often added to baked goods, candies and other sweet treats to add that unique flavor of coconut. It has been my experience that people either love the taste of coconut or hate it. If you are a coconut lover, read on to see if it is okay to be enjoying shredded coconut on a regular basis.

Health Benefits

Shredded coconut is considered to be a good source of the following nutrients:

Use In:

Shredded coconut can be enjoyed in many ways. Just be sure to buy the unsweetened variety so as to avoid consuming excessive amounts of sugar:

  • Add to smoothies
  • Sprinkle on fruits or vegetables
  • Use in baking

Okay for IBS?

The researchers at Monash University in Australia have done research on the amounts of FODMAPs in the various coconut products. Here is what they found regarding dried, shredded coconut:

  • 1/4 cup serving is considered low in FODMAPs
  • 1/2 cup serving is high in polyols, one of the types of FODMAPs 

This means that you should be able to enjoy eating shredded coconut at lower amounts without worrying that it will worsen your IBS symptoms. If you are not sensitive to polyols, you may not have to worry about portion size at all.

The Bottom Line

At lower amounts, shredded coconut appears to offer the benefit of IBS-friendly dietary fiber without the worry of IBS-unfriendly FODMAPs. If you are a coconut fan, feel free to sprinkle away!

3
Coconut Oil for IBS

coconut oil with a coconut
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The increasing popularity of coconut oil has come about, in part, due to a growing awareness that fats are not as bad for us as was previously thought. In fact, it is now widely recognized that healthy sources of dietary fat are essential for our overall health. In moderation, coconut oil is seen as a "healthy fat."

If you purchase coconut oil, one of the first things that you may notice is that its form changes depending on room temperature. When stored in a cool room, coconut oil is firm like shortening. If the room warms, coconut oil will turn liquid. Whenever possible buy extra virgin coconut oil.

Health Benefits

Ask an alternate health practitioner about the health benefits of coconut oil and then be prepared for a long list. The list will likely focus on coconut oil having anti-cancer, anti-dementia, antibiotic, antiviral and other properties. However, there is little to no clinical research to date to back up most of these claims.

One area where firmer conclusions can be made about coconut oil is in the area of cardiovascular health. Although coconut oil is classified as a saturated fat, it is high in lauric acid, which is thought to have a beneficial affect on HDL cholesterol - that's the good one!

What is also known is that healthy fats, such as coconut oil, aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

A small study using mice as subjects, found some evidence that coconut oil was effective in repairing cells and increasing antioxidants following the experience of stress.

Use In:

Coconut oil is a good choice for sàute dishes due to its high smoke point. This means that it is preferable to other oils when cooking at a higher heat to avoid the unpleasant flavor (and health risks) associated with the point that the oil starts to smoke.

In addition to using coconut oil for sàuteing, you can add it to:

  • Any recipe that calls for cooking oil
  • Coffee or tea
  • Smoothies

Okay for IBS?

According to the Monash University researchers, a serving size of 1 tablespoon is considered low-FODMAP. Since coconut oil is a fat and not a carbohydrate, there should be no concerns about FODMAP content at any size. However, too much fat can strengthen intestinal contractions, not something you would want when you have IBS.

Anecdotally, I have heard stories where people found some constipation relief by ingesting coconut oil on a daily basis. However, there is no research to support or contradict this.

The Bottom Line

Coconut oil appears to be a good source of healthy fat that in moderation should not make your IBS worse.

    4
    Coconut Milk for IBS

    coconut milk with half coconut
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    Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the meat of a ripe brown coconut.

    Health Benefits

    Because coconut milk contains coconut oil, particularly in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, it is thought to offer similar health benefits as the oil itself.

    Due to risks associated with BPAs, be sure to only purchase coconut milk that is sold in a BPA-free container.

    Use In:

    Coconut milk can be used wherever you would use cow's milk:

    • Baking
    • Drinking
    • Smoothies
    • Soups

    Okay for IBS?

    According to the researchers at Monash University, a serving size of 1/2 cup is considered low-FODMAP.

    The Bottom Line

    Coconut milk appears to offer a healthful, dairy-free milk substitute appropriate for anyone who has IBS. In particular, coconut milk is a nice choice for those who are lactose intolerant or who are following the low-FODMAP diet. Just be sure to buy coconut milk that does not have guar gum added to it as guar gum can be associated with causing unwanted digestive symptoms.

    5
    Coconut Water and IBS

    coconut water with a coconut
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    Coconut water is the liquid from the inside of unripe green coconuts. Coconut water has begun to enjoy increasing popularity as a substitute for sport drinks due to its lower sugar content.

    Health Benefits

    Of all the ways that coconuts can be enjoyed, coconut water offers the least in terms of health benefits. It does contain potassium, sodium and other minerals, which is why it is viewed as a healthier alternative to popular sports drinks. However, is is still high in calories and so should only be used by people who have high activity levels or it may contribute to weight gain.

    Use In:

    Coconut water can be drunk straight or added to smoothies.

    Okay for IBS?

    Unlike coconut oil, coconut water contains FODMAPs. According to Monash University:

    • A 3 oz. serving is considered low-FODMAP
    • An 8 oz. serving contains higher amounts of the FODMAPs oligos and polyols

    The Bottom Line

    With its potential for higher levels of IBS-triggering FODMAPs and its not-so-impressive nutritional profile, it is probably best to leave coconut water off of your grocery list.

    Sources:

    "Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good" Harvard School of Public Health Website accessed March 17, 2015.

    Mensink, R., et.al. "Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003 77:1146-1155.

    Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App Accessed Feb. 16, 2015.

    Yeap, S. "Antistress and antioxidant effects of virgin coconut oil in vivo" Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine 2015 9: 39–42.

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