Coconut Oil- A True Superfood
Coconut oil has been used for thousands of years by cultures all over the world. In the Pacific Islands, coconut and other palm oils are a core part of the diet. Numerous studies done on Pacific Islanders show they are healthier with fewer rates of heart disease, cancer, digestive ailments, and prostate difficulties. India uses coconut oil in Ayurvedic formulas to help strengthen and tone all systems of the body. In Central America, the people of Panama will drink a cup of coconut oil to speed recovery from illness. Jamaicans use coconut oil to support their heart health. Traditional Chinese Medicine lists 69 different diseases that can be treated with coconut oil. So why was coconut oil shunned and removed from the American diet? Because of the huge misconception that all saturated fats should be treated equally and regarded as unhealthy, “artery-clogging” fats.
Understanding Fats & Heart Health
95% of the fats we eat from plant and animal sources come in triglyceride form. Triglycerides are three single fatty acid molecules linked together by a glycerol molecule. There are several different types of fatty acids that fall under three categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. A fatty acid molecule is chained together with carbon atoms, which can hold up to two hydrogen atoms creating a Saturated fat. A fatty acid chain that is missing a pair of hydrogen atoms is called Monounsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are missing more than two pairs of hydrogen atoms. A missing pair of hydrogen atoms creates a weak link in the carbon chain which impacts health. The other key component to how a fatty acid affects health is the length of the carbon chain: long chain triglyceride (LCT), medium chain triglyceride (MCT), and short chain triglycerides (SCT).
Each fatty acid, saturated or not, is going to have a different effect on the health of your body, for better or for worse. All naturally occurring fats contain a mixture of all three groups of fatty acids. Animal fats are usually the highest in saturated fats while plant oils contain low amounts. Coconut oil contains the highest amount of saturated fat reaching 92%. Coconut oil is also composed of 64% MCTs, the highest dietary source, and it contains small chain triglycerides. When fat is not used immediately for energy it gets stored in our body as fat tissue. The typical LCTs found in meat and vegetable oil are the biggest culprit. MCTs are quickly broken down and are utilized by the body as the primary energy source. The fats from coconut oil rarely become stored as fat, or build up deposits in the arteries. Thus they do not have a harmful effect on cholesterol and they in fact protect the heart from disease and inflammation.
Plant oils, with the exception of olive oil, are high in polyunsaturated fats. These fats become rancid and toxic when oxidized by exposure to heat, light or air resulting in the formation of free radicals. The oxidation process begins immediately when the oil is extracted from seeds, and the higher level of processing the more toxic an oil will become. The best types of oils for consumption are cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, which retain their natural antioxidants. Trans fatty acids were created with technology and are found in vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated to form a solid product like margarine and shortening. Trans fatty acids have been shown to have a direct impact on the development of heart disease, negatively affect heart health more than any other type of fat. Trans fatty acids also affect the ability of insulin to bind with red blood cells, linking it to complications with diabetes. Saturated fats are not vulnerable to oxidation because their chains are strong and complete with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats even remain stable when exposed to normal cooking temperatures, making coconut oil the absolute best choice for cooking and baking.
The liver easily converts saturated fats into cholesterol. This can raise blood cholesterol levels and is a reason many Americans avoid using coconut oil. Fat researchers and medical professionals know for a fact that neither saturated fat nor cholesterol causes heart disease. Not all people with high blood cholesterol level develop heart disease, and not all of those with heart disease have high blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol levels are one risk factor of many (high blood pressure, age, diabetes, obesity, stress, tobacco use) for heart disease. Other carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and grains also get converted by the liver into cholesterol, so it has been misleading to believe only saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease.
Cholesterol doesn’t always play a role in atherosclerosis or formation of plaque in the arteries. Cholesterol is actually needed by your body to repair damage to arterial walls. Atherosclerosis begins from injuries caused by toxins, free radicals, virus or bacteria. If these wounds aren’t healed properly, further damage, irritation, inflammation and scar tissue build-up and attract platelets that stick to the site of injury as a protectant. Calcium, triglycerides and more cholesterol are drawn to these sites for additional healing. It is this mass of tissue that creates plaque, and the calcium causes the material to harden.
Years of research and study demonstrate that people consuming coconut oil full of healthy MCT saturated fats actually have a reduced risk of heart disease, lower body fat composition, reduced risk of blood clots, lower levels of free radicals and higher levels of antioxidants, lower liver cholesterol levels, higher survival rate and fewer rates of heart disease.
A Powerful Antimicrobial
Coconut oil has unique fatty acids from which the body creates antimicrobial agents that are strong enough to fight some of the most common disease causing microorganisms. Thus coconut oil is a natural antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiprotozoal superfood. The medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil contain caprylic acid, capric acid, and myrustic acid that present antimicrobial properties while lauric acid presents high antiviral properties. Coconut oil MCFAs have been laboratory tested and shown to destroy virus that cause the flu, measles, herpes, mononucleosis, hepatitis C and AIDS. They also fight the bacteria that produce stomach ulcers, throat infections, pneumonia, sinusitis, earache, rheumatic fever, cavities, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, and meningitis to just name a few! MCFAs devour fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, candida and thrush.
Eat Fat to Lose Weight
As I have shown, not all fats are created equal. The majority of fats presented in the American diet are long chain triglycerides that the body easily stores as fat. MCFAs in coconut oil are drastically different. They do not circulate through the blood stream like other fats, but head directly to the liver where they are turned into energy the body can use instantly. Coconut oil rarely will get stored as fat. It has been well documented that when people switch out coconut oil for those fat sources that contain high levels of long chain fatty acids they experience weight loss and they lower total body fat. Coconut oil does not affect blood glucose levels, helping with feelings of satiety and sugar cravings. The MCFAs found in coconut oil increase your metabolism by providing a higher thermogenic effect than protein, which also supports your body to burn LCFs. Research done at McGill University in Canada found that if people who are overweight do nothing else but replace all long chain triglycerides with coconut oil can lose up to 36 pounds a year of excess fat.
The Beauty Benefits
Coconut oil has a small molecular structure and when used on the hair or skin it is effortlessly absorbed. Coconut oil provides much needed moisture to dry, rough and wrinkled skin, and can revive elasticity by supporting the structure of connective tissue. Coconut oil also has a natural SPF of 5, protecting your skin from damage caused by harmful UVB rays and premature aging. Using coconut oil consistently on your skin and as a part of your diet helps increase tolerance levels to the sun. Coconut oil brings immediate relief to damaged skin, and to those suffering from psoriasis, but also aids in the healing and repairing process. It also reduces the appearance of inflammation and redness. Coconut oil is a natural exfoliator and removes dead skin cells making the appearance of your skin shiny and smooth. Using coconut oil as a body lotion also helps protect your skin from infections. You can make a natural lubricant from coconut oil by simply adding some of your favorite and sensual essential oil. Do not use coconut oil as a lubricant when using latex condoms as it breaks down latex. For a nourishing hair treatment, apply a few teaspoons of coconut oil at night and rinse out in the morning. Within just two weeks you will experience a more luxurious texture and shine, while helping to protect it from heat during styling. Coconut oil is also an effective treatment and preventative remedy for dandruff and dry scalp.
Oil pulling is another popular use for coconut oil. Oil pulling is an Indian Ayurvedic Remedy used for thousands of years to enhance oral health by reducing the amount of harmful bacteria found in the mouth. It also whitens teeth and reduces bad breath. Oil pulling requires you to put one tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around for at least fifteen minutes. Experienced oil pullers will keep the oil in their mouths for up to thirty minutes and increase the amount of oil they use. Oil pulling also draws toxins out of your body to boost the immune system. It can soothe a dry throat, help prevent cracked lips, improve acne, heal bleeding gums, cure tooth decay, and prevent cavities.
Crazy for Coconut Oil Recipes
Roasted Cauliflower Popcorn
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the cauliflower head into bite size pieces. Try and keep all the pieces about the same size for even roasting. Place cauliflower in a large bowl and coat all sides of the florets with the coconut oil. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer over a cookie sheet and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake for about an hour or until all sides are well brown. You will need to turn the florets over halfway through baking. Roasting brings out the sugars in the cauliflower and creates a crispy texture. Let Cool and Enjoy! To make a kettle corn variety, add 1 Tablespoon of Maple Syrup or 2 Tablespoons of Stevia.
Savory Sweet Potato Fries
Preheat your over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place spices and melted coconut oil in a large bowl and mix well. Cut the sweet potatoes into thin strips or slice into chips of the same thickness. Place sweet potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle the oil and spice mixtures over the fries. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they are tender and a golden brown. Let cool and enjoy!
Coconut Boosters from Dr. Axe
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon into candy molds and freeze for one hour.