Coconut Oil's Health Benefits
Recently my sister-in-law asked our family’s resident Registered Dietitian about the benefits of coconut oil. One of my brothers has serious respiratory issues, and she was curious about something she had seen or read. The information was new to me, and so interesting that I wanted to share it more broadly than with just my immediate family.
I love all things coconut and have a fun memory from my high school days in California. One of my favorite teachers was from Nebraska and mentioned in class that she had never seen or tasted a coconut before. So that week-end we planned a get together, and with two fresh coconuts and hammer in hand I introduced her to the delectable joys of this topical treat’s milk and meat.
So the following is what I’ve learned:
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has been defamed for the past 20 years as a tropical saturated fat. Because what we understood was that saturated fat was the culprit for heart disease and atherosclerosis. But now researchers, physicians and nutritionists are learning that our “fix,” the high carbohydrate, low fat diet does not decrease heart disease. In fact, it leads to obesity, increasing the incidence of diabetes in ever-younger people, as well as metabolic syndrome - all of which increases risk and mortality from heart disease.
Why the change? Because we now know more about nutrition and the human body, and we are learning more every day. Yes, there are some politics involved, but mostly it is because we have a greater understanding of the vast and minute nutrients that make up whole foods.
Coconut Oil Nutrition
So we know now that saturated fat is not the enemy we once thought. Fats are made up of fatty acids held together by a glycerin molecule. Long-chain saturated fats, like Stearic Acid (18 carbons in length) do create cholesterol particles that are dense and sticky. But Medium-Chain-Triglycerides, such as Lauric Acid (12 carbons in length) have positive effects on our health and create LDL particles that are larger and less dense and don’t have the atherosclerotic effect.
All fats consist of a combination of fatty acids and the most prevalent fatty acid in Coconut oil is Lauric Acid. In the body, Lauric Acid is converted to monolaurin which causes lipolysis, the breaking apart of the lipid coating, of viruses, bacteria, fungi and some parasites. In other words, coconut oil supports our immune system. This is great news.
Coconut oil acts as an effective anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-protozoal agent; and recently, a small “proof-of-concept” study showed encouraging results in reducing viral load and improving markers for immunity in HIV patients. So it will be very interesting to follow the progress on this potential benefit also.
MCT oils also increase energy expenditure and boost our metabolism. Coconut oil has been shown to improve thyroid function and stimulates thermogenesis (causing the body to create metabolic heat). It is a popular supplement for endurance athletes. Dietitians have used it for many years to control seizures as part of the ketogenic diet.
Coconut Oil for Cooking
Coconut oil is a stable cooking oil that can be used as a stir-fry or in soups; in baking - cookies, cakes, brownies; added to drinks and shakes; or taken as a supplement. Use it as a 1:1 replacement for oil and fat in recipes. As a supplement, the dosage for improved immune function is 2-3 TBSP per day. As a point of reference, 1 TBSP coconut oil contains about 7 grams of lauric acid. 1 TBSP dried coconut contains about 2 grams, and 2 oz coconut milk contains about 3.5 grams.
Coconut Oil is plant based (vegan) and non-GMO. Expeller or cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is preferable if you want less coconut smell and taste. All oils should be kept in a dark container away from the oxidizing effect of sunlight. Unopened coconut oil will keep for 1-2 years, and opened in the refrigerator it should be used within 2-3 months. I talked to a clerk at Trader Joe's Specialty Grocery Store last week and they said they have trouble keeping coconut oil in stock and find it hard to acquire. Amazon carries a great supply of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil (see link below).
Some years ago I went to a rain forest and heard an aged Native explain that nature, and specifically the plant world, contains everything we need to be healthy and to cure what ails us. At the time I was aware that digoxin, a common prescription for heart disease, comes from the beautiful flower, Foxglove. Of course there are numerous examples. But beyond affirming this, he also said that in an undisturbed rain forest every poisonous plant has its antidote growing naturally within a fairly short distance from it. That astounded me; and while in awe of the implications, I can say I believe it. So when I learn of medicinal, preventive and curative properties from nature I smile and say a little prayer of thanks, and often incorporate new items into my diet. I hope this will help my brother, and be of interest to you, too.
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