Last Updated on 11 October 2021 by Ray Plumlee
Many of us may be somewhat aware of the reputed health benefits of coconut oil. But how many of us know just why this natural substance is one of the few foodstuffs which truly deserve the title of “superfood.”
The secret to this superfood’s power lies in its combination of beneficial fatty acids. It is no accident that inhabitants of certain south sea islands, such as the Tokelauans, are remarkably healthy, with low rates of heart disease. Up to sixty percent of their diet formerly consisted of coconuts!
Coconut oil contains about fifty-five percent medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), one of the most beneficial fatty acids which can actually increase the number of calories you burn. One study has shown that ingesting fifteen to thirty grams of MCTs per day can increase your energy levels by five percent, allowing you to burn an extra 120 calories per day. Coconut oil is about forty-two percent 12-carbon lauric acid, which, when digested, turns into monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin help fight dangerous bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They can be especially helpful against staphylococcus aureus, a dangerous bacteria, and Candida Albicans, a major cause of yeast infections. MCT’s are also related to a decrease in appetite, thus promoting weight loss. And studies have shown that a low carb high-fat diet, with its resultant overproduction of ketones, can help reduce, or even prevent seizures in child epileptics whose condition has proven resistant to drug therapy. Coconut oil has proved helpful in these circumstances.
The natural saturated fats in coconut oil also raise the good HDL cholesterol in our bodies, while even helping to convert the dangerous LDL variety into something less damaging. And the way these fats are digested, being delivered directly to the liver where they can produce ketones, may help in reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia worldwide. It has been noted that Alzheimer’s patients have difficulty converting glucose to energy in certain parts of the brain. These ketones produced in the liver are able to cross from the bloodstream to the brain, thus providing an alternative energy source. And, while it may seem counterintuitive, ingesting this type of fat may also help you to lose fat, especially that bothersome, and dangerous, belly fat.
But, you don’t have to ingest coconut oil to reap some benefits. Used topically it can provide significant health and cosmetic benefits. it can improve the look and health of your skin by increasing moisture content and providing a mild sunscreen. It has also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of eczema. Just as it does your skin, coconut oil can help your hair maintain moisture and shine, and prevent dryness caused by exposure to the sun by shielding it from twenty percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays. Used as a mouthwash it can kill harmful bacteria in the mouth. And you’d be surprised just how many types of bacteria can be found in even a relatively healthy mouth.
Now that we all know just how beneficial coconut oil can be, the only question is, just how should we be using it? What products are available? Natural, organic, virgin coconut oil provides all the benefits mentioned above because it contains all of the ingredients needed to provide them. Its major disadvantage may be that it is a solid substance at room temperature. Another choice to consider is fractionated coconut oil, which is a distilled version of the original. Fractionization allows the long-chain fatty acids contained in virgin coconut oil to solidify and be removed, leaving an ultra-light, odorless oil that will remain liquid at cooler temperatures. (this is called oil-pulling) This means that it will be more easily absorbed by the skin if you are considering using it topically.
Fractionated coconut oil is naturally processed to contain plenty of nutrients and antioxidants, and it has a longer shelf life than the organic virgin variety of coconut oil. One major disadvantage is that the process of creating this type of coconut oil, while removing all the harmful long-chain fatty acids, also removes the 12 carbon lauric acid contained in the original. As you recall, this lauric acid provides many of the anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal benefits. A third alternative is MCT oil. MCT oil, as the name implies, contains medium-chain triglycerides, and can be virtually identical to fractionated coconut oil, but not always. MCT oil may, in fact, not be coconut oil at all, but palm kernel oil. MCT oils are odorless, tasteless, and have a longer shelf life than organic coconut oil.
If you are looking for the health benefits associated with medium-chain fatty acids, they may be your first choice. While the benefits of these fatty acids contained in MCT oil are well-established, the jury is still out on 12-carbon lauric acid, and exactly how it is processed in the body. If your aim is to achieve overall good health, switching to cooking with coconut oil is probably sufficient. For higher goals, the use of fractionated coconut oil or MCT oil should be considered. It is not entirely clear what dose may be needed to provide potential benefits, but studies indicate that between five grams and 70 grams per day should be sufficient. MCT oil is ideal for such larger doses, as it is odorless and tasteless, and then must be taken on its own, or in food or drinks.