Healthy Habits: Coconut


“But it was scary and bad….”

Last week my high school daughter and I had a rather unpleasant experience. I had pulled into a parking spot behind another car near the seamstress who was going to alter my prom dress from almost 30 years ago for my daughter to wear to her prom this coming May. As we were getting out of the car, the gentleman who had been sitting in the car ahead of us, got out of his car and starting screaming profanities at me, shouting that I had hit his car.

We hadn’t hit his car, hadn’t even come close to his car, and as he pointed to his pristine, perfect-condition car and yelled, “Look at that damage you’ve done, you !@#$%,” I realized he clearly wasn’t in his right mind at that moment. Whether from a mental illness or substance abuse or something else entirely, I didn’t know, but I tried to reason with him until it became clear that he simply wasn’t going to stop cursing and screaming at me.

While this was happening, my daughter had begun to cry, and another gentleman who had been going into the apartment complex near the seamstress had come over and was acting as a shield between her and the driver, trying to help me to calm the man down. As time progressed, the man started becoming more profane and wouldn’t let me pass which brought the female owner of a nearby store out, who joined the gentleman from the apartment complex in now shielding both me and my daughter from the man.

Eventually the driver walked away into a nearby shop, and the man and the woman who had come to our aid, tried to soothe my daughter and made sure we made it safely to the seamstress’ store without any further issues. They both then stayed outside the shop door until the driver came out of the store he had been in and got into his car and drove away. After, they came into the seamstress’ store, let us know that he was gone, and asked if we were okay and if there was anything else they could do for us.

While all this was happening, my daughter had continually been crying and even after we began the fitting, she continued to cry, unable to stop. As we finished up the fitting, I pulled her into a hug, kissed her forehead and told her that she was safe, and everything was okay and that she needed to pull herself together. Her response was, “But it was so scary and bad, Mom. I don’t understand why you aren’t upset, too.”

“Because it wasn’t scary and bad to me,” I said. And it hadn’t been. For me, I had become angry because the man had frightened my daughter, but at no point had I feared that the man would become physical, and even if he had, we had been given protection in the form of two brave, kindhearted people who thought nothing of coming to the aid of strangers because it was the right thing to do. I pointed out to my daughter that what she saw as bad, I saw as positive proof that while bad things do happen in the world, there are also good people who do good things which we need to make sure to recognize and embrace and be grateful for.

Strangely, seeing the good in something seemingly bad is applicable to coconut. For the longest time, coconut was branded as bad for you because of its high fat content. In recent years, however, research has shown that coconut actually helps to lower bad cholesterol, is high in fiber and vitamins A and E, and may help the brain to better utilize glucose. This has led to a surge in uses of coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut meat.

For folks with dairy allergies, coconut milk an be a good substitute for milk products, provided you don’t have an allergy to coconut or an overlapping issue due to tree nut allergies. For folks who want to cut back on products like butter, coconut oil works well as a substitute. For folks who simply like the nutty taste of coconut, adding shredded coconut meat to foods like oatmeal and cakes adds some of those nutritional benefits I mentioned above.

For a recent baking workshop I did, I experimented with making a coconut cake. I wanted something which wasn’t the traditional version of coconut cake which uses sugared, sweetened shredded coconut and a lot of sugar in both the cake and frosting. So, I opted to make a spiced coconut-pineapple bundt cake which wouldn’t need frosting and which would allow the taste of coconut to rise to forefront. Folks at the workshop loved it, so I am posting it below.

It uses finely shredded unsweetened coconut as well as coconut sugar for its sweetener. For folks unfamiliar with coconut sugar, it’s made from coconut which contains the fiber of its meat and therefore has a very low glycemic index level. It’s a nice replacement for sugar because it works just like sugar and folks can easily substitute one for one in a recipe, though I use half the amount because I don’t like foods to be overly sweet. If you do like things sweeter, you may want to increase the amount of either coconut sugar or agave which is used in the recipe below. I also used liquid egg whites in this recipe because there were folks attending the workshop who were watching their cholesterol but if you don’t have any health issues like that, I’d recommend using whole eggs because it makes for a moister cake and holds it together slightly better than just using the whites.

What is pictured above is the plain cake as it was cooling. For the workshop, I drizzled a tiny bit of a homemade gluten, dairy free vanilla glaze and sprinkled some additional coconut on top to give it a prettier presentation.

Coconut Pineapple Bundt Cake


Shredded unsweetened coconut (amount depends on how much your bundt pan needs)

2 cups of your favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 cup gluten free oat flour

1/2 cup gluten free millet flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

20 oz can of crushed pineapple in 100% juice

2 cups finely shredded unsweetened coconut

1 cup safflower oil

1/2 cup agave

3/4 cup liquid egg whites or 3 whole eggs

2 tsp gluten free vanilla

2 tbsp vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12 in bundt pan with your preferred method.  I used vegan butter. Then “flour” the pan with unsweetened finely shredded coconut to cover the pan entirely.
  2. Mix together the gluten free flour blend, oat flour, millet flour, coconut sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the crushed pineapple with its juices, the unsweetened shredded coconut, safflower oil, agave, egg whites and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry with the vinegar and mix just until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
  5. Carefully fill the bundt pan evenly all around. The pan will be full.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the Bundt has risen, is golden, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  I checked mine at 50 minutes and it needed about another 10 and finished with 60 minutes of baking.
  7. Remove the cake to a wire rack and allow it to cool for at least 15-25 minutes before releasing it from the pan and allowing it to cool completely on the wire rack.



Recipe Creations: Chocolate Chip Carrot Snack Cake

“Yeah, but I’d rather eat that than cardboard.”

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I enjoyed a visit to a science museum where I was surprised by a new exhibit. They had created a room filled with information about healthy eating with a couple of hands-on activities for the children looking at skeletal bones and experimenting with food.

As we left the exhibit, we found ourselves behind a group of teenagers and overheard their conversation. One of the girls commented about the display that talked about how bad sugar was for our bodies, and one of the boys responded with, “Yeah, but I’d rather eat that than cardboard.”

I understood what he meant. Too often the “healthy” desserts don’t match up with our expectations for taste, and unfortunately, once someone’s had a negative experience, it turns them off to trying again.

Recently, my high school daughter had a couple of friends over, and they wanted something “sweet”. Since I don’t like to serve “junk”, I thought about what I could make, and carrot cake came to mind. The problem is that carrot cake in its traditional form is so utterly bad for you, despite the carrots. The fat content is really high because of the butter in the cake, the traditional use of nuts, and the cream cheese frosting, and to keep carrot cakes moist and binding, you use a lot of eggs.

I didn’t want to give up on this dessert, though, so I decided to work on a snack cake version, something without frosting and which would be considerably lighter in texture, taste, and calories — and of course, I wanted to eat it, too, so I made it allergy friendly for my allergies to wheat, dairy and nuts, making sure to add some flours higher in protein and fiber and minimizing the use of white refined sugar.

The result? My daughter, who has never actually liked carrot cake, loved it, and one of my daughter’s friends said it was the best carrot cake she’d ever had in her life. While I take that as the hyperbole it was, it is a reminder to me that if we continue to serve good tasting food which also happens to be healthy, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a way to reverse the trend of obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks….

Chocolate Chip Carrot Snack Cake


1 1/2 cup gluten free brown rice flour blend (I used Authentic Foods)

3/4 cup gluten free oat flour

1/4 cup sorghum flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

20 oz container crushed pineapple in its juices only

3/4 cup agave

3/4 cup safflower oil

1 cup egg whites

2 cups loosely packed shredded carrots

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp agave

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

2. Mix together the brown rice flour blend, the oat flour and the sorghum flour with the baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and salt.  Add the chocolate chips. Mix well, and set aside.

3. Drain the crushed pineapple and remove 1/2 cup of the crushed pineapples. Reserve the remaining pineapple. Puree the 1/2 cup pineapple in a food processor until it’s smooth.

4. To the pureed pineapple add the agave, safflower oil, egg whites, and shredded carrots. Mix well.

5. Add the carrot mixture to the dry ingredients with the apple cider vinegar. Blend just until everything is incorporated together and the dry ingredients are moist.

6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. It took about 25-30 minutes for me, so I suggest setting the timer at 25 min and then checking.

7. While the cake is cooking, take the remaining crushed pineapple and mix it with the agave, cinnamon and ginger. You can put it into the fridge if you want it cold.

8. When the cake is done, serve slices of the cake with dollops of the spiced crushed pineapple.