There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the use of coconut oil in recent months; some even touting it as the "healthiest oil on earth." A simple Google search will return page after page on the health benefits of using coconut oil as a topical application for improved hair and skin to consuming as much as 3 or 4 tablespoons per day to enhance the immune system, promote heart health and weight loss. For those who have been around the block once or twice, this information is likely to be completely contradictory to what you have ever heard or thought you knew about coconut oil. So what's changed?
The use of coconut oil prior to World War II for baking and frying were prevalent among western countries until the 1950s when saturated fats were linked to raise bad cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease; and like most things, politics were hard at play. As many of us learned from watching Food Inc., the United States is the largest exporter of soybeans and therefore, by uniting with the American Heart Association to promote the substitution of saturated fats for polyunsaturates, made it quite profitable for soybean and corn industries to use marketing strategies that encouraged the public to abolish all saturated fats including tropical oils.
But as time passes, researchers are learning not all saturated fats are created equal. Unlike other oils high in saturated fats, studies show that natural, non-hydrogenated coconut oil (Virgin) does not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease as previously thought. Instead, studies show evidence that coconut oil actually raises HDL, the good cholesterol, thereby improving LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio, resulting in decreased risk of heart disease.
Besides breast milk, coconut products, especially coconut fats contain the highest source of lauric acid, a medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which are more easily metabolized by the body than are long-chain triglycerides (LCT) most common of saturated fats and oils.
"Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid." -Mary Enig, Ph.DBecause MCTs are more easily metabolized in the body instead of hanging-out in the bloodstream like LCTs, some believe the body is able to convert the fat into energy before being stored in the body as fat, resulting in weight loss. However, to date, there are no studies to back these claims.
In a nutshell, adding virgin coconut oil to your cupboard may be a wise investment. It has one of the longest shelf life of any cooking oil, lasting up to two years before the risk of rancidity; and has a smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. There are many ways to incorporate coconut oil into your diet such as into your pastry recipes or in popcorn; but to help you out, here's a great Web site that provides free coconut recipes!
Health benefits are only attributed to unrefined virgin coconut oil because low-quality oil is made from copra instead of fresh coconuts, which loses its health-promoting qualities in the refinement process.
Health benefits attributed to using Virgin Coconut Oil as part of a healthy diet
- Improved balance of good/bad cholesterol
- Helps to prevent: heart disease, senility, cancer and other age-related diseases
- Increases metabolism
- Aids in weight loss
- Boosts immune system
- Aids digestion
- Improves skin hydration and increases skin surface lipid levels.
- Fights acne and other skin conditions
- Reduces signs of aging such as wrinkles and liver spots
- Moisturizes hair