Coconuts are one of those natural foods that have been round for centuries. In the traditional cultures where the coconut palms naturally grow, especially the Pacific, Asia and Latin America, every part of the coconut palm is used from the bark to the fronds to all parts of the seed including skin, meat, water and oil (through extraction).
The coconut’s entry into our Western diet isn’t especially recent, however the abrupt increase in the use of coconut oil is another story.
There are many claims about the healthy benefits of coconut oil. It is a staple in our house, but is it actually my best choice in all applications and uses? Let’s have a look.
What are the claims?
Here are some of the health claims made about coconut oil.
1. Benefits brain health, especially memory
The food acids within Coconut oil are medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) that are significantly better than long chain fatty acids found in most saturated fats. The exciting thing about these MCFA’s are that they are much easier to digest and when they are, the liver produces ketones. In turn ketones supply energy to the brain without the need for insulin to process glucose into energy. While there is some way to go in these studies, there are good indications that coconut oil could create an alternative source of energy to repair brain function including repairing memory capacity.
2. Immune building
The MCFA’s within coconut oil house some powerful components. Two of these are:
- Lauric acid, and
- Caprylic acid
Both of these are known for fighting off yeast (candida) and bacterial infections. Additionally, when the body converts lauric acid, it produces monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Monolaurin can actually destroy viruses such as:
- HIV, herpes
With most diseases today caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria, viruses or parasites, virgin coconut oil can play an important role in immune building. Including as little as a teaspoon of coconut oil a day in your diet is a suggestion for improving your overall immune health.
3. Helps treat inflammation and arthritis
The anti-oxidants within coconut oil reduce inflammation and have analgesic qualities. Furthermore a study in India has also shown that coconut oil helps heal arthritis more effectively than leading treatments.
4. Healthy Skin & Hair
Coconut oil has been used for centuries to produce healthy skin & hair in many cultures. Which makes sense as the Lauric Acid (also naturally present in breast milk) is supportive of hormone health and cellular health.
In regards to healthy hair, the Lauric acid has a low molecular weight plus a high affinity for hair proteins so it is able to easily penetrate the hair shaft to increase and nourish the hair.
It is these same properties that make coconut oil a great moisturizer and can improve the health of dry skin.
The antioxidants also reduce inflammation externally (as well as internally as noted above), and can heal the skin, making it a good choice for most skin types.
(It is always good to check for irritability prior to using any new product, especially on sensitive skin).
5. Good for Heart Health
While coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat, it is a completely natural source of fat with no hydrogenated or trans fat at all.
Most health professionals will steer us away from saturated fats as they generally increase cholesterol through increasing LDL (the bad one) and decreasing HDL (the good one). The interesting thing about coconut oil is that it does increase LDL but it also increases HDL. So perhaps a better way of thinking is that coconut oil is Heart Neutral.
6. Healthy to cook with
Heat, along with light and oxygen can destroy beneficial oils in fats. Natural saturated fats, like those found in high quantities in coconut oils are the most stable, making coconut oil a healthy choice for cooking, especially at high temperatures.
And let’s face it, who doesn’t like that nutty flavor!
7. Great for Oral Hygiene
Oil Pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique with centuries of anecdotal evidence showing that coconut oil is great for Oral Hygiene.
In this process a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil is swished around in the mouth for up to 20 minutes. The active properties of the oil will pull toxins including bacteria from the mouth. It is really important to then spit the oil out into the bin at the end, so the toxins are removed and the oil does NOT go down the drain.
Our further uses
Any search on the web will come up with plenty more uses of coconut oil and I personally love it. As a staple in our house, I use Coconut Oil as
- a dairy alternative in baking - 1:1 ratio as a replacement for butter,
- shallow or deep frying anything from eggplant to sweet potato slices,
- on toast, under sweet or savoury toppings or even on its own with some cinnamon sprinkled over,
- a dry skin remedy skin, especially at night,
- a carrier oil when I want to rub Essential Oils into feet, and
- to help with my curly hair and my girls knots (read “dread locks!!).
I am yet to try Oil pulling, but want to give it a go … watch this space.
I feel the important thing to remember with any food, is moderation and balance. Pacific Islanders have historically had great health including heart health and consumed large quantities of coconut, yes. But they were also generally non-smokers, high in physical activity and ate balanced, unprocessed meals low in sugar. So praise this great “super food” by all means, but include it as part of a balanced, active and overall thoughtful lifestyle and I feel you will enjoy its inclusion (and nutrition) as much as we do.
- US National Library of Medicine
- National Institutes of Health
- National Centre for Biotechnology Information
- Authority Nutrition
- Green Med Info