Coconut Benefits - Coconut oil: Hailed as the "healthiest oil on earth"
By Dr Mark Atkinson
Holistic Medical Physician
MBBS BSc (HONS) FRIPHH FCMA
BETD SAC DIP (Clinical Nutrition)
“Organic virgin coconut oil stands alone as being the healthiest oil that you can use. It possesses a plethora of health benefits, and the research to substantiate it. Dr Mark Atkinson strongly encourage you to make organic virgin coconut oil part of your daily nutritional plan.”
History of Coconut Oil
For about 3960 years of the of the past 4000 years of the documented historical use of the fruits of the coconut palm as a food and a pharmaceutical, the news has all been good. It was seen as a sustainable resource from which the harvested materials influenced every aspect of the lives of tropical communities, but most importantly its fruit, the coconut flesh, water, milk and oil.
The use of coconut oil around the world in tropical regions is prolific: South and Central America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Micro-, Mele- and Poly-nesia and most of Asia. The uses are so respected that they were documented by Ayurvedic medicine in Sanskrit from 1500BC in all areas relating to the mind, body and spirit. Early European explorers, including Captain Cook, wrote affectionately about the beauty of communities across the Pacific using coconut oil as an integral part of their daily lives. During WWII the water of the young green coconut was successfully used as a substitute for a saline drip saving the lives of many allied soldiers. After the war, in England coconut oil was sold as "margarine" and in the USA as “coconut butter”.
However, this all changed in 1954 even though it has been known for nearly a century that coconut oil is more nutritious than other oils.
Over many decades coconut oil received bad publicity due to its saturated fat content but what the proponents of "saturated fat is bad for you" did not do was to differentiate between the three different types of saturated fat. All the saturated fats were simply generalised under one category, ignoring the fact that some saturated fat is in fact necessary for human health.
Modern research has shown that not all saturated fats are alike and coconut oil is unique in its structural make-up due to its medium chain fatty acids - the closest to those found in human breast milk that nature provides. They are the reason why coconut oil is used extensively in baby formula and also in sports drinks and energy bars, where it is usually described as MCT (medium chain tryglycerides). This disguises the fact that some form of coconut oil has been used! Medium chain fatty acids are more easily digested than fats found in other oils. This is because they are processed directly in the liver and immediately converted into energy. There is therefore less strain on the liver, pancreas and digestive system and, being easily digested, they also tend to improve the absorption of other nutrients.
Past research has failed to reveal this because it was carried out on hydrogenated coconut oil - a process that transforms all fats into man-made, dangerous, carcinogenic trans fatty acids.
Many modern low fat, so called ’healthy’ oils are hydrogenated. Other so called ’healthy’ polyunsaturated oils form toxic free radicals when heated and have been shown to be associated with over 60 common health complaints.
Significantly, because virgin coconut oil is very stable, it is highly resistant to free radical generation when heated, even at high temperatures and is an especially safe oil to cook with.
What is certified organic virgin coconut oil ?
Pure virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconuts, NOT copra (used for many coconut oils) and the resulting product should have a distinct taste and fragrance. Oils made from copra have to be refined bleached and deodorised to make them fit for human consumption and they have no fragrance or flavour. These may or may not be hydrogenated oils.
Virgin coconut oil from Merit Food Products is certified through the growing, harvesting, production, repackaging and labeling of the oil. Any oil that claims to be organic and does not conform to the above specification, is NOT organic. For example, if the oil is certified organic in its place of origin through the above procedures and then repackaged in a location that does not conform to organic processes, then the oil is no longer organic.
Made with coconuts from traditional palms - not hybrid varieties
Free of chemicals
Free of GMO ingredients
Manufactured with low level heat (below 60oC)
Certified organic by Australia Certified Organic (holding accredition with Australian government, IFOAM, JAS, US Department of Agriculture)
What can virgin coconut oil do for me ?
1. Best for Cooking
To begin with virgin coconut oil is the safest oil to cook with. It does not contain trans fatty acids and does not break down, even at high temperatures, unlike other oils.
Much research on the nutritional and medicinal benefits of coconut oil has surfaced in recent years. Much of that research has been done by Dr. Mary Enig. Dr. Enig has classified coconuts as a "functional food," which provides health benefits above and beyond the basic nutrients. As a "functional food," coconut oil is now being recognized by the medical community as a powerful tool against immune diseases.
Coconut oil is known as the “energy fat” and is favoured by dieters, athletes, and body builders. It is slightly lower in calories than most other fats and oils and because it is processed in the liver and converted directly into energy, it can help speed up metabolism.
2. Best for daily use as a skin care products, i.e. soap, moisturizer, oil massager, hair nourishment, etc.
Although coconut oil is sold as a food product, there are many people around the world who have used coconut oil for this purpose for centuries. Should you choose to apply the oil to the hair and scalp, apply 20 – 30 minutes before washing or, for best results, leave on overnight (placing a clean towel on your pillow to protect it). Wash out the oil in the morning with a toxin free shampoo.
Why do some say coconut oil is bad for you ?
While this claim has been widely disproved in many scientific studies and journals, unfortunately this perception is still around.
The tropical oils were very popular in the US food industry prior to World War II. The US is the largest exporter of soybeans. The well oiled marketing machinery funded by the soy bean and corn industry and supported by the American Heart Association was committed to change the American Diet, calling among others, for the substitution of saturated fats for polyunsaturates. The Prudent Diet, as it was called, left a legacy which still haunts us today. 40 years on, this conceptual change in the eating habits of Americans has negatively influenced and changed the dietary regimes of societies all around the world that were initially not even affected by America’s particular meat, potato and milk diet. So determined was the pursuit of the American industries in converting their claims into magnificent billboards of health and wealth that even small island nations in the South Pacific were converted by this powerful marketing machine to change centuries of dietary traditions of tropical oils to importing polyunsaturated fats. Today heart disease is still on the increase and obesity, linked to the “new” American diet, is a major social problem worldwide that has governments worried about the health care cost of future generations. The U.K. and Australia unfortunately, are racing to catch up to their allies with a large percentage of the population being defined as overweight.
Studies were done to show that coconut oil, and all saturated fats, were bad for one’s health because they raised serum cholesterol levels. However, these studies were done on hydrogenated coconut oil, and all hydrogenated oils produce higher serum cholesterol levels, whether they are saturated or not. Recent research shows that it is the presence of trans fatty acids that causes health problems, as they are fatty acid chains that have been altered from their original form in nature by the oil refining process.
Although many studies at the time had also shown research to the contrary, the mud stuck and by the mid 60’s the reputation of all saturated oils in America had been destroyed.
Critical modern research is starting to show that dietary changes based on the evidence presented by these early studies were at the very least premature and at worst placed the health millions of people at risk. However, time will only tell whether the greatest crime of this initiative will have been the bundling of all saturated fats, whether from meat, dairy or vegetable source together under the one label: Deadly Diet.
The travesty of this action was that one of nature’s most amazing resources, tropical oils, and especially coconut oil with all its functional, nutritional and pharmaceutical possibilities, has been lost to modern medicine for decades. Although saturated, coconut oil is structurally, pharmaceutically and behaviorally different to any other natural oil or fat.
However, we have reached a critical time in our history and modern medical research has allowed us to scientifically dispel many of the theories of the recent past and show the complexity of our modern lifestyle and diet. More importantly however, this critical research into coconut oil has pinpointed the one aspect that makes the case for coconut oil to be reaccepted, and to once again become a legitimate part of our daily diet.
To find general information on the researched health benefits of coconut oil in the diet, simply type coconut oil into the search box of your favourite search engine and you’ll find loads of information!
Cooking With Coconut
If you are like many Americans and buy one bag of shredded coconut a year, it is more than likely for this day, for making the fuzzy fur on your Easter bunny cake.
How surprising it is to learn that coconut is one of the most widely used plants in the world.
"These plants are used in so many ways," said Kristine Ciombor, director of the Mitchell Park Domes.
Of course, the coconut meat is eaten in a variety of forms, in many different cuisines. It also is used in folk medicine as an anti-fungal agent, a claim supported by medical studies, Ciombor said. Also, the shell can be used for fuel, the fiber from the husk can be woven into a rattan-like cloth and rope, and the trunk is used for lumber. Even the immense fronds are used as a tropical roofing material.
The coconut figures prominently in an annual tour of the Tropical Dome highlighting the plants of the rain forest. Its many uses astonish visitors, Ciombor said.
"It is alien to our culture to use a plant so intensively," she said.
Unfamiliarity with coconut, that’s strike one.
On top of that, the coconut gets a bum rap for both taste and nutrition. We’re most familiar with coconut after it’s been shredded, dried and sweetened with sugar - some people dislike the super-sweet taste.
And here’s strike three: Coconut is also one of the few non-animal sources of saturated fat, the kind that causes cholesterol levels to rise.
But before you dismiss coconut as your once-a-year purchase, consider the richness it lends to foods.
It harkens the warm breezes and tropical drinks of a Jamaican vacation, tempers the fire of a Thai curry and makes an ordinary cupcake a wee bit sweeter.
Taste not foreign to some
"Indonesians claim that coconuts have as many uses as there are days in the year," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
They’re as commonplace as bananas are here, said Milwaukeean Dewi Metra, a native of Indonesia.
"We have them everywhere, and they’re cheap," she said.
Metra said it’s not unusual to see a child playing with a coconut shell in place of a ball or to see coconut shells put to use in other ways. She owns a salad set made out of polished coconut shell.
Coconut can be consumed well before it reaches the dried stage that Westerners recognize, with the hard brown shell and firm white flesh. Unripe coconuts, called green coconuts, have a soft white shell and are encased in a green outer pod that gives the coconut the shape of a one-sided football.
At this point, the juice of the coconut can be drunk; Metra recalls seeing roadside vendors who would remove the outer casing, punch a hole into the coconut and stick a straw into the middle.
"It’s actually very refreshing, better than water," said Tina Bajwa of Germantown. Bajwa is originally from India, another country where coconuts are well utilized.
At this stage in the coconut’s development, the meat of the coconut has a jellylike consistency, which can be scooped and eaten right out of the shell.
Once the coconut is fully matured, it is harvested (sometimes using trained monkeys to climb the tree and knock them down). The coconut pods are removed and the fruit is set out to dry. That’s when the shell hardens and the coconut becomes the form we recognize from the grocery store: Hard brown shell covered with fibrous strings and containing three "eyes" or holes. Inside, there’s a little water plus the rich, white flesh.
The flesh is eaten as is, or it is processed into coconut milk or coconut oil.
Coconut milk is best for cooking especially for Thai exotic food, Indian food, Malaysian food, Indonesian food and Filipino food. For Western food, coconut milk in particular is used in place of water or milk in stews, puddings and vegetable dishes.
Coconut oil is used to make soap, shampoo, detergent and hand lotion and is used in candy ,baked goods or used in place of other vegetable oil in salad dressing.
In cultures where coconuts are plentiful, the fruit is sometimes used in candies and other goodies. But it is used most often in savory dishes.
Dana De Winter, executive chef at the Milwaukee Woman’s Club, isn’t daunted by the people who say they don’t care for the taste of coconut. She sneaks it in anyway.
"Whenever I put a coconut dessert on the buffet table, it always goes over well," she said. That goes for traditional coconut desserts, such as coconut-swirled brownies and macaroons, as well as more unfamiliar fare. She also uses it in tropical or Thai-inspired dishes.
And when making mashed sweet potatoes and plantains, she uses coconut milk in place of butter and milk.
"People may not realize it’s even there, but it adds a richness of flavor. It gives such good results."
She recommends that home cooks track down the unsweetened form for desserts, because "if it’s sweetened already, it can be overkill."
About those health concerns
Enjoying the taste of coconut occasionally isn’t going to blow your diet plans.
"In my 30 years as a dietitian I’ve never had anybody binge on coconut," joked Milwaukee dietitian Mary Rader.
Yet there’s no denying that coconut is high in saturated fat; 2 tablespoons of flaked, sweetened coconut contains 70 calories, 45 of which come from fat. Coconut meat itself is 64% fat.
"But I’ve never seen a person’s weight or cholesterol problems coming from coconut," Rader said.
Overview: the history and health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil
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The coconut palm rates higher than the family cow to one third of the world’s population.
You can probably guess these people live in the tropical countries where the coconut tree is intertwined with life itself, from the food they eat to the beverages they drink.
Others believe the coconuts were brought to the different regions of the tropics by explorers and sea travelers.
The coconut is considered a highly nutritious food.
The white meat also contains coconut oil the tropical natives use for cooking.
Because the short-and medium-chain fatty acids of extra virgin coconut oil and coconut milk are easily and quickly assimilated by the body, they are not stored as fat in the body like the long chain triglycerides of animal products.
To collect the sap, workers climb the tree morning and evening and bruise the coconut flowering stalk that starts to ooze sap.
The liquid actually begins to ferment while still on the tree, but the alcohol content increases considerably with longer fermentation of the toddy.
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is considered a "three generation tree," supporting a farmer, his children, and his grandchildren.
Canned coconut cream has a good range of B vitamins except B12, with 42.3 mcg of folic acid and 5.3 mg of vitamin C.
Coconut Milk: For the same measure, canned coconut milk contains 445 calories, 5 grams protein, and 6 grams of carbohydrate.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has 120 calories for 1 tablespoon and 14 grams of total fat.
Coconut water contains a full range of B vitamins with the exception of vitamin B6 and B12.