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Is Coconut Oil Really a New Super Food?

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Posted on 5th January 2015 in Boosting Immunity, Herbal Remedies, Organic Foods, Teas

Is Coconut Oil Really a New Super Food?

By Kathryn Orange MSc., LCPH. FNCN (Naturopathic Practitioner)

Until recently the only time I ever thought of using coconut oil was to moisturize my hair to prevent sun damage and get it back into some kind of control after swimming in the sea.  But now Coconut oil is a regular item on the shelf at my local supermarket – tucked in between the olive and avocado oils.  It’s now seen as one of the new superfoods and an essential addition in dozens of kitchens, a staple of the Paleo diet and with claims to improve your mental and physical health – as well as the taste of every meal.

Dr. Mehmet Oz has already told his TV audience it has Superpowers and the renowned internet doctor, Joseph Mercola describes the benefits of coconut oil as near miraculous.  Many claims are being made that it will protect against cancer and heart disease, will cure Alzheimers, help weight loss, lower cholesterol and dissolve kidney stones.

But are these claims true or is it just hype to help sell yet another new range of health supplements?

A few basic facts about Coconut oil

OK so let’s push the hype to one side for the moment and look at a few basic FACTS about this popular oil..

92 percent of its fat is saturated which has the advantage that the oil is solid at room temperature and doesn’t go rancid but, as The Mayo Clinic tells us, saturated fats are generally bad for us as they raise total blood cholesterol levels We all know that low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is “bad” for us as it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes so, does this put coconut oil on our list of “bad foods” up there with red meat and full fat dairy products? Not at all, research has shown that coconut oils main saturated fatty acid is in fact Lauric acid which actually raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In reality this goes some way to creating a balance although we should still be vigilant with our cholesterol intake.

Coconut oil is very energy dense! It provides 120 calories in just one tablespoon. About the same as olive or walnut oil but less than avocado or canola oil.

Unlike some of the other oils, it provides limited vitamins (1% each of K and E only) and Omega 6 only of the fatty acids. It is important to keep the ratio of Omegas 6 and 3 equal in your diet as they both compete for the same enzymes in the body.  If you have too much Omega 6 then the Omega 3 which is needed for a healthy metabolism cannot work properly.

It contains a high percentage of medium-chain triglycerides which are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where theyre likely to be directly burned off as fuel and raise the metabolic rate slightly. This means less of the fat will be circulated throughout the body and deposited in fat tissues, so the good news is that we are not going to “get fat” by eating this type of fat. But very little research has yet been done on whether or not it helps us to actively lose weight and what is in the public domain is inconclusive.

There have been some claims that coconut oil cures Alzheimer’s but the actual clinical studies so far undertaken have shown less that it cures and more than it can alleviate the symptoms in some patients, at least for the short term. The way it does this is by providing a source of ketones to the brain that it can use as food – usually the brain feeds on glucose (but at times of fasting or starvation it will take ketones from fat metabolism as a source of food) but with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson the brain loses its ability to use glucose and effectively becomes starved.  Providing the brain with nutrition through ketones helps to bring back cognitive health at least in the short term.

There are many people who support the idea that virgin or cold-pressed coconut oil is healthier than processed oil and evidence that coconut oil is good for the heart is often given as the fact that in Polynesia where pretty much all the dietary fat comes from coconuts has a very low incidence of heart disease. But this is just circumstantial – in Polynesia other elements of the diet and/or genetics are also likely to play a part. Fish is a predominate part of their diet and as the American Heart Association tells us “ ….there is plenty of evidence that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to have cardiovascular disease”.

OK so now maybe you are wondering whether you should throw away that jar of coconut oil you have just bought.  Not at all.  Used sensibly there are many benefits of having coconut oil in your kitchen.

Some of the Benefits of Coconut Oil

It burns at a high temperature. This means that when you are using it for cooking you will actually use a lot less oil than with more traditional oils.  So despite it being saturated you will find that less oil is absorbed into the food and therefore less is consumed (and less calories).

Coconut oil is good for your digestion. Not only does it help absorption but it also helps cleanse your colon and can possibly counteract digestive disorders and nutritional deficiencies common in inflammatory bowel diseases such as IBS. There is proof to show that coconut oil has been helpful in eliminating parasitic infections and its antimicrobial properties will also prevent the overgrowth of bad bacterial and fungal infections such as candidiasis.

It has been used for centuries as an effective moisturizer for the skin and it is great for protecting the hair from the ravages of the sun. You can even use it to relieve sore nipples caused by breastfeeding or before shaving to prevent cuts and scrapes.

With its anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties and its solidity at room temperature, coconut oil can be used to relieve itching and reduce dryness and inflammation on the skin caused by eczema or psoriasis, or even mosquito bites.

By moisturizing the skin with coconut oil you can reduce the need for the skin to over produce sebum – the dreaded enemy of the teenager who will often suffer acne as a result of excessive sebum production. So you can apply directly to blackheads to help remove them.

Some other uses of Coconut oil

Use all over your body for an effective sunscreen, personal lubricant or toothpaste (mix with water and baking soda).

Mix with corn starch and baking soda for a natural deodorant!

Use coconut oil as aromatherapy. Massage the coconut oil onto your temples, or the inner part of your wrist, and seek relief from its nutty, earthy scent.

It has a satisfying flavor that helps to curb sugar cravings, and a small amount is filling enough to reduce appetite.

The perfect natural insect repellent: peppermint oil and coconut oil.

Scar healing – Apply a teaspoon to the area to speed up the healing process.

Use as a natural ointment for painful back, neck and joint discomfort/soreness.

Coconut oil has been used in for centuries by Asian and Pacific Islanders.  Knick-named by them as the ‘Tree of Life’ it has become a source of food, medicine and cosmetics.  There is insufficient scientific evidence to support all the claims that are made for its health benefits but there is also nothing to suggest that it will have any adverse effect either.  So if you like the smell and taste of coconut and want to reduce your dependence on processed products then coconut oil is a good addition to your kitchen and bathroom cupboards.  It will not be my first choice in daily oil but I will use it for topical application and when I want to add that special taste to my foods.   But there is currently not enough conclusive evidence to recommend we choose coconut oil over healthy fats such as olive, avocado or canola oils. A recent review of the existing evidence on coconut oil and heart health was conducted by the New Zealand Heart Foundation. The academic paper concluded that based on the current evidence, it is still preferable to use unsaturated plant oils over coconut oil. Making the switch to coconut oil is likely to lead to less favorable fat profiles and potentially increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

And don’t forget, it’s important to remember that we need to look at the whole diet for the prevention of disease. Our body’s systems are complex and require a range of different nutrients for optimal health. Our time is better spent enjoying a varied and full diet of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes, grain-based foods, nuts, lean meats, fish and reduced-fat dairy, rather than focusing on a select set of so called ‘superfoods’ to boost our health. Remember, no one food provides all the nutrients we need.

Photo courtesy of “Coconut Tree” by foto76 freedigtalphotos.net

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