Coconut Oil: What is it and what could it do for me?
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for being antiviral and antibacterial. Studies have been done on its effectiveness in lowering the viral load of HIV/AIDS patients. Coconut oil is also being used by thyroid sufferers to increase body metabolism, and to lose weight. Virgin coconut oil is also used for making natural soaps and other health products, as it is one of the healthiest things we can put on our skin. This site aims to provide information on the health benefits of coconut products, particularly virgin coconut oil.
At one time coconut oil received bad publicity because of its high level of saturated fat. However, modern research has shown that not all saturated fats are alike and that the fatty acids in coconut oil, the medium chain triglycerides, do not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease like the long chain triglycerides found in seed oils. Also, most research done on coconut oil in the past was done on hydrogenated coconut oil, which has been altered from its original form.
Much research on the nutritional and medicinal benefits on coconut oil has surfaced in recent years. Much of that research has been done by Dr. Mary Enig. Dr. Enig has classified coconuts as a "functional food," which provides health benefits over and beyond the basic nutrients. She has specifically identified lauric acid as a key ingredient in coconut products:
As a "functional food," coconut oil is now being recognized by the medical community as a powerful tool against immune diseases. Several studies have been undertaken on its effectiveness, and much research is currently underway on the incredible nutritional value of coconut oil.
Virgin Coconut Oil can only be achieved by using fresh coconut meat or what is called non-copra (see below for a definition of copra).
How is Virgin Coconut Oil different from other coconut oils?
Most commercial grade coconut oils are made from copra. Copra is basically the dried meat of the coconut. It can be made by smoke drying, sun drying, or kiln drying, or derivatives or a combination of these three. If standard copra is used as a starting material, the unrefined coconut oil extracted from copra is not suitable for consumption and must be purified - i.e. refined. This is because the way most copra is dried is very unsanitary. Most of the copra is dried under the sun in the open air, where it is exposed to insects and moulds. The standard end product made from copra is RBD coconut oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. Both high heat and chemicals (e.g. solvent extractions) are used in this method.
RBD oil is also often hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Hydrogenated oils have been shown to increase serum cholesterol levels which contribute to heart disease.
One of the main differences between Virgin Coconut oil and refined coconut oils is the scent and taste. All Virgin Coconut Oils retain a distinct fragrance and taste of coconuts, whereas the copra-based refined coconut oils have no taste or fragrance at all due to the refining process.
Why do some say that coconut oil causes high cholesterol levels?
While this claim has been widely disproved in many scientific studies and journals, unfortunately this perception is still around. The tropical oils were very popular in the US food industry prior to World War II. With the war and the shortages of imported tropical oils, an effort was made to promote local oils, like soybean and corn oil. The US is the largest exporter of soybeans. Studies were done to show that coconut oil, and all saturated fats, were bad for one's health because they raised serum cholesterol levels. However, these studies were done on hydrogenated coconut oil, and all hydrogenated oils produce higher serum cholesterol levels, whether they are saturated or not. Recent research shows that it is the presence of trans fatty acids that causes health problems, as they are fatty acid chains that have been altered from their original form in nature by the oil refining process.
In addition, numerous studies now show that the high lauric acid content of coconut oil is very beneficial in attacking viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, and that it builds the body's immune system just as human mother's milk does, which also contains lauric acid. Promising studies have been done on patients suffering from immune deficiency diseases, such as AIDS. With polyunsaturated seed oils now largely replacing coconut oil in the American and British diet, there is a huge deficiency of lauric acid that was present prior to World War II. The need for quality coconut oil, like Virgin Coconut Oil, is greater than ever!