Almost every part of a coconut tree is useful for human beings in one or the other form. Right from the tree to leaves and to fruit each part serves some purpose. The coconut fruit is consumed in different forms -from coconut water used as refreshing drink to coconut oil which is used for cooking or for external application. Let us review the health benefits of coconut oil, its constituents and ways it is consumed.
Coconut oil has been an integral part of south Indian/ south east Asia or coastal cuisine. In the Indian medicinal science called ‘Ayurveda’, coconut is an important medicinal food. Modern science has showed that coconut is a source of naturally occurring healthy saturated fat.
Composition of Coconut oil
Majority of coconut oil, more than 85%, is saturated fat. The rest is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. We need saturated fat for appropriate cell membrane functioning and structure. Saturated fat also supplies energy to the body. Saturated fat in coconut consists of lauric acid (50%), capric acid, tocopherols and tocotrienols. Tocopherols and specific tocotrienols work as anti-oxidants and protect coconut oil from oxidation which might result in rancidity.
Lauric acid is found in significant amount in human breast milk and it supports infant’s immune system to fight invading bacterias and viruses. Lauric acid helps in creating a favorable blood cholesterol profile by raising the amount of High density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol. Compared to other saturated fats such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (which creates trans fats), coconut oil has small-chain and medium-chain triglycerides which gives it a different risk-benefit profile.
Benefits of Coconut OilCoconut oil for Personal Care
Coconut oil can be applied to skin as a moisturizer as saves it from oxidative damages due to exposure to sun and helps retain moisture. This helps in preventing wrinkles, sun burns and also to a certain extent skin cancer.
Coconut oil for head and body massage. Coconut oil is the main constituent of many hair oils available in the market. Coconut oil helps in hair growth, repairs damaged hairs and gives them shine. Regular usages of coconut oil for head massage results in re-growth of hair, dandruff removal and keeps head lice free.
Coconut oil and Weight loss
This may sound counter intuitive that coconut oil consumption helps in weight reduction as more that 90% of it is saturated fats. Coconut oil weight reduction mechanism is multi faceted. Firstly, coconut oil consumption helps to improve our digestive system and thus increase basic metabolism rate. This in turn enables the body to burn more calories resulting in weight reduction. Secondly, the essential fatty acids (fats) present in coconut are proven to be necessary for good health.
Coconut oil as Anti-inflammatory
Coconut oil is found to help in treating inflammatory diseases. It acts by creating more anti-inflammatory substance interleukin-10, and reducing inflammatory mediators – interleukin-6. It also works as an anti-TNF (tumor necrosis factor).
Coconut oil contains lauric and capric acid which are medium chain triglycerides (MCT). These MCTs are known to have anti-viral and nati-microbial properties. The human body can synthesize Monolaurin, an anti-infective agent from lauric acid present in coconut oil. It helps fight many viral infections including virus responsible for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Coconut Oil for Safe Cooking
Coconut oil due to its high content of saturated fat is very suitable for cooking because it is very stable even at very high temperature. This is not same with other unsaturated fats and oils because of the presence of a double bond. At high temperatures saturate fats, especially polyunsaturated fats become oxidized and generate free radicals. These free radicals are destructive for the cells and are now believed to be a main factor in advancement of heart diseases.