Is Coconut Good for You?

A registered dietitian nutritionist explains coconut nutrition and more.

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes, RDN

The coconut (Cocos nucifera) plant is from Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines) and the islands between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Researchers have explored the potential health benefits of coconut, including its role as an antibacterial and anticancer agent and its effect on blood sugar and heart health.

The following article covers the benefits of coconut pulp (or “meat”), its nutrition, and safety.

<p>banprik / Getty Images</p> A halved coconut surrounded by brown shells

banprik / Getty Images

A halved coconut surrounded by brown shells

What Is Coconut?

Coconut consists of three layers: the external layer (exocarp), the middle layer (mesocarp), and the internal layer (endocarp), which surrounds the endosperm. The endosperm includes coconut water and coconut meat (pulp).

Each layer has its uses and benefits. Fibers from the mesocarp become material for carpet, car seat stuffing, and agricultural fertilizer. Parts of the endocarp are used for various projects and crafts.

A coconut's maturity impacts the way it's used and how it's processed.  For example, young coconut is typically used for its meat. As the coconut ages, the meat solidifies, and the water content decreases. Oil and milk are typically extracted from mature coconut.

Multiple products are made from coconuts. Some coconut-derived products include the following:

Coconut has been linked to health benefits for years. It has traditionally been used to help with the following conditions:

Traditional Southeast Asian medicine has utilized different parts of the coconut and created various medicinal formulations for certain health conditions.

Coconut Nutrition

Besides its history of medicinal use, coconut provides nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Namely, coconut is a significant source of antioxidants and fatty acids.

Coconut meat is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a specific type of saturated fat. The liver absorbs and breaks down MCTs easily. MCTs can be converted into ketone bodies. Ketones are an alternative energy source that both the body and the brain use. Some research suggests that ketones derived from MCTs may have potential health benefits for diabetes and heart disease.

Generally, one serving of coconut meat provides the following nutrition:

  • Fiber: 4 grams (g) (16% of daily value)

  • Carbohydrates: 6.84 g

  • Total fat: 15 g

  • Water: 29.2 g

One serving of coconut is the equivalent of 45 g, just shy of half a cup.

Fiber Content of Coconut

Fiber is the nondigestible part of carbohydrates. Fiber adds bulk to the diet, makes you feel full faster, and helps you manage a healthy weight.

Research shows that eating a high-fiber diet is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and death.

Consuming 25 to 34 g of fiber daily is recommended, depending on age and sex.

Given its high fiber-to-carbohydrate ratio, coconut can be considered a low-carbohydrate fruit.

Fat Content of Coconut

Coconut meat is a high-fat product. Of the 15 g of total fat, 13 g are from saturated fat.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 10% or less of total daily calories come from saturated fat. Based on a standard 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, this amounts to less than 200 calories or 22 g daily of saturated fat.

Half a serving of coconut meat is 59% of that 22 g saturated fat limit.

Other factors to consider when evaluating the nutrient content of coconut include the type of fruit (cultivar), maturity, and processing methods.

Mature coconut meat has a higher antioxidant and fat content than young coconut meat.

One serving of coconut meat provides 16% of daily fiber. Yet, despite its high fiber content, there is not enough evidence to determine whether the benefits associated with fiber outweigh some of the risks linked to coconut meat’s high fat content.

Moreover, much of this research focuses on coconut oil versus coconut meat.

Processed Coconut

Processing also affects coconut nutrition. One study evaluating antioxidant activity observed that freeze-dried young coconut meat had a greater antioxidant activity than its fresh counterpart.

When purchasing coconut products, checking their added sugar content is essential. Many coconut products, like shredded or flaked coconut, often contain added sugar to help with their flavor and texture.

For example, unsweetened shredded coconut contains 1 g of sugar per 2 tablespoon serving. Conversely, two tablespoons of sweetened coconut has four grams of sugar.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar intake to less than 10 percent of daily calories. That translates into 200 calories (around 12 teaspoons of sugar) for a 2,000-calorie diet. People with specific conditions, like diabetes, may choose to reduce their added sugar intake further.

Health Benefits of Coconut

Researchers have studied coconut for the following health benefits.


Some evidence reveals coconut has antioxidant properties. Preliminary animal research suggests coconut meat reduces oxidative stress.

Other research has identified proteins in coconut meat that protect DNA from oxidative damage and reduce free radical activity.


According to research, extracts produced from coconut's endocarp (internal layer) inhibited bacterial activity in lab studies. However, coconut extract does not protect against all types of bacteria. Moreover, coconut extract's antibacterial properties appear dose- and bacteria-specific.


Coconut meal is a byproduct of coconut oil extraction. Although overall low in nutrients, coconut meal is a significant source of mannooligosaccharides. This specific prebiotic fiber may protect against the spread of colorectal cancer.

Still, more research is required to understand the role of coconut meal mannooligosaccharides in preventing cancer.

Blood Sugar Control

Preliminary animal research suggests that coconut and coconut oil may reduce insulin resistance, the precursor for type 2 diabetes.

Research in humans has yielded conflicting results. One study found that eating coconut fat with a meal increased blood sugar (blood glucose) following the meal. Conversely, post-meal (postprandial) insulin levels were reduced with coconut added to meals. Insulin is the molecule responsible for removing sugar from the bloodstream after a meal.

The high-fiber content of coconut meat may benefit blood sugar levels. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream, reducing glucose levels, which gives you steady energy. However, additional research is necessary to understand the impact of fiber, fat, and antioxidants in coconut meat on blood sugar.

Still, despite widespread support, coconut may not be the best addition to a ketogenic or low glycemic diet. Limited evidence supports the benefits of coconut pulp, specifically on blood sugar and fat (lipid) levels.

Good for Your Gut

Coconut may support a healthy gut microbiome. As mentioned, coconut contains a significant amount of fiber and MCTs.

Both fiber and MCTs are essential for gut microbiota, fueling and nurturing a healthy environment for bacteria.

Alzheimer’s disease

Research is promising for the use of MCTs to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Insulin signaling is impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, limiting the body’s ability to utilize glucose effectively and requiring alternative energy sources.

Ketones are produced from the metabolism of MCTs and provide energy to the brain without insulin. Although promising, additional studies are necessary to determine the effect of MCTs from coconut on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other Considerations for Coconut

Avoid coconut if you’re allergic to it or its components. Seek immediate medical attention if you have a severe allergic reaction (itching, hives, shortness of breath).

Coconut oil has the highest saturated fat content among fat sources. Most research shows coconut oil increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and the risk of heart disease. Limited research exists on the specific influence of coconut meat on heart disease.

Individuals with elevated cholesterol or a high risk of heart disease should moderate their intake of coconut products due to their high saturated fat content.

Despite limited research on the effects of coconut meat on health, coconut should be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Coconut is very nutritionally dense and a significant source of dietary fat.


Coconut is a popular fruit originating in Southeast Asia and available globally in various products, such as milk, water, and coconut meat (pulp).

Compared to coconut oil, less research is available on the health benefits of coconut meat. More information is necessary to understand how coconut meat's antioxidant, fiber, and fat content may benefit blood sugar, heart health, cancer, and bacterial infections.

Still, coconut can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is coconut a fruit?

Yes, coconut is a fruit. Specifically, coconut is a drupe, a fruit with an inner flesh layer enclosed by a hard shell.

Is coconut good for you?

Coconut can be part of an overall healthy diet. Although coconut is high in saturated fat, it contains other nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants, which confer health benefits.

What are coconut aminos?

Coconut aminos are a liquid condiment often used in place of soy sauce. Coconut aminos are made from coconut blossom nectar (sap) mixed with other ingredients (usually salt or vinegar). Unlike soy sauce, coconut aminos are gluten-free and soy-free, making them a suitable alternative for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or soy allergy. Although coconut aminos have a sweet taste, they provide a savory flavor (umami) to dishes.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.