It’s been pounded into our heads that saturated fats are bad. This is a blanket statement that emerged out of economic manipulation by the vegetable oil industry for monetary gain. This statement is backed by flawed and misinterpreted scientific studies that have since been debunked. If you are still apprehensive about eating saturated fats from animals, at least consider the extraordinary benefits of eating the medium chain saturated fat from coconut.
Fats are categorized as either short-, medium-, or long-chain depending on how many carbon molecules they contain. Close to two-thirds of the saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which have antimicrobial properties, are easily digested by the body for quick energy, and are beneficial to the immune system.
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are metabolized differently. They go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source energy or turned into ketone bodies, which are known to feed the brain.
Far from being dangerous, the saturated fat in coconut oil is actually health promoting.
The Sordid History
Around the 1960’s the edible oil industry began to denounce all saturated fats and heavily promote polyunsaturated fats such as canola, soybean, safflower, corn, and other seed and nut oils. However, these oils are highly refined, easily become rancid when exposed to oxygen, are almost 100% genetically modified and produce large amounts of damaging free radicals in the body. What is not commonly known is that these oils can actually cause premature aging, clotting, inflammation, cancer and weight gain.
The oil industry used poorly designed studies performed over four decades ago, some of which used primarily unhealthy hydrogenated coconut oils, so they did not differentiate between the oils used in the study. Hydrogenated oils are oils with trans-fatty acids, which have been altered from their original chemical composition and have been shown to raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease and other health problems. Using hydrogenated coconut oil in the study and denouncing all coconut oil for producing health problems is just bad science.
You should not consume hydrogenated oils, whether it is coconut or any other vegetable oil.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Anti-viral, Anti-bacterial and Anti-fungal
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for being anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Lauric and palmitic fatty acids are found in mother’s breast milk and help protect the infant against pathogens. Studies have shown the antimicrobial benefits of coconut oil.
Investigations on the effects of the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil, on neurological diseases such Alzheimer’s, (here) show benefits. Other research shows coconut oil to benefit epilepsy and it is used with epileptic children to help induce ketosis.
Safe and Super Healthy
People in the Tropics and Asia have thrived on a coconut based diet for centuries with excellent health. For example, in the South the Tokelauans eat over 60% of their food calories from coconut — yet, according to this study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they enjoy excellent health with no heart disease.
The Kitavans are also among the groups of coconut eaters and they also enjoy excellent health.
Weight Loss by Burning Fat
There is evidence that coconut oil helps in weight loss by burning fat. This study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil have been shown to increase 24 hour energy expenditure by as much as 5%, potentially leading to significant weight loss over the long term.
In other words, if you eat coconut oil every day, you can boost your metabolism to burn fat.
Coconut oil has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL, as compared to soybean oil, in women with abdominal obesity. Additionally, coconut it has been shown to reduce waist circumference in males.
Additionally, these studies show that coconut oil is completely safe — much more so than a rancid GM vegetable oil like soybean oil.
Personal Care Uses
Coconut oil can be applied topically as well, studies showing it to be effective as a skin moisturizer. Coconut oil also protects against hair damage. It can also be used as a mild sunscreen (blocking about 20% of UV rays) and as mouthwash or in oil pulling.
Coconut oil makes a comeback
Fortunately, coconut oil has begun to gain some positive media exposure as researchers realize its health-promoting qualities. However, coconut oil can vary widely in terms of the types of coconuts used and the manufacturing processes used to make the oil. These factors play a major role in the quality and effectiveness of the oil.
There are several ways to classify coconut oil.
Many commercial coconut oils are RBD (refined, bleached, and deodorized). RBD oils do contain the healthy medium chain fatty acids and they also contain chemicals used in processing. You should buy a coconut oil that has not been bleached, deodorized, refined or hydrogenated. This is called virgin coconut oil. Similarly, if you purchase coconut, buy the unsweetened and unrefined type.
Virgin Coconut Oil and Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
These two oils are both unrefined and usually made from fresh coconut. Heat may be used before or after the oil is expressed, in order to remove any water. This will ensure a longer shelf life. The less heat used in the processing of the oil the better, because that preserves the flavor as well as all the nutrients in it. All virgin coconut oils should have a coconut taste, though this can vary from strong to very mild.
Expeller Pressed and Centrifuged Coconut Oils
These oils usually have some heat used in the processing and cleaning of the oil. The color can vary from a tan color to an off white color depending on how clean it is. The oil may taste “off” and it can burn the tongue if it is not cleaned well.
Refined Coconut Oils
Refined oils have no taste, because they have been more processed than the expeller pressed oils. You must be very careful in buying refined oils as these tend to be highly processed, deodorized and may even be hydrogenated! Do not buy refined coconut oil in the conventional market.
There are many other products made from coconut that are staples in my house. Coconut flour may be used in place of nut flours, wheat flours and gluten grains. It’s simple to use but you need a little instruction on its use as it does not act like grain based flours.
Coconut spread (also known as coconut butter or coconut concentrate) is something I use all the time in shakes, baking and raw treats.
Shredded coconut (unsweetened) may also be used in baking and raw treats.