Choosing the right type of coconut can help you get the most possible health benefits. There isn't any real nutritional difference between shredded coconut and flaked coconut -- they're both made by the same process, but flaked coconut comes as larger pieces. Choosing unsweetened coconut instead of sweetened coconut does make a difference, however. Unsweetened coconut has a lower water content, making it a more concentrated source of nutrients, and also contains a lot less unhealthy sugar.
An ounce of unsweetened dried coconut, sometimes called desiccated coconut, contains more than 4.5 grams of fiber, which is 18 percent of the daily value, while the same amount of sweetened dried coconut has less than 3 grams. Dietary fiber helps you feel full for longer, potentially making it easier to lose weight. It may also help limit your risk for high cholesterol, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and constipation and other digestive issues.
Each ounce of unsweetened dried coconut contains 38 percent of the DV for manganese, 11 percent of the DV for copper and smaller amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium. Sweetened dried coconut has just 13 percent of the DV for manganese and 6 percent of the DV for selenium in each serving.
Manganese is an antioxidant that helps prevent damage to your cells and heal wounds. It also plays a role in metabolism and bone development. You need copper, which is another antioxidant, for making red blood cells, forming collagen, absorbing iron and keeping your immune system and nerves functioning properly.
One potential concern about shredded coconut is its high fat content, in particular the large amount of saturated fat it contains. Each 1-ounce serving of unsweetened shredded coconut has about 18 grams of fat, including 16 grams of saturated fat, or 80 percent of the DV for saturated fat.
Saturated fat has long been linked to increases in cholesterol and heart disease risk. However, the type of saturated fat found in coconut -- called lauric acid -- is different from that found in animal products and may not have the same adverse effects. Lauric acid seems to increase mainly "good" cholesterol instead of "bad" cholesterol, which sets it apart from many other types of saturated fat, according to registered dietitian Natalie Digate Muth.
A study published in Lipids in 2009 found that obese women who supplemented their diet with coconut oil for 12 weeks while following a low-calorie diet experienced decreases in their waist circumference and beneficial changes in their cholesterol level, which wasn't the case with the women in the control group, who received soybean oil instead of coconut oil.
Although shredded coconut may have some health and nutrition benefits, you still need to eat it in moderation. It's quite high in calories, with 185 per ounce for the unsweetened variety and 128 calories per ounce for the sweetened type. Toasting your coconut can bring out the flavor, so you don't need to use as much coconut in each recipe. Add unsweetened coconut to baked goods, oatmeal or curry recipes, or use it in place of some of the breading when making baked chicken or fish dishes.
- HealthAliciousNess.com: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool
- University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: Dietary Fiber
- Linus Pauling Institute: Manganese
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Copper
- American Council on Exercise: Coconut Oil: Dietary Friend, Foe…or Fad?
- Lipids: Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity