It is a well known fact that coconut comes with its innumerable uses. Coconut, in its many forms is healthy in a lot of ways. Not much has been spoken about coconut in the past few decades but recent research studies have shown the beneficial effects coconut oil has on our health. Coconut oil uses are the focus now with people giving different views about how healthy or unhealthy it is. So lets have a look at this controversial food so you could decide for yourself how good or bad it is for you.
Apart from the highly nutritious coconut water; the coconut flesh, raw kernel, its shell, etc. are all used extensively in the industrial sector. Coconut is known for both its nutritional as well as medicinal value.
Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) like lauric acid (45-56%), caprylic acid and capric acid to name a few. These medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) are digested differently than other fats. MCFA’s are directly absorbed from the intestine and go straight to the liver where they are metabolized and used for the production of energy. Hence, coconut oil is easier to digest compared to other oils and is converted to energy a lot faster and is also not readily stored as fat in body.
Like other plant based oils, coconut oil also does not contain cholesterol. Almost 85-90% of coconut oil is saturated fat. That makes the saturated fat content even more than beef or butter. This was one of the reasons why coconut oil was discouraged in the first place. Recent studies however suggest that the saturated fat coming from coconut oil is not as unhealthy as compared to that coming from other sources.
Some coconut oils are referred to as ‘virgin coconut oil’. This generally means that the oil is naturally processed and may not have been deodorized, refined or bleached. It is free of chemicals, additives and the oil is not subjected to any chemical treatment post extraction. This virgin coconut oil retains the beneficial components of the coconut such as tocopherols and sterols, thus preserving its natural antioxidant properties. This virgin or unrefined coconut oil is the one with most of the benefits.
USES OF COCONUT OIL
· Coconut oil can be used safely for high heat cooking without changes in its structure. It can withstand high cooking temperatures without turning rancid.
· Research studies show that saturated fats like that in coconut oil does not have a negative effect on blood cholesterol or heart disease.
· Virgin coconut oil shows potential beneficial effects in the treatment of arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Virgin coconut oil has also shown to be effective in maintaining bone structure and preventing bone loss in osteoporosis. Thus, coconut oil has a positive effect on bone health.
· Virgin coconut oil has shown to have some protective effect on liver cells and protects it from damage.
· Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which is beneficial in certain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
· Coconut oil has an anti-viral effect against lipid coated viruses. Lauric acid in coconut oil has higher anti-viral activity as compared to caprylic acid, capric acid or myristic acid.
· Coconut oil consumption shows significant improvement in thyroid functioning and helps maintain normal hormonal balance in the body.
· Known to have anti-inflammatory properties, coconut oil helps relieve itching from insect bites and swellings and helps in wound healing. It helps relieve skin irritation.
· Coconut oil helps boost immunity attributed to its anti-bacterial effect which is helpful in fighting infections.
· It is said to have anti-fungal properties that can help fight fungal infections that occur on the body. It can effectively kill candida and is helpful in the treatment of yeast infections.
· Coconut oil is good for the hair and is also used in various hair products to prevent hair damage.
· It acts as a great natural moisturizer for the skin especially for the feet, hands and elbows. It provides relief from dried cracked heels as well.
· Coconut oil is good for massaging new born babies to promote normal and healthy growth.
Apart from these, coconut oil also has a few practical uses. It can be used as a gentle eye make up remover, as a natural lip balm for chapped lips, as a natural dust repellent for wood furniture, to name a few.
COCONUT OIL AND CARDIO-VASCULAR HEALTH
Over the past few years, the use of coconut oil has been controversial due to the presence of saturated fats. However, the saturated fat coming from different foods have different effect on the body. Some studies suggests that lauric acid which is present in coconut oil contributes much less to fat accumulation in the body compared to other saturated fatty acids. Research also shows that coconut oil does not cause dyslipidemia and may even promote a reduction in abdominal obesity. Coconut oil also helps fight chronic inflammation which is a cause of many lifestyle diseases. However, it is important to choose organic unrefined coconut oil or virgin coconut oil to reap maximum benefits rather than the refined oils which are stripped off its various benefits.
Reports now say that serum cholesterol levels isn’t the most accurate way to determine heart health. Also, saturated fats from sources like coconut oil, ghee do not contribute majorly to heart disease. A good way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to cut down on hydrogenated oils, sugar, refined grains/carbohydrates and processed food. These unhealthy carbohydrates cause insulin resistance, lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels and even cause high triglycerides in the body.
SO SHOULD WE CONSUME COCONUT OIL?
Well we can definitely include coconut oil in our diets owing to its various benefits. But we should also remember that different people react differently to food. Some people see good results with coconut oil, from better hormonal balance to better weight maintenance; while for some it may show no prominent benefits. Also, coconut as well as coconut oil are both high in calories. Virgin coconut oil is definitely a healthy oil to use, but make sure you eat a balanced diet, don’t exceed your caloric intake and exercise regularly to see beneficial effects on your overall health. Do not include additional coconut oil over and above the oil/fat you are already consuming. You can cut down on other unhealthy high caloric foods and then include healthy fats like coconut oil in your diet.