A good story is always worth retelling and when it comes to coconut oil, it really is a good story to tell. A few years ago I published a column on coconut oil thinking I was writing about something that would be informative and lack controversy. Like most things tied to health and fitness, I was completely incorrect about coconut oil being a safe topic.
What was interesting was the number of people who took the time to express disbelief and concern that I would write that coconut oil was in fact good for you. These folks felt quite the opposite, seeing coconut oil as very bad for your health. I even had one reader demand what my medical training background was that allowed me to write about such nonsense regarding coconut oil’s healthy benefits. On the other side of the coin, I received an above-average number of emails praising the article and how coconut oil was a healthy game-changer for may people. One of the folks that responded in the positive was a medical doctor and author of a number of nutrition books. It just goes to show you that health and fitness topics tend to be like politics and religion — many folks are just not going to agree with each other.
All this being said, let’s take one more look at coconut oil and its healthy benefits.
1. One of the biggest reasons people believe coconut oil is unhealthy is because it is a saturated fat. Coconut oil is also often called the “low fat” saturated fat. It acts more like a carbohydrate in that it is quickly broken down in the liver and used for quick energy. It also supports thyroid function and increases your metabolism.
A Harvard Medical School study recently noted that coconut oil may actually raise your good HDL cholesterol, which is great news for virgin coconut oil lovers. Yes coconut oil is high in saturated fats, but saturated fats fall into three categories, short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids and long chain fatty acids based on the number of carbon molecules they contain. Coconut oil contains both the long chain palmitic acid, which is not great, and about 50 percent is made up of lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid. What researchers have found is that the medium chain fatty acid lauric seems to help raise your HDL levels. Coconut oil also contains about 7 percent of another fatty acid, Capric, which studies have shown may stimulate anti-microbial activity.
2. Coconut oil is a great fuel for your body. Since the saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of 50 percent medium chain fatty acid, it is easily digestible and is converted into quick energy. The body can efficiently produce more energy from those medium chain fatty acids than any other type of fatty acid chain or from glycogen. More athletes are finding that being fat adapted gives them better performance since burning fat as a fuel over glycogen gives them longer, more sustainable access to fuel their bodies needed for intense physical activity.
3. Another aspect to fueling and burning energy during physical activity is the fact that coconut oil slows the formation of lactic acid in your system. It seems that the palmitic acid in coconut oil which, is one of those “not so good for you” long chain fatty acids, may actually help suppress lactic acid which can be a benefit during exercise. Lactic acid, for those of you who don’t know, is that nasty substance that causes muscle burn and fatigue.
4. Coconut oil has been shown to improve digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Coconut oil also improves the body’s use of blood glucose and improves insulin secretion and absorption, one of the reasons it is so popular with primal eating regimens. Since good nutrient and mineral absorption needs fat to absorb effectively, coconut oil meets that need very well.
5. Coconut oil improves the body’s ability to heal and repair faster. It aids and supports immune function, protecting us from a variety of cancers and other chronic health issues. Since coconut oil is a natural antioxidant, it protects the body from free radical damage and has been used to slow degenerative diseases. The lauric acid in coconut oil is converted into monolaurin in our bodies. Monolaurin has been shown to be both an antiviral and antibacterial and is also found in human breast milk. Clearly, these factors help support your body’s defenses.
6. Coconut oil is one of the best oils for cooking with. Coconut oil turns to a colorless liquid above 76 degrees Fahrenheit and solidifies at temperatures below that. Coconut oil has a very long shelf life of about two years and is slow to oxidize. It adds a mild coconut favor to foods when used for cooking and is very stable at high cooking temperatures. Keep in mind that most cooking oils chemically change and develop toxic by-products during cooking. Coconut oil is extremely stable during cooking and much healthier to cook with.
7. Coconut oil is a great natural massage oil and your skin absorbs it so it does not leave you an oily mess. It forms a barrier on your skin and is a great moisturizer. When applied to your hair, coconut oil seems to help strengthen and protect it from sun damage. Some people use it as a healthy natural lubricant to soften calluses, treat sore cuticles and for intimacy.
8. Finally, coconut oil is a healthy alternative to trans fat oils and other unhealthy oils that lead to heart disease. Coconut can help keep our blood platelets from sticking together and also lower the chance of atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and even lower the risk of high blood pressure.
In just the last five years, there have been many studies done that show coconut oil is a healthy oil. As with all things, moderation when it comes to consumption is always a key point. I do not want to take away the concerns of the naysayers, but to be fair, the science and understanding around coconut oil does change its status from a bad saturated fat and places it firmly in the good fat category.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.