Few foods, with the possible exception of eggs, have had their reputations so completely demolished in the 20th century as coconut oil. Even as late as the 1990s, this edible oil, which is extracted from the kernels or flesh of matured coconuts, continued to be demonized in the media as a great contributor to heart disease due to its significant saturated fat content.
Fortunately, modern society is beginning to understand that the saturated fat present in coconut oil is, contrary to popular belief, actually highly beneficial. This understanding was, in part, due to a growing body of evidence suggesting that populations who consumed large quantities of coconut oil, such as the Tokelauan and Kitavan people of the South Pacific, were among the healthiest people on Earth. This evidence prompted a growing number of scientists to investigate the health benefits of coconut oil.
List of Health Benefits
Unbeatable source of saturated fat – According to Self‘s “NutritionData,” one tablespoon of coconut oil contains 14 grams of total fat, of which 12 grams are saturated. This makes it one of the world’s greatest sources of saturated fat. Whereas the saturated fat found in foods such as meat and cheese is mostly comprised of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), however, the saturated fat found in coconut oil is mostly comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). The difference between these two types of fat are significant. Unlike LCTs, which need to be broken down in the intestines before our bodies can use them as fuel, MCTs are metabolized extremely quickly and rarely stored in the body as fat cells. These MCTs are the source of all of the benefits listed below.
Reduces abdominal obesity – Due to its concentrations of MCTs, long-term consumption of coconut oil has actually been linked to weight loss, not weight gain. A Brazilian study published in Lipids in 2009, for instance, found that women who consumed 30 milliliters of coconut oil daily for a 12 week period experienced a reduction in BMI and waist circumference. The group of women who consumed equal amounts of soybean oil, which contains LCTs, during the same period did not experience the same benefits. Therefore, if you’re looking to lose weight, particularly in the abdominal region, consider eating a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil on a daily basis.
Kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi – Almost 50 percent of the MCTs found in coconut oil is lauric acid, a 12-carbon saturated fatty acid that our bodies convert into the monoglyceride, monolaurin. Monolaurin is one of the natural world’s greatest antivirals, antibacterials, and antifungals. In fact, Dr. Joseph Mercola claims that monolaurin can destroy lipid-coated viruses such as measles, herpes, influenza, most pathogenic bacteria, and even HIV – and these claims are now being proven by science. One study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2007, for example, found that coconut oil is extremely effective at killing Candida albicans, a common yeast infection in humans. Another study published in the Journal of Bacteriology in 2000 discovered that coconut oil can help kill Staphylococcus aureus, a very unpleasant (and increasingly antibiotic-resistant) bacterium that is a common cause of skin conditions and respiratory diseases.
Lowers the risk of heart disease – Studies featuring both rats and humans have shown that the MCTs in coconut oil can help reduce total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol and blood coagulation factors. These improvements in cardiovascular risk factors ultimately means that coconut oil can help guard us from heart disease, which is one of the Western world’s biggest silent killers.
Maintains mental health – It is a well-known fact that inadequate amounts of our brain’s main fuel supply, glucose, is the leading cause of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to researcher Dr. Mary Newport, coconut oil can help prevent these diseases due to the high concentrations of ketone bodies in its MCTs, which function as an alternative fuel source. “Humans do not normally have ketone bodies circulating and available to the brain unless they have been starving for a couple of days or longer, or are consuming a ketogenic (very low carbohydrate) diet, such as Atkins,” says Newport. “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, a process that appears to happen one or more decades before the symptoms become apparent. If these cells had access to ketone bodies, they could potentially stay alive and continue to function.”
Raw Coconut Oil Is Best
It’s important to know that organic, raw coconut oil contains far more health benefits than refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil, which has been bleached and deodorized, contains fat fewer nutrients and, depending on the manner in which it was processed, might even contain toxic trans fats. Therefore, stick to raw coconut oil when possible. This kind of oil will actually smell of coconuts, indicating minimal processing.