If there's ever a food that stresses the benefits of moderation, it's coconut. This amazing drupe is one of those miracle foods that provides a wide array of benefits, and an equally wide array of uses. There are so many ways to enjoy coconut: coconut water, coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut sugar, coconut flour… But no matter how you enjoy it, the key to a healthy relationship with coconut it enjoying it in small doses.

Studies have shown that consuming coconut can help boost our immune systems and help us resist viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. It also helps control blood-sugar levels since coconut is low on the glycemic index. Not only does it help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins, but coconut itself is full of calcium, potassium, magnesium and electrolytes that the body needs for daily functions. That’s one of the reasons why endurance athletes can skip the sugary sports drinks and just go straight to coconut water to replenish the minerals and hydration lost during a long work out.

Coconut is high in fat, so moderation is the key. A little goes a long way, as they say. But knowing that, coconut oil, butter and milk is much loved in vegan cooking and baking. It adds a sweetness and richness that is perfect for everything from curries and sauces to smoothies, cakes and fudge. In fact in baking, coconut flour adds a nice dose of fiber (5 grams in 2 tablespoons!) and is much lower on the glycemic index than many other flours. And the fat found in coconut isn’t as bad as you might think. It is mostly medium chain saturated fatty acids, which can be beneficial to your health and are used up more quickly by the body so it is less likely to be stored as fat. But again, moderation is key to a healthy relationship with the goodness that is coconut.

So how do you incorporate coconut into your diet? There are so many amazing recipes from savory dinners to sweet desserts that it was tough to narrow down the recipes, but here are 12 top favorites for you to try out!

coconut beans dish

Green Beans, Potatoes and Spinach in Coconut Curry

A beautiful dish with vibrant colors to match the vibrant flavors. There is a variety of texture in the soft potatoes, crisp green beans, and wilted spinach, all of which is coated with a deliciously sweet and spicy curry sauce. It's a meal you won't want to miss experiencing. It might even become a staple for busy weeknight dinners!

Tempeh With Tomatillo Coconut Sauce

Mat McDermott created this dish and describes it so well: "It combines creamy coconut milk with tart tomatillos, cooking them down with curry leaves, chilies, fenugreek seeds, and popped mustard seeds, all poured over pan fried tempeh. It's a dish filled with satisfyingly savory flavors, rich but not heavy."

Coconut Curry Tofu with Green Apple, Mango and Peanuts

With the varying types of sweetness found in this dish, you'll wonder if it isn't more like dessert with a savory edge, rather than dinner with a sweet edge. The fruity sweetness from the mango along with the bright sweetness from the coconut meld perfectly and are soaked up by the tofu. Topped with a few salted peanuts for some contrast, this meal is a real winner.

Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon

It sounds fancy, but this dish is very easy to create. The different flavors and textures keep your mouth guessing about what's coming next, so the meal becomes an experience, and not just a way to fill up on something tasty. The sun-dried tomatoes really bring everything together, so make sure you don't leave those out!

Coconut Milk Soup with Salmon and Kale

Essentially a brightly flavored soup, this dish combines salmon with a few favorite healthy veggies including winter squash and kale. The best part is you can add in other seasonal vegetables to the mix to personalize the meal and add variety each time you make it.

Spiced Coconut Chips

This recipe is for a healthy snack. Make up a batch and carry a baggie with you to work as a delicious treat during that mid-afternoon lull.

avocado coconut popcicles

Photo: Jerry James Stone

Avocado and Coconut Popsicles

Yes, you can totally make these and yes, they are totally delicious. They're an utterly unique take on a traditional treat. Both coconut and avocado have amazing health benefits. But also remember that because they both have a high fat content, this is a rather rich treat. One popsicle is sure to fill you up, so make them when you have friends around with whom you can share!

Homemade Coconut Milk Ice Cream Recipes

Vegans are about to let you in on a little secret: coconut makes stellar ice cream. And you can make your very own homemade ice cream treat. Here are a collection of recipe ideas ranging from banana to pumpkin pie!

How to make Coconut Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is a perfect addition to the top of most any dessert. You can make a more healthful version that is even more delicious than the dairy staple. It's creamy, sweet, and has a whole lot more of a nutritional bang for the buck.

The Easiest, Healthiest, Most Scrumptious Fudge Ever

Quick, easy, raw. You just need to mix everything in a food processor then give it 20 minutes of freezer time, and you have cubes of rich chocolate goodness. Seriously. Must. Try.

Banana and Coconut French Toast

A vegan version of a favorite breakfast, with banana and coconut as the stand out stars. This recipe is one that can be used for breakfast or brunch. Or dessert -- just add a scoop of that coconut ice cream and a dollop of coconut whipped cream!

Vegan No-Bake Chocolate Coconut Macaroons are Easy Buttery Treat

It only take six ingredients and a few minutes to whip up these amazing little delights. These will be the hit of any potluck, and they'll disappear fast from the dessert table, so be sure to make a big batch the next time you want to share them with friends!

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

12 recipes for coconut from breakfast to dessert
Coconut is arguably one of the most diverse foods on the planet!