You can eat it, cook with it, spread it on your skin. It aids weight loss, makes your skin look younger, treats skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, makes your hair silky, cures fungal infections, heals burns, scars and insect bites. What is this magical elixir? It’s coconut oil.
Coconut itself is remarkable. You can drink its nutritional water, eat its delicious flesh, cream it and its husk is used in tropical countries for bowls, baskets, roofs and many other practical things, but it’s the coconut oil that hails numerous health benefits earning it a reputation as a remarkable food and medicine.
Coconut oil has been described as the healthiest oil on the planet. It was once considered as unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content. Now however, it has been discovered that the oil in coconut is different from other fats with many unique health giving properties.
What makes coconut oil so different from other saturated fats?
It’s all about the molecular structure. All fats are made of fatty acids which are made up of long carbon chains with hydrogen atoms attached. Different types of fats can be classified by their level of “saturation” of hydrogen. A saturated fat has no possibility to attract more hydrogen atoms and is therefore very stable. A polyunsaturated fat has many free spaces for hydrogen atoms and is therefore reactive and not a stable structure and a monounsaturated fat has only one available space for hydrogen, making it relatively stable. Flax oil is a polyunsaturated fat and too unstable to cook with, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and can be healthily cooked at low temperatures and coconut oil is a saturated fat, which can be safely heated to high temperatures. Unlike saturated fats from animal sources, coconut oil does not raise cholesterol levels in the body or contribute to cardiovascular disease. In fact, it does the opposite. It can effectively lower LDL cholesterol and has a protective effect on the arteries. It does this because of the size of its molecule.
Why is size so important?
The size of the fat molecule is important. Fats can be classified based on the length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Some are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) or long chain fatty acids (LCFAs). The size of the fatty acid is extremely important as the body metabolizes the fatty acids differently according to their size. Coconut oil is comprised of MCFAs, whereas the saturated fats from animal sources are mainly LCFAs. It’s the long chain fatty acids that lead to weight gain, raised cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and put a strain on the liver, pancreas and digestive tract. Medium chain fatty acids on the hand lower the risk of these conditions.
The long chain fatty acids are also known as long chain triglycerides (LCTs) and the body needs to package them with carrier proteins requiring special enzymes to effectively metabolize them. The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil are smaller and can easily cross cell membranes without the need for the special enzymes or carrier proteins. MCTs go straight to the liver where they are converted to energy that the body can use rather than being stored as fat. The MCTs don’t even need bile or pancreatic enzymes to be used by the body and are therefore perfect for those who have no gallbladder.
Mother Nature’s Milk
Coconut oil, like mother’s milk, is rich in lauric acid. Once inside our bodies, lauric acid gets converted to monolaurin, which has powerful anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties and does not harm our natural defenses, like medicines can.
Coconut oil really is a miracle food. It stabilizes blood sugar levels, helps balance hormones, stimulates thyroid function leading to increased metabolism and fat burning, reduces stress on the liver and pancreas and boosts the cellular healing processs of the body by destroying dangerous microbes and enhancing tissue repair, hence its ability to aid the healing if skin wounds, cuts, burns and bruizes. It is also known to stimulate the thyroid and reduce stress on the liver and pancreas. As it is so easy to metabolize, it effectively boosts our energy levels.
Coconut oil is the perfect anti-aging treatment keeping the skin soft and supple and the connective tissue strong. It has an antioxidant effect which protects the skin from free radical damage and helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Not only does the skin benefit from the marvelous oil, but the hair and scalp too. Hair becomes soft and silky with regular use and coconut oil can effectively treat dandruff and dry scalp.
Use it to cook with. Its stabilty at high temperatures makes it a healthy oil for cooking
Take it raw off the spoon daily for its health giving properties
Use it as a body and facial moisturizer
Rub it into your hair and scalp for healthy, shiny hair
Apply it to underarms as a natural deodorant
Apply it to insect bites, stings, burns and skin irritations to aid healing
Spread it on bread or use it in smoothies, shakes and desserts
Eat the coconut flesh, dried flakes and drink the coconut water
Living in coconut paradise
I’m sitting here writing this article from my tropical home on Koh Samui, Thailand. I have an abundance of this magical elixir readily available, this being coconut island. If you live in less tropical climes, head to your local health shop for a pot of this magic oil. You can still get a taste of coconut paradise. There is no other natural product like it. Where else can you find an oil that has so many uses? Make coconut oil a part of your daily routine and you will shine both inside and out. I simply couldn’t live without it!
Article by Jo Rowkins dipNT MBANT, nutritionist, founder of awakening health and executive health adviser of The Spa Resorts.