In many Eastern religions, we have a concept of a ‘world tree’. It is also a very prominent concept in Hinduism where it is called kalpavriksha or ‘wish fulfilling tree’.
The coconut tree has often been identified as a kalpavriksha because of its many uses. In fact, most families on the Southern coast of India unfailingly add coconut to their food. They cannot imagine food without coconut.
But there is also an irrational fear of cooking with coconut oil. The blame has been laid on the high concentration of saturated fats in the oil. Thankfully, the situation is changing. Today, we are seeing a resurgence of interest in coconut oil because of various scientific studies on it around the world.
Coconut oil is quite unique because unlike other types of cooking oil (palm oil, sunflower oil), its benefits extend to more than cooking. Let us see what these benefits are.
It is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)
Coconut oil has been receiving a bad press because it is rich in saturated fats but that is not entirely true. The major saturated fats in coconut are caprylic acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid and lauric acid. These saturated fatty acids actually belong to a category called medium chain triglycerides or MCTs. These not only metabolize faster than long chain triglycerides, they are also healthier.
It has a high smoking point
Coconut oil has a high smoking point (177 degrees). Most seed, nut and vegetable oils have a low smoking point. Smoking point is the heating point beyond which the oil will begin to burn. Foods that are cooked in oils with a low smoking oil usually have a burnt flavour. Another advantage of a high smoking point is that beyond that point, the fatty acids in the oil oxidize and produce free radicals which are dangerous to health.
It has antimicrobial properties
Coconut oil has two important ingredients that give it antimicrobial properties- caprylic acid and lauric acid. Once ingested, the lauric acid gets converted into monolaurin which is effective against many viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Coconut oil also keeps a check on the yeast (candida) population in your intestine, restoring balance to the digestive tract. If the yeast population increases, it can lead to persistent bloating, burping, flatulence, diarrhea and constipation.
It is an excellent hair oil
Suffering from split ends, itchy scalp, dandruff or lackluster hair? Try applying coconut oil to your hair and scalp. It is rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Cosmetic Science also said that coconut oil penetrates hair follicles better than mineral oil, the major constituent in hair conditioners. Most people aren’t aware that dandruff is caused by bacteria and fungi. The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil kills these microorganisms, keeping dandruff under control.
It aids digestion
The medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil, especially lauric acid transform into antimicrobial agents in the digestive system. They kill bad bacteria like helicobacter pylori while leaving the beneficial bacteria intact. So coconut oil reestablishes balance in the digestive system and promotes colon health. It is also effective against digestive problems like colitis, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis. Many people even recommend coconut oil for colon cleanses.
Decreases inflammation in the intestine
If you are suffering from intestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, you can benefit from eating coconut oil. The medium saturated triglycerides in coconut oil are absorbed faster in the intestine than long chained triglycerides found in other cooking oils. In fact, long chained fatty acids act as substrates for certain hormones called eicosanoids that trigger inflammation in the intestine. To some extent, the antimicrobial property of coconut oil is also responsible for reducing inflammation in the intestine.
It is great for the skin
Coconut oil is not only a hair tonic and an edible oil, it can also be used in massages and as a skin conditioner. Coconut oil is rich in Vitamin E (0.1 mg in 100 gm of coconut oil) which is vital for skin health. You can use it remove makeup also. Coconut oil penetrates the skin deeper than the average skin care cosmetic because of its small molecular weight.
It helps you burn fat
Coconut oil has fewer calories than other cooking oils. It is because medium sized triglycerides are smaller in size than long chained triglycerides which are a major constituent of other cooking oils. Thanks to their small size, the MCTs are absorbed faster and used immediately as an energy source rather than being stored away as body fat. MCTs also assists in burning fat reserves. One study found that taking 15-30 gm of MCTs increases energy expenditure over 24 hours by up to 5%.
Reduces food cravings
In a study, a group of women were given an MCT drink and another group was given an LCT drink. Half an hour later, they were allowed to drink and eat as much as they wanted. The group that took the MCT drink ate less food than the other group. Dietary fats like coconut oil trigger the production of hormones that suppress the appetite. That is why you get a ‘full’ feeling when you’ve added fat to your diet. Another reason why you don’t feel hungry is because coconut oil stalls the emptying of the stomach.
Fights degenerative brain diseases
Alzheimer’s disease is a major trigger for dementia. It is primarily a disease of elderly people. It has been noticed that in patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s, certain parts of the brain don’t receive enough carbs. The good news is, coconut oil may offer a solution. After the MCTs are absorbed in the intestine, they are transported to the liver where they are converted into ketones (that is why coconut oil is recommended for epileptics) It has been speculated that these ketones may be used as an alternate energy source by such parts of the brain.
It is not for nothing that coconut oil is called a ‘superfood’. You can use it in cooking and for other uses. For instance, it is an antimicrobial, a weight loss agent, anti-inflammatory and a skin and hair conditioner cum moisturizer. So it is a real kalpavriksha- an all giving plant.