7 Reasons To Stock Up Your Pantry - The Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

by Renée Leonard Stainton
Posted: November 27, 2015

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It seems that everyone is going nuts over coconut oil right now, and for good reason! This tropical wonder has been steadily gaining international attention in the health industry, due to its many health-enhancing properties.

There’s nothing really “new” about the amazing benefits of coconuts…the Western world is just finally discovering what many Pacific and Eastern cultures have known and treasured for years.  Read on to learn how coconut oil is so different to it’s fellow fats, its many health benefits and why it should be a pantry must-have in all health-conscious foodie’s kitchens!

Although much attention has been focused on the need to reduce dietary fat, some fats can in fact be good for your health and contrary to popular belief,  may even help prevent excess weight gain. Health authorities often caution against the consumption of trans-fats and saturated fats, so controversy and confusion have understandably arisen regarding the safety of including coconut oil as part of a healthy diet. Below is a summary of some of the most well-researched potential health benefits of consuming coconut oil;

Increasing metabolism

Coconut oil contains what are called ‘medium-chain fatty acids’ (MCFAs). MCFAs are different from other fats because of the way they are processed and metabolized by the body. These types of fats are broken down very easily and unlike other fats, do not require pancreatic digestive enzymes or bile for digestion. MCFAs are small molecules, making them easily digested and converted by your liver for energy (similar to carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike). In contrast, long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) are large molecules found in other saturated fats that are difficult for your body to break down and are therefore more easily stored as fat.

MCFAs boost your metabolism and help your body to use fat for energy, as opposed to storing it . Yes, this fat can potentially help you to become leaner!  

Enhancing immunity

Coconut oil also contains an ‘immune-boosting’ type of fat. Nearly 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is of a type rarely found in nature called ‘lauric acid’. This is often referred to as a "miracle" compound because of its unique health promoting properties (breast milk is the only other completely natural source of high lauric acid). Our body naturally converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a fatty acid that has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.Unlike some man-made antibiotics and antiviral medications, these fatty acids pose no danger to our bodies, yet they’re powerful in destroying harmful microbes by damaging their cell membranes. Along with these general immune boosting qualities, coconut oil is specifically known for treating candida albicans, fungal infections and athlete’s foot.

Improving skin and hair condition

Coconut oil isn’t just for eating. It can work its wonders when applied topically to the skin and hair too! The fatty acids deeply penetrate, moisturise and act as a protective barrier against environmental and free radical damage. It also helps to keep the skin's connective tissues strong, which can help prevent sagging and wrinkles. It helps to keep hair hydrated, and in babies, when applied topically can prevent and cure cradle cap.

Reducing the risk of diabetes

A recent study by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research found that coconut oil protects against insulin resistance, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The MCFAs in coconut oil are believed to help combat insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the inability of cells to respond to insulin and take in glucose for energy. The pancreas tries to compensate for insulin resistance by producing even more insulin, but eventually glucose accumulates in the bloodstream. Over time, insulin resistance and obesity can lead to pre-diabetes or full blown type 2 diabetes. The study compared fat metabolism and insulin resistance in mice and rats fed diets rich in coconut oil (a MCFA) or lard (a long chain fatty acid). MCFAs were found to reduce fat accumulations while maintaining insulin action in muscle and fat tissue.

Reducing the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol

Unlike other saturated fats, MCFAs are special because they do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and they are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Studies in both humans and rats show that coconut oil improves important risk factors like total Low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which may translate to a reduced risk of heart disease.

Boosting brain health

Studies show that the fatty acids in coconut oil can increase blood levels of ketone bodies, supplying energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients and relieving symptoms. The idea being that by boosting the ketones with coconut oil, we can improve cognitive function.

Healthy option to cook with

Coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils to cook with. Because coconut oil is a MCFA, it has a higher smoking temperature than most polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, meaning it won’t turn rancid and oxidize when introduced to high heats (unlike other oils – including olive). This stability is very important, because it reduces the free radical load on our bodies. For best results, its is advised to use organic, cold-pressed, non-hydrogenated coconut oil. Some ideas for how to incorporate coconut oil into your diet include;

  • Use it for roasting vegetables and for frying meat when cooking
  • Replace butter with coconut oil in baking
  • MIx through rice and other grains
  • Use it as a spread on toast
  • Blend it into a salad as a dressing
  • Mix it into your smoothies
  • Mix a teaspoonful into your tea or coffee

So there you have it. There’s no need to shun all saturated fats in fear of dire health repercussions. Coconut oil’s unique combination of fatty acids can have profound positive effects on health and of equal importance, it tastes delicious and is easy to incorporate into your diet. Having it as a staple in your pantry is a wise health investment indeed.

 

 

Renée Leonard Stainton

Renée Leonard-Stainton

Is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, and Western Medical Herbalist. She has worked with a growing list of clients around the world, from her home country in New Zealand across Australasia, to the States and the Middle East. With extensive experience, Renée regularly contributes to a variety of print magazines and online publications.

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