I wanted to write an article specifically on the benefits of coconut oil because there is a lot of confusion surrounding whether or not it is safe to include in your diet. I’m hoping that through this article I can share some information with you that will help provide greater clarity around this lesser used oil.
Coconut oil has been used for cooking, baking and skin care in the tropical countries for years. It was more commonly used throughout North America prior to WWII, however, as a saturated fat it fell out of favour in the early 50s with the growing negative press on the health effects of saturated fats. Recently however, coconut oil is making a comeback as more and more people are starting to learn about the many favourable qualities of this oil.
Although there has been a strong focus on reducing the consumption of fat in many health campaigns, they are an important part of our diet. While coconut oil is a saturated fat, the majority of the fatty acids that make up coconut oil are Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are treated very differently in the body than the Long Chain Fatty Acids (LCFA) that make up most of the fats we consume. They are smaller, and therefore easier to digest, they are utilized immediately by your liver for energy, and they actually help your body use fat for energy as opposed to storing it. LCFAs, in contrast, are more difficult for your body to break down and digest and are more commonly stored as fat. In addition, the caloric value of medium chain fatty acids (and short chain fatty acids) is considerably less than the caloric value of the longer chain fatty acids. So this means that coconut oil has fewer calories per gram of fat than some common vegetable oils like safflower and soybean oil.
In addition to being an easily digested source of fuel for the body, research also suggests that coconut oil may help strengthen the immune system. This is because coconut oil contains lauric acid, a rare MCFA that is converted in the body into a compound that has antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Coconut oil is comprised of a whopping 50% lauric acid, making it one of nature’s most abundant sources of this important fatty acid. In fact, the antimicrobial properties of lauric acid are so important to our health that it is found in human milk and plays a vital role in infant nutrition.
Given that coconut oil is a saturated fat, and given all the negative press on the impact of saturated fat and blood cholesterol levels, you may be wondering what coconut oil’s impact is on blood cholesterol levels. I have seen a variety of different research ranging from coconut oil increases cholesterol levels to coconut oil improves cholesterol levels. The majority of research, however, seems to suggest that is has a beneficial effect or no effect on blood cholesterol levels rather than a negative effect. Also, because coconut oil does not originate from an animal source it does not contain cholesterol itself.
Coconut oil is an ideal oil to use for cooking or baking as it is extremely stable at high heat, stores well and doesn’t easily degrade and go rancid as a result of oxidation (the breakdown of the oil as a result of exposure to heat, light and oxygen to release body harming free radicals). If you have never cooked with coconut oil before, I should warn you that it does have a mild coconut flavour, however, it isn’t over bearing (or at least I don’t think so). Actually, I was never a fan of coconut flavour anything until I tried coconut oil and coconut flour. Perhaps the coconut flavours I may have remembered disliking came from artificial coconut flavouring. I use coconut oil fairly regularly in my diet. I even include it in some of my smoothies and in one of my favourite breakfast recipes which I’ll share with you in one of my next articles.
Lastly coconut oil isn’t just great for cooking, you can also apply it to your skin to use as a natural moisturizer. Coconut oil has a good amount of vitamin E, an antioxidant that is very protective. One word of caution when using coconut oil as a moisturiser… if you live in a warmer climate coconut oil will be liquid at room temperature so it can be a bit messy to apply. In Canada, particularly now in the winter, my coconut oil is solid but soft enough that it’s easy to scoop out and apply. It makes an awesome lip balm too!
When buying coconut oil, I recommend purchasing organic unrefined coconut oil to ensure that the oil you are consuming is chemical free and minimally processed. Unrefined coconut oil will be denoted by “Virgin” or “Extra Virgin” (Note: with coconut oil there is no difference in Extra Virgin or Virgin. Extra Virgin is more of a name used for marketing purposes). Hence if you have never tried coconut oil before, perhaps give it a try knowing it’s a healthier alternative to many of the other oils you are likely using today.
To fitness with love,