June 20, 2012

Coconut Oil: This Ain’t Your Momma’s Cookin’ Grease. ~ Trey Eleazer

Among the ever changing opinion of health fanatics out there coconut oil is slowly but surely picking up the title of a cure all, but this isn’t the first time.

Coconut oil made its big debut to the western world in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and has slowly but surely been chugging along ever since.

Extracted from the fruit of the coconut palm or coco-nucifera, coconut oil is good for your hair, your skin, good for your digestion, and just so happens to help out with diabetes as well as a few respiratory conditions. It calms Vata and Pitta and also does a good job supporting Kapha.

Though it changes from solid to liquid form at around 76 degrees Fahrenheit coconut oil is very heat stable when used in cooking, with a smoke point of up to 450 degrees. This leaves butter (300 degrees) and olive oil  (375 degrees) in the proverbial dust.

It is virtually imperishable and very slow to oxidize due to its high saturated fat content. But isn’t saturated fat supposed to be bad for you? Well according to many clinical nutritionists saturated fat is just another coconut on the dietary palm tree.

A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted in the 1980’s that compares two Polynesian island tribal communities.

The two communities were the Tokelauans, whose diet is made up of 63 percent coconut, and the Pukapukans, whose diet is 34 percent coconut. This study shows that though most of their fat intake is saturated fat, there are very small instances of congenital heart disease.

Among both tribes all other aspects of these island dwellers are quite similar. The two islands are approximately 500 km from each other. Both groups have a low-percapita economy and have had relatively little intermarriage with Westeners and non-Polynesians.

Coconut is the chief source of energy for both groups, and although their diets are high in saturated fat derived from coconut, they are low in total cholesterol.  Fat biopsies were taken from both, as well as height and weight by age group, and even the skin folds were measured. The study shows that Tokelau males have 35 to 40 percent higher cholesterol levels, but the mean triglyceride levels were higher in Pukapuka.

Coconut is used in every meal. The green nuts are the primary beverage, and grated coconut or coconut cream was used as a thickening agent in most meals, especially the raw coconut flesh just as a snack. Dietary cholesterol intake of both groups was low as was their intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Pigs and chickens eaten on the island, whose diets were high in coconut, were only eaten for special occasions and showed a high concentration of short chain fatty acids. This contributed to the islander’s high levels of saturated fats.

A different study, around the same time, showed that the migration of Tokelau islanders from their atolls to New Zealand is associated with changes in lipids and indicates a risk for atherogenesis. This is associated with an actual fall in saturated fat intake and an increase in carbohydrate and sugar intake.

Most coconut oil is derived from copra, the dried husk of the coconut.

Most of that oil is RBD—refined, bleached, and deodorized. These processes yield a higher quality product with a much higher temperature tolerance. The best coconut oil is extracted from the flesh of fresh coconut and has a lower smoke point, but nether process has much to do with the stability or perish ability of the product.

Both virgin and RBD forms of coconut oil are good for the skin, soothing and nourishing when applied directly and good for the hair adding protein to the follicle as well as fighting dandruff when applied to the scalp. Coconut in any form contains lucaric-acid which upon entering the body turns into mono-laurin, a protein otherwise only found in breast milk.

According to the Ayurveda diet coconut oil is good for balancing vata because it is qualified as a cool oil and will help to stabilize or pacify a dosha that has become excessive or aggravated. Coconut is even better for balancing pitta. When out of balance pittas may suffer from skin rashes, burning sensations, peptic ulcers, excessive body heat, heart burn, and indigestion. All conditions which are easily treated with a tablespoon or two of coconut oil each day. When beginning this regiment you may want to ease into it, taking a teaspoon or two each day and working your way up.

To help balance your pitta even further, perform a daily massage using cooling oils like coconut oil or olive oil. Once again coconut oil is very good for skin and hair. Coconut oil is also very complementary to kapha being the humor of motion or movement. Though not necessarily used to balance kapha what could be better for all your moving parts than a nice oil change?

Coconut oil has an even wider verity of beneficial effects for people besides topical application. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid, which makes the body treat it more like a carbohydrate. It goes straight to the liver and is used as energy which gives you the benefit of eating carbohydrates without elevating your blood sugar.

Coconut oil also boosts your metabolism and helps recue abdominal fat.

Large amounts of fat in the mid section have been tied to insulin resistance. So there for less abdominal fat less insulin resistance! Recent studies have shown that saturated fat, mono-saturated fat, and poly-saturated fat aren’t bad for you specifically, it’s the over consumption of any or all of the above that leads to high dietary cholesterol.

Many cosmetic companies are selling products “infused with coconut essence or byproducts” but I’ll tell you from experience that the oils they are selling you are just as good as the oil on the cooking isles, and you get more for you money. Just a little in your hair before conditioning and rub a little on your skin after a hot shower.

Though it may not be the most well known or popular item in the health food store just yet, coconut oil is climbing the ladder one rung at a time. As the turtle said when the rabbit got to the finish line “slow and steady wins the race”

Trey Eleazer is 23 years old and lives in Savannah, Georgia. He’s always been an avid reader and chef extraordinaire. Though he’s fallen out of the culinary state of mind, he thought he would try his hand at writing. Just out of high school he worked for The Authors Press, a small publishing company located in my even smaller home town, but hasn’t had anything published since. His hobbies include music–listening and playing–as well as  getting into good classic novels.


Editor: Ryan Pinkard

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