Benefits of coconut oil

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coconut halves

Need an energy boost? Just grab your teaspoon and a jar of coconut oil.

Conventional wisdom has taught us that saturated fats are bad and unsaturated fats are good. However, this is a misleading picture. What really makes a fat healthy or not is the size of the molecule, or rather the length of the carbon chain that makes up the fat molecule. The shorter the chain, the healthier the fat.

Most fats in our modern diet are long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), whether they come from vegetable or animal sources. LCFAs take more time and energy for the body to digest, and then once digested they are absorbed via the lymphatics into the bloodstream to circulate around the body. These large molecules are then taken up by cells for energy, but also deposited as fat and contribute to the formation of arterial plaque.

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Energy, performance and weight loss

Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), such as found in coconut and palm kernel oil, are shorter than LCFAs. They are so short that the body doesn’t even consider using them for energy storage, but rather uses them for immediate energy production. MCFAs are quickly and easily digested, and once absorbed they are sent straight to the liver to produce energy, and not deposited as body fat or arterial plaque. This means that you get a sustained energy boost while the body is burning the MCFAs that can last for around 6 hours, depending on how much is consumed. This benefit is associated with increased performance and endurance.

The energy producing effect of MCFAs stimulates the metabolism so that the body burns more calories than is contained in the fat molecule itself. It also has been shown to raise the body temperature by up to 2ºC. This thermogenesis is important to support the function of the thyroid gland, and assists in losing weight.

Fighting infections

Coconut oil contains mainly lauric acid [50%] and other MCFAs such as myristic acid and caprylic acid. Lauric acid [also found in breast milk] is responsible for some amazing health benefits. It converts into monolaurin in the body, which is able to destroy  many viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Examples of viruses include HIV, AIDS opportunistic infections, cytomegalovirus, herpes and influenza viruses. Many bacteria are targeted including Helicobacter pylori. Fungi and parasites, such as candida, ringworm and giardia are all susceptible. Coconut oil strengthens the immune system and has no harmful effect on the beneficial gut flora.

Heart disease

Coconut oil normalises the lipid profile by raising beneficial HDL [high density lipoprotein] and lowering LDL [low density lipoprotein] and Lpa. It has a protective effect against heart disease, hypertension and strokes. Unlike LCFAs and PUFAs [poly unsaturated fatty acids], which contribute to atheromatous plaque formation in the blood vessels, MCFAs do not. Together with omega 3 fatty acids, they are the only oils which do not contribute to blood stickiness. Several studies have shown an association between heart disease and chronic low-grade bacterial infections. MCFAs destroy these bacteria, which contributes to cardio-vascular health.

Cancer

Coconut oil helps to prevent cancer, especially breast and colon cancers.

Digestion

It improves digestion and increases absorption of vitamins and calcium and magnesium.

Diabetes

It has several mechanisms whereby diabetics can benefit; it regulates blood glucose and increases sensitivity to insulin. As already mentioned, it improves the lipid profile and assists with weight loss.

Liver damage

Hepatitis A, B and C viruses are de-activated by coconut oil. Hepatitis and alcohol abuse causes damage to the liver by the formation of free radicals. MCFAs are resistant to free radical formation and actually help to prevent their formation in the liver, thus protecting the liver from cirrhosis.

Types of coconut oil

Virgin coconut oil [VCO] is extracted from coconut flesh which is grated and mixed with water to produce coconut milk. The cream is then extracted from the coconut milk and put through a centrifuge to break the cream emulsion and extract the coconut oil.  Neither chemical nor high heat treatment is utilised to produce the oil and it is marketed as ‘functional food oil,’ because it is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and therefore provides many health benefits.

RBD coconut oil is obtained by removing the fleshy meat from the shell and drying in the sun or in a kiln, or smoked, to create copra. The copra is then pressed to obtain the coconut oil, which then goes through a refining, bleaching and deodorizing (RBD) process. Although the coconut oil produced by the RBD process is subject to high temperature during the deodorizing process, the MCFAs are not damaged and is thus tailor-made for cooking purposes. Unfortunately many of the phytonutrients are lost in this process.

Uses of coconut oil

Best suited to cooking at high temperatures [which damages olive oil].

Can be used in salads if mixed with olive oil to keep it liquid at room temperature.

Can be added to smoothies.

Many topical applications, such as:

  • Soothe irritated skin
  • Massage
  • Moisturiser
  • Make-up removal

Quick coconut oil mayonnaise recipe

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1-2 tsp mustard (this is optional)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup liquid coconut oil

Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl (blender, food processor) mix the yolks, mustard, if using, and 1 tsp lemon juice.
  2. Start whisking vigorously (blender or food processor on low) while dripping the oil very slowly, even drop by drop in the beginning. You’re creating an emulsion and if you put too much oil at once, it will separate and will be very hard to save. If the mixture separates/splits, remove from the bowl. Whisk a whole egg, then slowly pour the curdled mixture into the egg. It will re-emulsify.
  3. Whisk non-­stop and use a towel under the bowl to help stabilise it.
  4. As you add more oil, the emulsion will form and the mayonnaise will start to thicken and you can pour the oil faster at this point.
  5. When all the oil is incorporated and the mayonnaise is thick, whisk in the rest of the lemon juice and taste your creation. You can season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sources

Fife, B. The Coconut Oil Miracle. ISBN 1-58333-204-9.

Kaunitz, H. 1986. Medium chain triglycerides [MCT] in aging and arterial sclerosis. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol 6 [3-4]:115.

Danesh, J. Collins, R. 1997. Chronic infections and coronary heart disease: Is there a link? Lancet 350:430.

 

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