What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil, that is extracted from the meat or kernel of coconuts, which is primarily used in cooking. For many parts of the world and including places such as the Philippines, it is the most commonly used cooking oil. The oil, comprising of up to 95% saturated fat is said to have many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial and may aid in weight loss. Unlike other highly saturated and unsaturated fats, virgin coconut oil is made up of 70-85% medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) – which are sometimes also referred to as medium chain triglycerides (MCT).
The saturated fat content in coconut oil makes it a good heat-stable oil for cooking and prolongs its shelf life. Coconut oil is a very versatile oil and is also known to be used as engine fuel, an engine lubricant, skin moisturiser, soap, herbicide and as a sand fly repellent!
Benefits of coconut oil
Coconut for weight loss
- Coconut oil is high in MCFA’s (MCT) which are easily oxidized lipids and are not stored in adipose tissue (fat tissue) unlike long chain fatty acids. MCFA’s are able to be utilised for energy and increase thermogenesis. Studies have shown that when a diet rich in MCFA’s is consumed, more fat loss occurs than with a diet rich in olive oil which is high in long chain fatty acids (LCFA).
- A diet containing MCFA’s has also been shown to be more satiating than a diet containing LCFA’s. Meaning you feel fuller for long and are less likely to binge on either sugary snacks or eat between meals.
Coconut oil and cholesterol
Although for many years saturated fat has been associated with raised LDL cholesterol and an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). We know now that this is not the case, with a recent meta-analysis of 21 studies highlighted that “there is no significance for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increase of CHD or CVD” Siri-Tarino et al, 2010.
- Coconut oil contains approximately 50% lauric acid and a diet rich in this has been shown to produce more favourable cholesterol levels than a diet rich in trans-fats.
- Another study showed that coconut oil consumption was associated with higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, especially amongst pre-menopausal women.
Anti-aging and skin health benefits of coconut oil
- Virgin coconut oil has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties and has been shown to be beneficial for people suffering from acne (applied topically and taken internally).
- It helps wounds heal and gives collagen a boost as well, which provides support for the underlying structure of your skin
- Coconut oil can be used as a natural oil cleanser. It can be used it to gently remove makeup, including waterproof mascara and leaves skin feeling fresh, hydrated and clean.
- Coconut oil can also be used to hydrate skin and increase skin surface lipid levels, which helps to plump up the skin and reduce signs of aging. It should be noted that all skin is different and sensitive skin may react with coconut oil, so only use it if it works for you.
Coconut oi and Alzheimer’s prevention
- Coconut oil for the prevention of Alzheimer’s came to media attention with the story of Dr Mark Newport in 2008 and testimonies of benefits of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s can be found everywhere.
- Alzheimer’s is now often referred to as type 3 diabetes as it “corresponds to a chronic insulin resistance plus insulin deficiency state that is largely confined to the brain” de la Monte et.al (2008). It is hypothesized that the rise of Alzheimer’s is linked with rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and stain use.
- According to Dr Newman “In Alzheimer’s disease, the neurons in certain areas of the brain are unable to take in glucose due to insulin resistance and slowly die off…if they have access to ketone bodies (from coconut oil), they could potentially stay alive and function”. (2008)
Coconut oil as antioxidant
- Coconut oil is a known antioxidant, which may be in part due to the phenolic compounds found in the oil. It has been found that these compounds in higher levels in virgin coconut oil when compared with refined, deodorised and bleached coconut oil (RDB coconut oil). For this reason, it would be better to try to always buy virgin coconut oil.
- Many of the studies which highlight the potential benefits of coconut oil on lipid profiles has been conducted on population groups where the oil has been traditionally a staple. These studies do not therefore reflect how other population groups might respond to a sudden increase in the consumption of coconut oil.
- It is not always a case of ‘a little bit is good, so a lot must be great’. Coconut oil consumption should always be a part of a varied diet and should not be eaten in extreme amounts.
- Some people may react to the use of coconut oil on the skin and it is not suitable for everyone. Monitor if you are using at as a skin cleanser or moisturiser and discontinue use if irritation or continual breakouts occur.
Quality vs Inferior quality oil
- It is a non-transparent white when solid and colourless when liquid. Any discolouration or excess debris in the oil may mean it is contaminated.
- Virgin coconut oil should always smell and taste like a nice fresh coconut! It should not smell like rancid oil and the coconut smell should not be overpowering.
- Make sure it comes from a reputable supplier.
Where to get coconut oil
Most supermarkets now stocking coconut oil, but you can also find it from online stores, health food stores and Asian grocers. Buying in bulk will save you money and because it is a saturated fat, it has a long shelf life.
How to use it
If you have never used coconut oil before, start off slowly and just assess how your body reacts to it. Introducing it in the diet too quickly can result in gastrointestinal upset and diarrhoea. Most adults can usually tolerate somewhere between 2-4 tablespoons per day, but again, see how much suits you as an individual.
Using coconut oil in your cooking and in the home is so easy!! It is more or a case of what can’t you use it for! Coconut oil is so versatile and had hundreds of uses.
In the Kitchen
- You can use it for all of your frying or deep frying needs.
- It can be used in baking, desserts or in smoothies. It is great for making natural, guilt free chocolates!
- You can even add it to your coffee or tea to get some additional good fats in your diet.
- It can be used to make sauces, spreads and dips.
In the Bathroom
- Use it as a face cleanser and moisturiser. You can use coconut oil as a cleanser by following the ‘oil cleansing’ method. This is where you place a warm wash cloth on the face for a moment, then massage a small amount of oil into your face, then rinse the wash cloth in warm water and place on your face again. The oil will draw out impurities and clean the face of makeup and other grime.
- Use it as a body moisturiser or massage oil. You can even add it to the bath, combined with some lavender oil to leave your skin beautifully soft and have you feeling relaxed.
- Coconut oil can be used to make soap, as toothpaste or in oil pulling.
- Coconut oil can also be used as a very mild sunscreen and is beneficial to use to the skin in the case of sunburn. Due to its antibacterial properties, it is also beneficial to use for wound healing, cuts and scratches.
Coconut oil recipes
- ALSUntangled, Group. “ALSUntangled 15: coconut Oil.” Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: official publication of the World Federation of Neurology Research Group on Motor Neuron Diseases 13.3 (2012): 328.
- De Roos, Nicole M., Evert G. Schouten, and Martijn B. Katan. “Consumption of a solid fat rich in lauric acid results in a more favorable serum lipid profile in healthy men and women than consumption of a solid fat rich in trans-fatty acids.” The Journal of nutrition 131.2 (2001): 242-245.
- Feranil, Alan B., et al. “Coconut oil predicts a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition20.2 (2011): 190.
- Liau, Kai Ming, et al. “An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity.” ISRN pharmacology2011 (2011).
- Marina, A. M., et al. “Antioxidant capacity and phenolic acids of virgin coconut oil.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 60.S2 (2008): 114-123.
- Newport, Mary T. What If There Was a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease… and No One Knew? http://www.coconutketones.com/whatifcure.pdf, July 2008.
- Prior, Ian A., et al. “Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 34.8 (1981): 1552-1561.
- Siri-Tarino, Patty W., et al. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 91.3 (2010): 535-546.
- St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, and Aubrey Bosarge. “Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil.” The American journal of clinical nutrition87.3 (2008): 621-626.
- Suzanne, M., and Jack R. Wands. “Alzheimer’s disease is type 3 diabetes—evidence reviewed.” Journal of diabetes science and technology 2.6 (2008): 1101-1113.
- Takeuchi, Hiroyuki, et al. “The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17 (2008).