In this blog, you will read about what protein is, how the body metabolizes and uses it, and its many health benefits. Below are some of the key takeaways:

  • Plants are sources of protein. 
  • Coconut protein can be an ideal protein alternative.
  • Coconut protein contains 18 of the 20 amino acids needed by the body.
  • Both keto and vegan dieters can take coconut protein without sabotaging their diets.
  • It can protect your heart, immune system, and even promote proper pH.

Coconut Proteins: An Ideal Protein Alternative

When it comes to nutrition, the big three will always be carbohydrates, fat, and protein. These are what you call macros and they’re what your foods are mostly comprised of.

When you talk about carbs, you immediately think of potatoes, starches, fibrous vegetables, and fruits. Fat is associated with olive oil, animal fat, nuts, dairy, and seeds. For proteins, you often think of eggs and meat. While not a popular source, plants are protein sources too, and if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, this matters.

Some of the popular sources of plant-based proteins are seeds, lentils, peanuts, almonds, tofu, and tempeh. Another source comes in the form of coconut proteins, and we think it’s the best plant-based protein out there.

Before we get started on coconut proteins, let’s first check why protein is such an important nutrient for everyday health.

What are Proteins?

Proteins are made of amino acids. We have 20 amino acids all in all, but the body can only produce 11 of them. This makes them non-essential amino acids and the 9 others the body can’t produce are called essential amino acids. Naturally, the amino acids we can’t produce must be sourced from our diet.

Why are proteins important?

We all know protein helps build muscle, but it’s more than just a bodybuilding nutrient.

Protein is an important building block of every cell in our body. Proteins make up the majority of our hair and nails. It’s also known to help with building and repairing tissues as well as produce the necessary hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals for everyday life.

If you don’t get enough protein, you’re putting all your systems and organs at risk, making daily optimal intake an absolute necessity.

Coconut protein is perfect for keto and vegan diets

When it comes to diets, sometimes people just can’t agree with what they should have on their plates. Those on a keto diet do what they can to reduce carbohydrates to get into ketosis, while those on a vegan diet remove all forms of animal-based products which can also lower their overall fat and cholesterol content.

However, if there was one thing the ketogenic diet and vegan diet followers have in common is their need for protein. Both diets want protein, and coconut protein is an excellent source for both crowds.

Coconut protein is derived from vegan sources aka actual coconuts. It is also high in amino acids and some fatty acids that promote ketosis. This makes coconut protein an ideal food source to both diets.

And as a bonus, coconut protein is also not sourced from cows or goats or sheep. This makes it lactose-free, and suitable for people who have lactose intolerance or just have trouble digesting dairy products.

Short History

Before its current use as a plant-based protein alternative for mass consumption, coconut protein was initially used as part of an alternative source of protein in infant formulas in India back in the 60’s.

The original idea wasn’t brought about due to scarcity of milk or other dairy sources, but because of the abundance of coconut wet processing waste. Their researchers sought to find a way to make use of these underutilized biomass as a value-added product in the form of coconut protein powder.

With protein supplements taking the fitness industry by storm, it would only be inevitable for coconut protein to be considered as not only another source of protein, but a plant-based alternative for those who have trouble digesting dairy and who are on a plant-based diet.

Production

Due to the practical and low-cost renewability of raw material and variety of sources, protein from vegetable origins are make for an attractive alternative to animal protein for food and cosmetics applications.

Coconut protein powder is produced from coconut skim milk,  one of the by-products of virgin coconut oil wet processing. Coconut skim milk contains 70% of the total protein of the entire coconut.

A typical coconut protein powder process goes like this:

  1. Procurement of mature coconuts
    1. Deshelling, paring (removal of testa), removal of coconut water.
  2. Grating of white coconut kernels
    1. Coconut milk from gratings are expelled using screw press.
  3. Enzymatic treatment of coconut milk for two hours
    1. Three fractions, namely, cream, coconut skim milk and solid protein were obtained by subjecting the enzyme treated milk to centrifugation.
  4. Mixing and homogenization of coconut skim milk and solid protein.
  5. Spray drying of the mixture
  6. Collection of powder for packaging and storage

Depending on the factory or certifications, they may take more than a few steps before, during, and after production.

Coconut Protein Against Other Plant-Based Alternatives

As of this writing, the current popular plant-based protein alternatives are pea, rice, and hemp.

  • Pea protein is one of the first plant-based protein powders that reached mass production. For the same reason users avoid dairy are mainly the reasons why they gravitate towards pea protein.

Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas, high-fiber legumes that provides every essential amino acid except methionine. It’s also rich in BCAAs.

  • Rice protein has been around for more than a few years, but they’re not considered a good choice due to how people see rice as still largely a carb source. Surprisingly, it contains all essential amino acids, but the lysine content is too low for it to be considered complete.
  • Hemp is another trendy food source and hemp protein is quickly gaining traction in the supplement world. Unlike its psychoactive cousin, hemp only has tiny levels of THC – the compound that marijuana users like.

It’s not a complete protein due to low levels of leucine and lysine, but it’s still a viable source of amino acids.

So, is coconut protein the better alternative? The answer varies according to two things:

  • Availability – Right now, supplements using coconut protein powder are either too few or just not mainstream yet. You can purchase them through some online retail stores, but as far as major gym supplements are concerned, they’re not widely available.
  • Amino acid profile –  When it comes to the 9 essential amino acids, the amino acid content that matters, coconut protein comes out as a good alternative. The only drawbacks it has overall are in its Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine content, more commonly referred to Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs in the fitness world.

Why Coconut Protein is Better

  1. It’s highly unlikely to be contaminated with high levels of heavy metals.
    1. Clean Label Project, a non-profit organization, conducted a “purity” test that included 134 top rated protein powders.They found that all of them had traces of more than 130 different types of toxins and other compounds that weren’t supposed to be there.
    2. Most plant protein sources come from the ground. Peas, rice, hemp, and even soy are all sprayed with pesticides, or directly absorb pesticides from the soil.
    3. Since coconut protein isn’t harvested from the ground, but from the coconut tree that is way, way up, it’s not hard to assume that coconut protein powders are cleaner.
    4. A few studies have also analyzed the heavy metal content of coconut products and concluded that their concentrations did not go past the limit, unlike its other more popular plant protein counterparts. They also recommend that going organic will further lower the heavy metal content of coconut-based products. Moreover, coconut-based products go below the permissible limits of the USDA and WHO for heavy metals.
  1. It doesn’t have any hormone-altering effects.
    1. Soy was the trendy protein alternative in the early 2000’s. However, large consumption of soy on a daily basis was shown to promote hormonal changes, particularly in lowering testosterone content and causing fertility problems for both men and women.
    2. The chemical makeup of coconut-based proteins don’t alter hormones or promote conditions that make it difficult to bear children. In fact, consuming coconut based products does the opposite.
  1. It doesn’t produce gut problems.
    1. Dairy sources of protein like whey are known to cause bloating, vomiting, and even nausea.
    2. Coconut proteins don’t cause any of the aforementioned side effects. In fact, studies show that coconut milk (where coconut proteins are sourced) might have gut-protective properties.

Why Coconut Protein is Good for the Body

Coconut protein isn’t just any other run-of-the-mill protein source. Like its contemporaries in the industry, coconut protein is an excellent source of amino acids.

Unlike most plant proteins, coconut protein is almost considered complete, having 18 of the 20 total amino acids needed by the body to function properly every day. The other two missing amino acids, Hydroxylysine and Hydroxyproline, are easily sourced from food. Hydroxylysine, in particular, can also be produced by the body by converting lysine found in coconut protein.

As you may have noticed, coconut protein is quite high in glutamic acid. This is important because glutamic acid is the most abundant amino acid in our muscles, composing of over 61%. Even your organs such as lungs, stomach, liver, and brain contain glutamic acid in their structure.

More than structural benefits, glutamine also promotes optimal acid-base balance and is stored in our kidneys.

When you exercise, the body has a tendency to become more acidic and to compensate, the kidneys metabolize glutamine to get ammonia which adjusts the pH.

Many athletes take glutamine supplements because they can easily use their glutamine stores due to regular training. A deficiency in glutamine can lead to muscle loss, fatigue, and even an increased risk of infections. Taking coconut protein helps prevent a glutamine deficiency which therefore leads to a reduced risk of the conditions mentioned.

Antioxidant activity

Antioxidants are compounds produced by the body and found in food that help reduce the rate of cellular damage brought about by free radicals. Antioxidants “scavenge” free radicals which we get from the various pollutants from the environment. Lower cellular damage can translate to longevity, cancer prevention, and a more youthful appearance overall.

Past the amino acid benefits, studies have also shown coconut protein has potent antioxidant activity. Researchers concluded it when coconut protein exhibited DNA-protective properties and high radical-scavenging activity in mice subjects.

These results indicate that these fractions can be used as natural antioxidant or food ingredient for some food such as meat patties to prolong shelf life of product.

Other benefits of coconut protein include:

  • Improved immune system response – Cyclophosphamide is a drug prescribed for the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and aplastic anemia. This drug works by suppressing the immune system. In one study, mice were treated with cyclophosphamide to test coconut protein’s immunostimulatory properties. The study confirmed coconut protein’s counter activity by activating the bone marrow cells. Bone marrow cells are the precursor to our white blood cells. In a patient who is immunocompromised, stimulating these cells can lead to white blood cell production.
  • It should be noted that when it comes to training, nitric oxide acts as a sort of “muscle pump” ingredient, boosting circulation by vasodilation or by expanding the blood vessels. Expanded blood vessels lead to better blood flow. Better blood flow means your muscles get the nutrients and oxygen they need to lift heavyweights.

Takeaway

Coconut protein is more than just an ordinary plant-based protein source. It is exceptionally abundant in amino acids, ideal for keto and vegan diets, good for the heart, lactose-free, and helps build muscle without excess calories. Like other protein powders, coconut protein is an ideal workout supplement that isn’t stimulatory and also great for overall health.

References:

  1. Thaiphanit, Somruedee & Anprung, Pranee. (2014). Increasing the utilization of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) wet processing waste: physicochemical and functional properties of coconut protein powder. 1st Joint ACS AGFD- ACS ICSCT Symposium.
  2. Li Y, Zheng Y, Zhang Y, Xu J, Gao G. Antioxidant Activity of Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) Protein Fractions. Molecules. 2018;23(3):707. Published 2018 Mar 20. doi:10.3390/molecules23030707
  3. Vigila, A. & Baskaran, X.. (2007). Immunomodulatory Effect of Coconut Protein on Cyclophosphamide Induced Immune Suppressed Swiss Albino Mice. Ethnobotanical Leaflets. 12.
  4. Mini S, Rajamohan T. Cardioprotective effect of coconut kernel protein in isoproterenol administered rats. Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2002;39(3):197-200.
  5. Salil G, Rajamohan T. Hypolipidemic and antiperoxidative effect of coconut protein in hypercholesterolemic rats. Indian J Exp Biol. 2001;39(10):1028-34.