While coconut possesses many health benefits due to its fiber and nutritional content, it's the oil that makes it a truly remarkable food and medicine.
Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is a unique and different from most all other fats and possesses many health giving properties. It is now gaining long overdue recognition as a nutritious health food.
Coconut oil has been described as "the healthiest oil on earth." That's quite a remarkable statement. What makes coconut oil so good? What makes it different from all other oils, especially other saturated fats?
The difference is in the fat molecule. All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are two methods of classifying fatty acids. The first you are probably familiar with, is based on saturation. You have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. Another system of classification is based on molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. In this system you have short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).
The vast majority of fats and oils in our diets, whether they are saturated or unsaturated or come from animals or plants, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Some 98 to 100% of all the fatty acids you consume are LCFA.
The size of the fatty acid is extremely important. Why? Because our bodies respond to and metabolize each fatty acid differently depending on its size. So the physiological effects of MCFA in coconut oil are distinctly different from those of LCFA more commonly found in our foods. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are predominately medium-chain fatty acids. Both the saturated and unsaturated fat found in meat, milk, eggs, and plants (including most all vegetable oils) are composed of LCFA.
MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.
There are only a very few good dietary sources of MCFA. By far the best sources are from coconut and palm kernel oils.
Copyright © 2004 Coconut Research Center
Coconut Oil, More Than The Average Saturated Fat
Monday, February 19, 2007
by: Sherri L Dodd
Origin: Southeast Asia, South America, New Zealand and India
Description: Known as Sanskrit “the tree which provides all the necessities of life”, the Coconut Palm yields 50-75 coconuts per year and not a part of it goes unused. Coconut water contains sugars, fiber, protein, anti-oxidants and a variety of vitamins and minerals. The sap from cutting the flowers from the tree is used to make a drink called “toddy”.
The fibrous husk from the tree, the coir, is used in many things including ropes, mats, brushes and potting soil. If you no longer need a coconut tree, the apical bud of an adult tree can be eaten as “palm-cabbage”, and the “heart of the palm” is a delicacy in gourmet salads. The ‘no longer’ clause due to consuming these will kill the tree. And of course, there is the white meat of the nut that can be eaten directly or used to make coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut oil of which we will focus today.
Benefits: Researchers have increasingly revisited the health benefits of coconut oil. The findings have associated it with many healthful benefits starting with weight loss due to the medium length of the fatty acid chains (aka MCT’s). Though it is considered a saturated fat, coconut oil is a different structure from the notorious saturated animal fats, and even offers benefits not available in the longer chained plant oils. The medium length of the coconut's fatty acid chain enables rapid breakdown in digestion as well as ease of use when burned for energy.
These same MCT’s, along with monoglycerides, are found primarily in coconut oil and breast milk and contribute toward well-being, which includes a role in thyroid health. It has tested well in helping prevent hypothyroidism due to its evasion of rancidity. Studies show that rancidity is harmful to the thyroid as well as many cells throughout the body. (The plant oils used by mainstream food manufacturers have a high propensity toward rancidity and must be processed through hydrogenation into trans-fatty acids.)
Another benefit of using coconut oil is that it supports the suppression of Candida (aka, yeast) in the digestive system. While yeast commonly inhabits your digestive system, it is kept controlled due to the body’s presence of probiotics (aka “good” bacteria). In the event the person starts taking antibiotics, prescription medications, birth control pills or maintains a poor diet and experiences daily stress, Candida yeast begins to fiercely outnumber the good bacteria, causing evidence of infection. Also, digestive disorders such as Crohn's disease and IBS can have positive results from one consuming coconut oil. The MCTs will not only be easily digested, but will also assist in the absorption of the nutrients from other foods.