What Everybody Needs to Know About Coconut Oil

virgin coconut oil from the Seychelles
By Louise Pool
Living on a tropical island, I am lucky to have a large supply of one of nature's most beneficial foodstuffs. Coconuts have always been a mainstay of the Seychelles diet and once upon a time, long long ago, most people cooked with it as well. Nowadays, it's mostly palm or sunflower oil and I have to admit I, too, am guilty of this. I use coconut oil for frying if I'm making a Kari Koko (coconut curry) as I don't like the taste of it in all foods. It's great for adding to smoothies, yoghurt and puddings, though. (The picture on the left is a bottle of coconut oil sold for massage purposes, but coconut oil is coconut oil...)

Coconut oil is a food, and is one of the best cooking oils you can use. Unlike most vegetable oils, coconut oil's chemical structure is kept intact even when used in higher cooking temperatures and is therefore resistant to mutations of fatty acid chains. Research shows that the fatty acids found in coconut oil raise the body's metabolism, boost the immune system, and help provide greater energy which can also lead to weight loss.

Saturated fats have received a bad press in recent years. They've been linked to raising cholesterol levels and causing cardiovascular and other diseases. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fats, so many people put it in the same category as animal fats. Actually, in contrast to animal fats which contain cholesterol, coconut oil has no cholesterol.

There are two types of saturated fats: medium chain and long chain fatty acids. Coconut oil is mainly composed of medium chain fatty acids, which are easily digested and converted to energy. They do not raise cholesterol nor increase the risk of heart disease. Animal fats are long chain fatty acids, which have the ability to raise cholesterol and are easily stored in the body as fats.

Are there any people who live on saturated fats who are healthy? Yes! People who live in tropical climates and still have a diet high in coconut oil are healthier, have less heart disease, cancer, colon and weight problems, than unsaturated fat eaters. Two groups of people which have been studied are Melanesians and Mexicans from the Yucatan area. These people are slightly hyperthyroid (faster metabolism) because of the thyroid stimulating effects of coconut oil plus a diet which includes protein (fish) and adequate fruit (stimulates thyroid function).

The main health benefits of coconut oil:
  • Thyroid-stimulating and anti-aging The cholesterol-lowering properties of coconut oil are a direct result of its ability to stimulate thyroid function. In the presence of enough thyroid hormone, cholesterol (specifically LDL-cholesterol) is converted by enzymatic processes to anti-aging steroids, which are required to help prevent heart disease, senility, obesity, cancer and other diseases associated with aging and chronic degenerative diseases.
  • Weight loss stimulating Because the thyroid gets stimulated, the metabolism gets boosted and calories get burnt faster resulting in the pounds coming off.
  • Anti-cancer Studies have shown that in chemically induced cancers of the colon and breast (it does seem mean to do that, but researchers will be researchers...), coconut oil was by far more protective than unsaturated oils. One study showed that 32% of corn oil eaters got colon cancer whereas only 3% of coconut oil eaters got the cancer. Many other studies since the 1920's have shown an association between consumption of unsaturated oils and the incidence of cancer.
  • Antimicrobial (antiseptic) Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids. One of these is lauric acid, which has strong anti-viral properties. It is present in breast milk and protects infants from viral, bacterial or protozoal infections. Lauric acid also has adverse effects on other pathogenic microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast and fungi. There has even been a lot of research recently on the benefits of lauric acid in HIV infections.
So how can we benefit from the wonderful healing properties of coconut oil? It can be used for frying, instead of other fats in baking, in puddings; it's up to your imagination. One of my favourites is coconut rice pudding. Yummy!

How do you use coconut oil?

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