Part 1: Coconut confusion & coconut water kefir for probiotics
There's a debate in the health world at the moment as to whether coconut is really that good for us, especially those of us with MS because of it's high saturated fat content. Those of us on OMS or Swank keep our saturated fat intake very very low, it's the basis of recovery on the diet. As the research shows that saturated fat makes our blood stickier making it clump together and harder to circulate around the body, which can lead to a breakdown of the blood/brain barrier. Plus saturated fat is also inflammatory. Participants on the 34 year swank diet who kept saturated fat very low had little to no disease progression into old age.
However, some argue coconut products have a lot of health properties that are actually good for us and that it has been unfairly labelled as a bad saturated fat and put under the same umbrella as inflammatory, saturated animal fats. But say it's actually ok because it's made up of predominantly medium chain fatty acids (65%). They argue these medium chain fatty acids are actually different and easier for the body to process, they go straight to the liver and are converted to energy straight away. It has been observed in previous studies on pacific island countries where coconut makes up 30 - 60% of their diet that heart disease rates were virtually non existent and the people were happy and healthy looking. While others say there is very little scientific evidence to back-up any of the health claims, that it's a bad saturated fat and really has no place in the diet and especially not above essential fatty acids like omega 3's.
I think people with MS get confused when people like Dr Terry Wahls make a recovery from secondary progressive MS by using coconut milk in large amounts daily. But I do wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that her body is always in ketosis, which is the basis of her recovery program. Ketosis is when the body burns fat instead of carbohydrate, to do this you must eat lots of fat and protein to keep your body in ketosis or fat burning mode (enter coconut products). Then there's the Alzheimer's patients getting relief from symptoms by taking coconut oil for the same reasons, because the brain uses the ketones in coconut oil as a different source of energy which helps fire up the signals in the brain that were previously lost. It's confusing for sure and something I've been researching myself for a while. Professor Jelinek himself recommends staying away from all coconut products and I definitely trust his opinion. But the constant health claims and celebrity doctors endorsing it like Dr Oz, Dr Axe and Dr Mercola just make it so confusing. I literally swing back and forth with the debate.
So I've concluded that I will use coconut products but very sparingly and always below 15gms per day on the days I do have it. I use coconut oil for oil pulling as it's more palatable than other oils first thing in the morning and I reason it's okay because I'm spitting it out. Then I found some sound evidence I trust that coconut might not be such a bad thing which I talk about in this post Part 2: Coconut & autoimmunity - finally some clarity
Lately when shopping for a vegan probiotic supplement I was horrified to see how much they cost. But I know how important they are for gut health and immunity so I wasn't going to walk out empty handed. (This documentary on the gut microbiome is incredible if you want to see just how important they are). Then the lovely health lady asked if I'd tried Coconut Kefir. Coconut kefir is a vegan source of probiotics made with coconut milk or coconut water, at a 5th of the price (which you can also make yourself) so it was naturally way more appealing. Plus coconut water kefir has 0.0gms of sat fat per 20ml serve.
However there's no indication on the bottle how many strains of good bacteria are in it so I asked the lady but she said they have no way of knowing so they dont label it. I've since found on draxe.com that "kefir — especially coconut kefir — contains many probiotic, bioactive compounds and as many as 30 strains of good bacteria that help fight against tumors, bacteria, carcinogens and more. (1)".
So knowing little to nothing about Coconut Kefir I wanted to learn more. I always trust Dr Axe's information so I've put his post on Kefir below.
6 Awesome Coconut Kefir Health Benefits by Dr Axe
1. Immune System Booster
Coconut kefir is one of the best probiotic foods around, and we know probiotics are the special forces of the microbial world. One in particular that is specific to kefir alone is called Lactobacillus kefiri, and it helps defend against harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. This bacterial strain, along with the various others handfuls, help modulate the immune system and inhibit many predatory bacteria growth. (3)
Kefir also contains another powerful compound found only in this probiotic drink, aninsoluble polysaccharide called kefiran. A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents showed kefiran is antimicrobial, helps fight against candida symptoms and even speeds healing of external wounds. (4)
2. Digestive Aid
Your gut flora or gut microbiome is made up of a complex community of microorganisms that live in your digestive tract, and it’s directly impacted by your diet. Consuming coconut kefir on a regular basis is an excellent way to optimize the health of your personal gut microbiome, which means improved functioning and health of your digestive system.
The probiotics found in coconut kefir are excellent for discouraging constipation and encouraging healthy elimination on a regular basis. The probiotics also help restore your good flora that fight against pathogens and aid against disruptive diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects caused by taking antibiotics. (5)
Coconut water kefir is also especially great for digestion due to the lauric acid it naturally contains. Lauric acid converts to monolaurin in the body, which helps protect against gastrointestinal infections, worms, viruses and more. (6)
3. Allergies and Asthma Remedy
Coconut kefir is an excellent way to up your daily probiotic intake and get your allergies and asthma under control. Various forms of allergies and asthma are all linked to internal inflammation and suboptimal gut health. In animal studies conducted at the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology’s Natural Medicine Research Center, kefir was shown to reduce inflammatory cells disrupting the lungs and air passages, as well as reduce mucus buildup. (7)
The live microorganisms present in kefir help promote the immune system to naturally suppress allergic reactions and aid in changing the body’s response to the systemic outbreak points for allergies. (8) Many scientists believe allergic reactions result from a lack of good bacteria in the gut. Researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center performed 23 different studies with almost 2,000 people, and in 17 of those studies, test subjects taking probiotics showed improved allergic symptoms and quality of life. (9)
4. Cancer Fighter
Cancer is a serious epidemic impacting our country and the world today. Coconut kefir can play a big role in helping your body fight this nasty disease. Kefir’s healthy bacteria play a large anti-carcinogenic role inside the body, making it a potential cancer-fighting food.
Most cancer studies have involved dairy kefir, but positive outcomes are easily and likely transferable to coconut kefir since the fermentation and resulting good bacteria make kefir of all varieties so amazing. One study (with dairy-based kefir) showed that kefir can slow the growth of early tumors and their enzymatic conversions from non-carcinogenic to carcinogenic. (10) In addition, one in-vitro test conducted at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Canada showed that kefir reduced breast cancer cells by 56 percent (as opposed to yogurt strains that reduced cells by 14 percent). (11)
Coconut kefir can also help fight cancer due to coconut water’s antiviral properties. Research published in 2009 identified not one but three antimicrobial peptides in green coconut water. (12)
The hydration power and high electrolyte content of coconut kefir can also help combat chemotherapy’s common side effects of diarrhea, dehydration and general nutrient depletion. Leading conventional cancer treatment centers even recommend coconut water as part of management of chemo symptoms. (13) Coconut kefir is an even better choice than coconut water since coconut kefir can replenish the good bacteria that chemotherapy kills, replenish electrolytes and provide hydration.
5. Safe to Consume for Those with Lactose Intolerance
Some might be wondering: Is coconut water dairy? While dairy-based kefirs contain very small amounts of lactose, for some, even small amounts of lactose are problematic. Coconut water kefir contains no dairy or lactose, making it a safe option for those who suffer from the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Coconut water’s natural sugars and proteins are able to be broken down by the kefir grains and transformed into the delicious beverage without the need for the lactose of dairy. Coconut water kefir is also a lighter, more refreshing alternative to the thick, creamy and rich flavors of dairy kefir, and it’s gluten-free.
6. Provides a Potassium Punch
Coconut water kefir is certainly high in the crucial mineral known as potassium. In fact, a serving of coconut water contains just as much potassium as four bananas. (14) The powerful level of potassium in coconut kefir is excellent for improving overall bone health, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing heart disease and stroke risk. The potassium in coconut kefir can also help people with inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and of course, it’s great to consume in order to reverse or prevent low potassium.
Coconut Kefir Nutrition
Coconut water kefir contains only young coconut water and the residual good bacteria left over from the kefir grains. Coconuts come from the palm tree family, Arecacaeae. The coconut is actually the seed, or nut, from the coconut palm. Coconut water is the clear liquid inside young green coconuts. The water itself is the liquid within the nut used to suspend the young endosperm in development. (15)
Coconut water alone contains multiple vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are ideal for human health. It’s especially high in potassium and also contains cytokinins, which are naturally occurring plant hormones that may help reduce the growth of cancer cells. (16) An awesome aspect of making coconut kefir is that you don’t lose any of the nutritional value of coconut water after fermenting it with kefir grains.
In general, kefir of all kinds contain high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. Because kefir does not have a standardized nutrition content, the content values can vary based on the various milk or water bases, cultures, and region where it’s produced. Yet even with the range in values, kefir is loaded with nutrients.
Water kefir, like coconut kefir, doesn’t have the white, creamy look that makes kefir popular because water kefir grains are not white and fluffy. While milk kefir looks like yogurt, water kefir looks like soda or beer. The water kefir grains are usually made of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera as well as other minor yeasts. (17)
You can also make coconut milk kefir. Ideally, coconut milk is homemade by soaking the grated white flesh of the coconut in hot water and using that liquid. The creamy fat of the flush rises to the top, as in regular dairy, and subsequent soakings result in less creamy milk. However, coconut milk and coconut yogurt do not hold the same nutritional profile as coconut water, which offers more nutrients and is more beneficial for hydration purposes.
I also found this great article on the benefits of non-dairy plant based fermented foods over dairy options, and this epic article on 25 Amazing Benefits of Kefir (+5 Delicious Kefir Recipes) which is super informative and goes into way more depth if you want a good read. Plus it takes you through how to make your own delicious, nutritious kefir at home.
Like all of these superfoods I've been researching I get quite blown away at how powerful they are. I've been using Coconut Kefir for a while now, I put about 20mils in my morning smoothie bowls daily and I'm considering making it myself to save money. It's definitely the best way, that I've discovered so far, to get all those health enhancing, immune boosting probiotic benefits on a budget.
Update: I recently heard on the "Up for a chat" podcast or "Ben Greenfeild Fitness", that even taking a good quality high dose probiotic supplement once a week is a great alternative. So I got a small bottle of Vegan Probiotics 30 capsules for about $55 aus which will last me around 30 weeks instead of 30 days!. I now do that whilst eating my probiotic rich, fermented goodies during the week including sauerkraut, kombucha and coconut water kefir.