For centuries, the coconut has been claimed as a potent cure for nausea, rash, fever, earache, sore throat, bronchitis, kidney stones, ulcers, asthma, syphilis, dropsy, toothache, bruises, and lice. And that’s just the short list. While coconut milk is a wonderful base for all kinds of Thai dishes, coconut oil is becoming increasingly used in the U.S., U.K and Europe for its nutritional benefits.
Coconut oil and cardiovascular disease
In a randomized clinical trial, 40 participants were given either 2 tablespoons of coconut oil or 2 tablespoons of soybean oil once a day for 12 weeks. The soybean oil group saw their HDL (good cholesterol level) go down and their LDL (bad cholesterol) go up, both markers of an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The coconut oil group did not experience a significant change in their cholesterol numbers but were more likely to have a higher HDL level.
Coconut oil and diabetes
A study published in Pharmacological Research is indication that Diets high in MCTs (65% of coconut oil’s makeup) have been shown to improve glucose tolerance and reduce body fat accumulation when compared to diets high in LCTs. MCFAs have also been shown to preserve insulin action in, and insulin resistance in rat studies. Coconut oil may also improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics.
Researchers observed that study participants who followed a diet in which 40% of calories came from fat, either comprised of mostly MCTs or LCTs, the MCT group improved insulin-mediated glucose metabolism by 30% when compared with the LCT group.
Coconut oil and weight loss
In the coconut oil versus soybean oil study described above, both groups lost weight however only the coconut oil group saw a decrease in waist size.
Another study had participants consume 18-24 g of MCTs per day as part of a 16-week weight-loss program, which resulted in more weight loss and fat loss when compared to olive oil. These findings suggest that substituting oils high in medium chain triglycerides for those with long chain triglycerides could be beneficial for weight loss in healthy individuals.
When compared with other fats, coconut oil contains 2.6% fewer calories. Keep in mind however that all high-fat foods and oils are calorically dense and simply adding in more calorically dense food to a diet already ample in calories is not likely to result in weight loss.
Coconut oil beneficial for fungal infection
In vitro studies have shown that coconut oil has antifungal properties; because changes in the amount and type of fat can alter gastrointestinal microbiota, the team designed an experiment involving different high-fat diets and their effect on the guts of mice.
Results showed that 21 days after the inoculation, the mice that were fed the coconut oil diet had C. albicanscolonization in their stomachs that was significantly lower than the mice that were fed the beef tallow diet, the soybean oil diet or the standard diet.
Prof. Kumamoto notes that there “was about a 10-fold drop in colonization” in the mice that ate coconut oil, compared with those that ate either beef fat or soy bean oil.
Coconut oil has anti-stress and antioxidant properties
A recent study revealed that Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) was able to reduce immobility time and restore oxidative stress in mice post-swim test. Furthermore, mice treated with VCO were found to exhibit higher levels of brain antioxidants, lower levels of brain 5-hydroxytryptamine and reduced weight of the adrenal glands. Consequently, the serum cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose and corticosterone levels were also lower in VCO-treated mice. These results suggest the potential value of VCO as an antistress functional oil.
Coconut oil and its neuro-protective role
Coconut oil is considered one of the best fuels for healthy brain function. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are not processed by your body in the same manner as long chain triglycerides. Normal fat metabolism depends on bile salts that have been released from your gallbladder before it can be broken down in your digestive system. MCTs bypass bile metabolism and go directly to your liver where they are converted into ketones. Research has shown that the ketone bodies produced by MCTs provide a stable source of energy for the brain during periods of low blood sugar without the neurological risks associated with high blood sugar.
This is why several research has shown that ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes or any neurodegenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, & Multiple Sclerosis, etc. Ketogenic may also be protective in traumatic brain injury and stroke studies have shown.
Additional research has shown that regular MCT consumption in dogs with “age-related mental decline” increases the phospholipid and omega-3 fatty acid (EPA & DHA) content in the parietal cortex of the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish not coconut oil. The researchers believe that the presence of the MCTs allowed omega 3s to be liberated from fat stores & utilized in the brain where they are most needed to help form solid memory centers.
Coconut oil nutritional breakdown
- According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of coconut oil contains 117 calories, 0 grams of protein, 13.6 grams of fat (11.8 saturated, 0.8 monounsaturated and 0.2 polyunsaturated) and 0 grams of carbohydrate (0 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar). It provides little to no vitamins or minerals.
- Coconut oil composes of more than 85% of saturated fats. Majority of saturated fats are the medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) of which lauric acid being the predominant fatty acid. It is this lauric acid which gives coconut oil its white cream color in its solid state. Cold pressed virgin coconut oil (VCO) features light-yellow color and has pleasant coconut flavor and sweet taste. Its specific gravity @ 25 °C is 0.917–0.919, Iodine value-7.5–10.5, and saponification value-251–263.
- Coconut oil is made up of 100% fat. However, the structure of fat in coconut oil differs from the traditional saturated fat often found in animal products (primarily comprised of long-chain fatty acids).
- Coconut oil has an unusually high amount of medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides (MCFAs or MCTs), which are harder for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier for them to burn off than long-chain fatty acids or triglycerides (LCFAs or LCTs).
- Tom Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, states that all coconut oils are not created equal. Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is just as harmful as other highly processed oils containing trans fat and clearly wreaks havoc on our health. The second type, refined coconut oil, is extracted from chemically bleached and deodorized coconut meat. Virgin coconut oil, on the other hand, is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without using high temperatures or chemicals, is considered unrefined and may paint an entirely different story for our health.
- Coconut oil is one of the most concentrated sources of energy; 100 g oil holds 884 calories.
- Being rich in saturated fats, it is one of the stable vegetable cooking oils featuring a very long shelf life. Its high smoke point temperature at 232 (450 F) degrees allows food items for deep frying.
- Its fatty acids profile, however, make it as one of the most debated edible oils in terms of health-benefits. Coconut oil composes of saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (SFA: MUFA: PUFA) at a ratio of 86.5: 5.8: 1.8 fats.
- A major portion of its saturated fats, however, fall into the group of medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s ranging from 6-12 carbon atoms). Chief MCT’s in this oil are lauric acid (C-12), capric acid (C-10), caprylic acid (C-8) and caproic acid (C-6). Together, they constitute about 68% of total saturated and 59% of total fat content.
- Lauric acid, being a 12-carbon saturated fat, constitutes the major portion of MCTs. 100 g fresh coconut oil contains 44.6 g of lauric acid, constituting more than 45% of total fat content.
- In the gut, lauric acid and other MCT’s absorbed directly into the blood stream withot any barriers and thus save energy and bring early sense of satiety. Additionally, MCTs help increase blood HDL or good cholesterol levels in the blood.