The lowly, unsightly coconut is at war, besieged. You don't see the tanks lined up, the aircraft flying surveillance missions or the soldiers marching, but it is a war, just the same.

The coconut is fighting for its life.Coconut oil is an ingredient in thousands of grocery products - from margarine to chocolate chips. But the oil is one of those notorious enemies of the American Heart Association - a saturated fat.

In fact, coconut oil is second highest among oils in saturated fat content, at 77 percent. Only palm kernel oil, at 79 percent, is higher.

The Heart Association's designation has sent tremors through the Southeast Asian countries that rely on the coconut palm for economic stability.

The Philippines is a case in point.

The coconut palm and its products have long been a vital Philippine export. The valuable commodity is described proverbially: "He who plants a coconut tree plants vessels and clothing, food and drink, a habitation for himself and a heritage for his children."

In other words, the coco palm provides the necessities of life in the tropics. The meat and milk of the fruit are food and drink. The trunk of the tree produces a beautiful and durable wood for building. Floor mats, clothing, cord and fishing lines are made from the fibers of the coconut. Household utensils are made from the shells.

To eventually reach a such useful state, a tree must be nurtured for about 7 years. When it then bears fruit, the coconuts grow year round. Each coconut takes a year to ripen, but the trees are harvested regularly, as fruits in all stages of development are found on the tree. Fifty coconuts per year from a tree is a good yield, though some bear as many as 200 a year.

An individual coconut consists of a single seed kernel surrounded by the white, fleshy meat that we eat. The meat is acutally food stored for use of the kernel when it begins to grow. The coconut milk supplies moisture to the kernel and has very little nutritive value. The meat is protected by a hard brown shell.

The outer husk is a great mass of fiber with a green covering -- the fiber acts as a spring and breaks the fall of the fruit, saving the shell from damage. There are three round spots on the coconut; two are hard and one is soft. The young coconut tree sprouts through the soft spot from the kernel inside.

The coconut owes its name to the "eyes" the spots seem to form. Spanish explorers thought the eye look like a monkey face; the Spanish word for monkey is coco.

To Franklin Baker we owe credit for the discovery of shredded baking coconut.

In 1895, Baker, a Philadelphia flour miller, accepted a load of coconuts as Cuban payment for a shipment of flour.

Coconuts were a raity then, and Baker was at a loss as to how best to dispose of them. His attempt was a masterpiece of makerting strategy. He had the coconuts loaded in freight cars. At each train stop he would wire the grocery buyers at the next stop to come to the station to buy coconuts at special prices. The technique sold a great many of them, but he still had more to sell before they spoiled.

Baker devised a method of shredding the white meats. All the coconuts were then quickly sold to confectioners and pastry chefs in Philadelphia. Baker registered his idea, now a trademark of General Foods.

Before long, homemakers found many ways to use coconuts in cakes, pies and other desserts. Shredded, grated, tinted , frozen or fresh, coconut combines with a variety of ingredients to produce delectable outcomes.

Cooks still indulge in the glories of coconut as a recipe ingredients. They do so know, however, that the battle of the saturated fats continues.