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Most people have never cut into a coconut, but have still eaten coconut in at least one of its many forms. The most profitable product of the coconut is coconut oil, which is used in many beauty care products and recently, it has gained momentum as a popular oil to use in cooking. But it's the actual "meat" of the coconut that many people still gravitate towards to get the most coconut flavor.

The "meat" of the coconut is a white fleshy layer about one inch thick with watery liquid surrounding it, known as raw coconut water. The flesh is boiled, grated and dried and either immediately packaged as unsweetened coconut or soaked in a sugar solution, dried again and sold as sweetened coconut. Unsweetened coconut tends to be a bit drier and chewier, and may work well in savory dishes where sweet is not the goal. Sweetened coconut works well in baked goods, but the sugar in the recipe may need to be adjusted to avoid too much sweetness. Two tablespoons of sweetened coconut have 6 grams of sugars versus zero in unsweetened.

Saturated fats make up approximately 90% of the fat in coconut. Saturated fats have been found to increase LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol in the blood, increasing the risk for heart disease. Saturated fats can be made of different fatty acids. Coconut oil is made of primarily lauric acid, which in some studies has shown to increase HDL (healthy) cholesterol in the blood. However, further studies are needed to warrant any type of heart-healthy effects, and the American Heart Association still recommends against its use. Enjoy the taste of coconut, but consume in moderation!

Coconut Cream Pie Dip (Printable PDF)

¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut, divided

8 oz. Greek cream cheese or Neufchatel cream cheese

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 cup canned lite coconut milk

Assorted fruit for dipping

Preheat oven to 325°F. Measure ¼ cup coconut and spread flakes in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes or until slightly browned. In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and coconut milk; mix until smooth. Stir in remaining ½ cup coconut. Spread into a serving dish and top with toasted coconut. Serve with assorted fruit.

Yield: 1 cup, or 8 (2-Tablespoon) servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 140 calories, 11 grams fat, 150 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 3 grams protein