Back in March or April 2004, I attended an assignment where a visiting US researcher and nutritionist, Dr Bruce Fife, presented some eye-opening research on coconut oil. At the time of that assignment, coconut oil, through international 'bad press', had become known as the pariah of cooking oils, but Fife's new research and his book, The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil, placed this cooking oil, which used to be a favourite among Jamaicans, in a new light.
Knowing of the good food, turn bad food, turn good food again-cycle in nutrition news, I wondered where coconut oil now stands in the research. One stop was the US Food and Drug Administration, and on their website various consumer-news information consistently list coconut and its products such as coconut oil among those to be avoided or, at least, used cautiously, because of its saturated fat content. If you google Fife, however, you will see that his research on coconut oil continues to put it in a positive light.
Yes, this oil 'sleeps up' when left standing in the kitchen cupboard for too long, or in cooler temperatures, and it is believed to clog vital arteries that can set off a train of events leading to heart disease, but it is Fife's, and some other researchers, contention that modern research shows that not all saturated fats are alike. His research indicates that coconut oil has a unique structural make-up due to its medium-chain fatty acids, described as closest to those found in human breast milk.
"I believe that coconut oil is the healthiest oil on Earth but because of the bad publicity in the past, many people are confused about coconut oil. (They say) that it is a saturated fat and causes heart disease, well if you still believe this then you are in the dark ages and you need to be brought into the 21st century," Fife had said here in 2004, right after describing as "hogwash" any news linking coconut oil to ill-health.
medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids
Based on the research, coconut oil has an edge over other cooking oils because of its chemistry. Yes, it is true that it contains saturated fat (the bad fat) but it is said to be composed predominantly of medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids while other fats, including fats in other oils, are long-chain fatty acids. The size of the chain is apparently important as they have different effects on the body. Medium-chain fatty acids in foods are reported to produce energy, not fat. They are broken down, used primarily for energy production and rarely end up as fat deposits on our hips and do not clog arteries.
In his book, The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil Fife claims that in the 1980s, researchers discovered that the medium-chain fatty acids - lauric and capric acids - were found to be effective in killing HIV in lab cultures. He indicates that persons infected with HIV have reported a decrease in their viral loads and overall health after eating coconut or drinking coconut milk.
Fife, when he visited Jamaica, recommended taking a tablespoonful of coconut oil daily as a dietary supplement. For adults, daily dosage is 3.5 tablespoons but persons can still benefit from only taking one or two tablespoons daily. If you can't handle the oil straight from the spoon use it in various recipes. It can be mixed into hot cereal for example, like oatmeal. Also, 10 ounces of coconut milk supplies about 3.5 tablespoons of the oil.
Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a professional counsellor; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.