Healthy lifestyle: The truth about coconut oil
Published: Saturday | September 26, 2009
Reggae artiste Etana loves cooking with coconut oil. - Photo by Krista Henry
The stories that abound about coconut oil almost make it something to be banished from your kitchen. The truth is, coconut oil has been given a bad rap for years and so many persons have missed all the benefits associated with the coconut, this versatile fruit. However, at a time when strange viruses are around, coconut oil takes pride of place as an antiviral, tackling the most resistant viruses.
How can one product be so good? It is nature's medicine cabinet, effective in destroying viruses that cause influenza, sinusitis, measles, hepatitis and AIDS. It also destroys bacteria that can cause throat infections, stomach ulcers, urinary tract infections, venereal diseases and meningitis. As an antifungal, coconut oil destroys ringworm, candida, thrush and parasites that can cause intestinal infections such as giardiasis.
A colourless oil extracted from the flesh of the coconut, what causes coconut oil to be so powerful in its medicinal properties? According to Kim Evans, natural health writer and author of Cleaning Up! The Ultimate Body Cleanse, it is all in the structure of the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which include capric acid, caprylic acid and lauric acid, all making up over 60 per cent of the oil. Medium-chain fatty acids are often not understood but their uniqueness makes them special and they are only found in a few places in nature, coconut oil and breast milk being among those sources.
Historically, coconut oil was used during World War II by Japanese military, who occupied the Philippines and other South Pacific islands. However, supplies to the United States dried up during the long war years so the US began to develop alternative sources of cooking oil, giving rise to the influx of polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Unfortunately, the oil that replaced coconut oil was hydrogenated vegetable oil, which has now been proven detrimental to health.
The real problem with fats is trans-fatty acids created by modern technology which are foreign to the body. Trans-fatty acids are manufactured by a process called hydrogenation, which aims at stabilising polyunsaturated oils to prevent them from becoming rancid and to preserve them at room temperature. Trans-fatty acids are dangerous for the heart and are risk factors for certain cancers. Hydrogenated fats are used in stick and hard margarine, fast foods, commercial baked goods, processed foods and fried foods.
By the time the war was over, Dr Mercola posited that big bucks were invested in the manufacture of the polyunsaturated oils, so their promotion had to continue. Coconut oil and other saturated fats like butter and eggs were touted as villains and blamed for raising cholesterol levels and contributing to the steep rise in heart disease.
Later, the soybean industry condemned the use of tropical oils such as coconut oil which 'fell from grace' because the poorer countries which produced coconut oil could not afford to fight it.
An examination of the traditional diets and the effects of coconut oil in the diet revealed that persons who consumed diets high in coconut products were healthy and trim (Mercola.com). Research results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that of the two Polynesian groups studied with coconut as the chief source of energy, both populations exhibited positive health of the heart.
Virgin or extra virgin
Fats, in general, have earned a bad reputation, but not all fats are bad for your health. Apart from providing energy, fats consumed in the right amounts and of the right type may be beneficial to your health. Coconut oil, with its medium-chain fatty acids, is definitely one of the good fats. Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is one of the richest sources of medium-chain fatty acids with a high content of lauric acid, protecting you from a range of diseases.
Short- and medium-chain fatty acids are easily absorbed by the body, as it requires less energy and fewer enzymes, thereby improving digestion. These fatty acids are transported directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted to energy.
Coconut oil is nutritionally sound as the flesh has about nine grams of fibre per cup and as much protein as green beans and carrots, as well as folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamins B1, B6, C and E.
You may want to revisit your youthful days with grandma and coconut oil was the only oil used to prepare tasty, home-cooked meals. You may have been having a drink of coconut water or eating the meat from dried coconut or as flakes in pies and cookies but you may not have been cooking with it.
Coconut oil is called 'the healthiest dietary oil on earth'. Its stability makes it excellent for cooking and baking at high temperatures. If you are not yet cooking with coconut oil, you may want to make that switch for health's sake.
Benefits of cooking with coconut oil
Lowers cholesterol. Recent studies have shown that the type of saturated fat in coconut helps you to metabolise cholesterol faster, lowering overall cholesterol levels.
Contributes to youthfulness. The consumption of coconut oil leads to the stimulation of the thyroid gland, which contributes to the lowering of cholesterol levels. A well-regulated thyroid uses cholesterol to make chemicals vital to disease prevention and slowing ageing.
Helps with weight loss. A healthy thyroid reduces the likelihood of obesity.
May prevent cancer. A healthy thyroid is linked to reducing cancer risks. Studies have shown that the incidence of cancer is less in consumers of coconut milk-rich diets, compared to those whose diets are loaded with unsaturated fats.
Prevents infections. Coconut oil contains 60 per cent of a fatty acid known as lauric acid. The body converts lauric acid into a substance that fights bacteria, viruses and infections in infants. Lauric acid, a fatty acid, is also found in breast milk. Lauric acid produces chemicals that protect the immune system.
Provides an immediate source of energy. This is influenced by the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil.
Reduces the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. A study of two community groups in New Zealand which consume a large amount of coconut oil showed rare incidence of heart attack.
Improves condition of the skin. The rich texture of coconut milk makes it effective to be added to beauty products such as lotions and shampoos.
Prevents blemishes/acne. When applied to the skin, coconut oil reduces inflammation to prevent psoriasis, rosacea and rashes.
Prevents hair damage. Protein penetrates hair shaft to prevent damage. Excellent as a deep conditioner for the hair.
Aids in the control of diabetes.
Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 922-6223.