Cocos nucifera belongs to the Palm family which is Arecaceae. It is found in abundance in Southern Asia, Malaysia and Polynesia. The coconuts are generally exploited for their coconut oil and there are over 1500 studies suggesting that coconut oil is one of the healthiest foods and can be considered as a “superfood”. There are other ingredients of the coconut that are highly beneficial to the body that is, coconut flour and coconut milk. The health benefits of coconut are so vast ranging from skin and hair care to promoting digestion and immunity. In Sanskrit coconut is termed as “Kalpa vriksha” which means “trees which give all that is necessary for living.” It is often misunderstood to be a nut.
Palm trees can produce coconuts up to 13 times a year and matured trees can give up to 60 to 180 coconuts at once. The coconuts take a year to mature and then can be harvested. The typical matured Asian coconuts are brown and hairy while the young coconuts are green and have a white husk. Young coconuts contain more water, gel like meat while the matured ones have far less water and very little meat. The water in the coconuts is high in electrolytes and keeps the body well hydrated. Coconut oil is still debated on whether it is good for the body or not, due to its high saturated fat content. Coconuts are used in cooking in different parts of the world and in different cuisines.
Coconut oil has been shunned due to the misconception that it has high saturated fat content but in recent times, the benefits of coconut oil have come in to the spotlight. While coconut water is considered to be healthy, coconut oil is still in the debate of whether or not it is healthy for the body. The pure coconut oil is extracted from the matured coconut by shredding the white flesh and cold pressing it at 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the processed extra virgin coconut oil while the unrefined virgin coconut oil is not hydrogenated and is considered safe for consumption.
Even though, coconut oil has a high content of saturated fats. Coconut oil is not high in calories or have long chained saturated fats; it has medium chained fatty acids that are good for boosting the metabolism as well as aiding in weight loss. The medium chained fatty acids present in coconut oil are: Caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid. It can also be used to promote digestive health as well as used for body detoxification.
Some vegetable oils when heated to high temperature form harmful by-products that are bad for the heart and body. Coconut oil however, is very stable and can be heated to high temperatures and can be used to prepare vegan desserts. Coconut oil can also be used for cosmetic purposes and also used for medicinal purposes. These are some of the health benefits of coconut oil.
Benefits of medium chained fatty acids over long chained fatty acids
- They do store readily like other fats.
- They have anti-bacterial as well as anti-fungal properties.
- They are much easier to digest.
- They permeate easily in to the cells for immediate energy.
- They are easily processed by the liver to be converted into energy.
Full fat coconut milk is high in calories and has saturated fats that contain medium chained fatty acids like lauric acid. Lauric acid is beneficial to the body and can be used by the body for immediate energy. One can of coconut milk that is 100ml contains: 154 calories, 1.4g protein, 15g fat and 3.4g carbohydrates. People who are lactose intolerant can drink coconut milk as it is lactose free, unlike cow’s milk and can also be used in cooking for vegans.
Nutritional Value Of Coconuts
Coconuts have high nutritional value and are rich in dietary fibers. It contains vitamins like C, B1 B3, B5, B6 and E and also minerals such as iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.
Health Benefits Of Coconut
Treatment For Alzheimer’s Disease
The medium chain fatty acids are present in coconut oil and are one of the health benefits of coconut. The liver digests the MCF’s and creates ketones which can be accessed by the brain as a source of energy. Research has shown that brain produces its own insulin to process glucose and supply energy to brain cells. The brains of Alzheimer patients have lost the ability to produce insulin and thus the ketones from coconut oil could serve as an alternate source of energy for the brain. In this way it may be useful in repairing brain function and preventing the formation of amyloid plaques which is the leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Protects The Liver
Coconut oil protects the liver from damages as it has bioactive substances that can remove harmful toxins from the body. This means that it works as a natural detoxifying agent of the body and thus prevents the liver from being damaged by the toxins. Know more about
Treats Kidney Stones
The digestion of medium chain fatty acids leads to the production of a monoglyceride called Monooctanoin. This monoglyceride is effective in dissolution of gall stones. It can be used for patients who cannot undergo surgery to remove kidney or bladder stones. The cholesterol in coconuts is used as a noninvasive way to remove kidney stones and also prevent them from reoccurring.
Protects The Kidney
Researchers tested the coconut oil’s ability to protect the kidneys on lab rats. The rats were induced with renal lesions and were fed coconut oil to them in different concentrations. They observed that the renal lesions were reduced by consuming this oil and also may reduce the mortality rates.
Improves Yeast Infections
One of the health benefits of coconut is that it can reduce the symptoms of yeast infections due to its antibacterial properties. Yeast infections are caused by the bacteria, Candida. The medium chain fatty acids have antibacterial properties and the most abundant of them is Lauric acid. The lauric acid can be converted to a monoglyceride known as monolaurin. This compound can destroy the lipid coating on bacteria and thus can be more susceptible for killing. Researchers have tested the oil with many different species of Candida and found that many of the species were fairly susceptible to the oil while some of them were 100% vulnerable.
Promotes Oral Health
“Oil pulling” is done as a traditional method to get rid of oral diseases as well as tooth decay. In this case, coconut oil is used to prevent bleeding gums, gingivitis, infections in gums, teeth or jaw and also plaque formation. Researchers conducted a study in which individuals were grouped in to the real treatment and controls. Over a 30 day trial, they found that the individuals who were given the treatment actually had a reduction in plaque formation just after the seventh day and thus one of the benefits of coconut oil is that it can be used as a mouthwash.
Coconut Oil For Skin As Sunscreen
Recent studies have discovered that plants and oils contain properties to act like natural sunscreens. A study suggests that cottonseed, peanut, coconut and olive oil have the potential to block out 20% of the ultraviolet rays. The researchers calculated the SPF values of different oils and concluded that coconut had the second highest SPF value and comes right under olive oil. Thus, the health benefits of coconut are that they can help protect the skin from aging, skin cancer and other skin diseases.
Extra virgin coconut oil can be used as a skin moisturizer as it hydrates the skin and restores the skin elasticity. Researchers conducted a study to check the effects of coconut oil on people suffering from Atopical Dermatitis (AD). AD can be characterized by extreme dry skin and can be prone to bacterial infections of Staphylococcus aureus (SA). 20 AD with SA were given this oil and the results showed that only one person was left with the SA infection while the rest had no infection. Thus, it showed that it not only moisturizes the skin but also protects it from skin infections.
Dandruff is characterized by a dry and itchy scalp, flaky dead skin cells and rough or scaly scalp. This condition is similar to xerosis. The coconut oil can moisturize the scalp and also increase the lipid content on the surface which will help you to remove dandruff fast. It can also deal with bacterial and fungal agents that may infect the scalp.
Coconut Oil For Hair Health
Coconut oil can promote hair strength and reduce hair breakage also it has high protein affinity so it can penetrate the hair and protect protein loss. Protein loss results in hair loss and also hair damage. Thus, coconut oil can protect the protein in the hair and prevent hair damage.
The benefits of coconut are that they have medium chain fatty acids instead of long chain fatty acids. These MCFs instead of accumulating in the organs, it reaches the liver and immediately gets metabolized to form ketone bodies that can be used for immediate energy by the brain. A study was conducted in which the rats were overfed with either MCFs or LCFs and the results showed that the rats that were fed with MCFs had gained 20% less weight and 23% less body fat as compared to the others.
Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease
The increase in LDL cholesterol levels leads to heart diseases while the opposite occurs when there is an increase in HDL cholesterol levels. In a study extra virgin coconut oil (EVCO) versus coconut oil (CO) was used to check their potential on the lipid profile of the body. Researchers found that the people’s blood, serum, liver and heart cholesterol levels were significantly lower who consumed EVCO as compared to people who consumed CO. HDL cholesterol levels also increased when animals were fed with EVCO. This helps prevent coronary heart diseases and other problems.
The health benefits of coconut for the body are that they can help suppress appetite. Coconut oil gives a feeling of satiety and thereby, lowers the calorie intake. Researchers have discovered that long chain fatty acids can increase calorie intake while medium chain fatty acids can lower the calorie intake in animals. They believed that consuming MCFs can stimulate the release of a hormone that suppresses appetite. However, no such hormone has been found yet but MCFs consumption still plays a role in controlling appetite.
Lose Stomach Fat
Abdominal fat is very harmful to the body and can lead to obesity. Similarly, abdominal obesity is more harmful than other types of obesity. A study has been conducted on women with abdominal obesity and randomized into control and treatment trials. They treatment group were given a daily supplement of coconut oil and the researchers found that there was a significant decrease in the waist circumference as compared to the groups that were given placebos or soyabean oil.
When applied infected wounds or burns, coconut oil benefits them by protecting them from dust, fungi, bacteria and viruses. It forms a chemical layer over the infected area. It also heals damaged tissues like bruises quickly. According to the Coconut research center, health benefits of coconut are that they can viruses causing measles, influenza, pneumonia, gonorrhea and urinary tract infections. It is also effective against fungal infections.
Coconut helps in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This is possible due to the fact that studies have shown coconut oil to produce ketones in the liver that can be used as an immediate energy by the brain. By doing so, they have shown to have potential therapeutic effects on the brains of people suffering memory loss and boosts cognition.
Aids Weight Loss
Coconut oil benefits the body by boosting metabolism. The medium chain fatty acids present in the body are used as an immediate source of energy instead of accumulating in the organs like long chain fatty acids. And thus, can aid in weight loss rather than weight gain.
Promotes Muscle Mass
According to a study, coconut oil boosts the pancreas to produce insulin and maintains blood sugar levels. In addition to this, it also provides nutrition to the muscles. By boosting the pancreas to secrete more insulin, it can help body builders or normal people to build-up muscle mass.
Reduces The Symptoms Of Arthritis
Studies have shown that high levels of antioxidants that are present in coconut oils can reduce inflammation and arthritis. Researchers induced arthritis in rats and discovered that when given extra virgin olive oil, it has positive effects on arthritis and also helped reduce the inflammation.
Coconut oil helps the body to form ketones as a source of energy for the brain. The main source of energy for the brain is glucose, however, glucose is also used by cancerous tumors to proliferate but these tumors are not able to use ketones as energy. A study showed that natural oils like coconut oils were able to inhibit the cancerous tumor cells of the human colon adenocarcinoma cells without affecting the non-cancerous cells. Coconut oil has been shown to inhibit the growth of HT-29 malignant human colon cells as compared to other vegetable oils. Thus, coconut oil could be a potential chemotherapeutic agent.
One of the health benefits of coconut are that they may play a vital role in reducing seizures. A study conducted on children suffering from epileptic seizures showed that the children who were treated with a high fat and ketogenic diet had a significant lower mean percentage of seizures compared to the children that weren’t on such a diet. This shows the potential of coconut oil to reduce seizures as it has a high content of ketones, however, it cannot alone prevent seizures.
Studies have suggested that the medium chain fatty acids present in coconut oil can help to boost the digestion and break down of lipids by improving the efficiency of the enzymes related to metabolism. It also promotes the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like calcium and magnesium and other valuable nutrients.
Reduces Gall Stones
The coconut oil produces a monoglyceride known as monooctanoin which is cholesterol solvent and can be used in dissolution in gall stones. The monooctanoin can get rid of the gallstones left over after the cholecystectomy. By ingesting coconut oil regularly, can also prevent the formation of gallstones.
Reduces The Symptoms Of Pancreatitis
Coconut oil is easily digested in the body and does not require the breakdown of them done by the enzymes of the pancreas. This can take a load off the pancreas and can relieve some symptoms of pancreatitis.
Most women undergoing menopause can have a high risk of developing osteoporosis. This is characterized by a decrease in bone density due to the decreased absorption of calcium by the body. Coconut oil benefits the body by increasing the absorption of calcium and reducing or even preventing effects of osteoporosis. Free radicals can also lead to this condition, however, antioxidants present in coconut oil can fight the free radicals.
The benefits of coconut on the body are beneficial in post and pre-menopausal women. Studies have shown where the proteins which are responsible in conserving estrogen in women during menopause increases and leads to a healthier lipid profile.
Researchers believe that the medium chain fatty acids present in coconut oils are helpful in preventing the stress associated depression. Thus, it can help in your mental well-being as well and also helps to prevent anxiety.
Coconut oil has unique fatty acids that can help restore or maintain the saturated and unsaturated fatty acids of the skin. It can also help boost collagen production and promote skin elasticity. It stimulates the production of new skin cells that aid in reducing wrinkles and reduce damage caused by the sun. Also, the collagen production can also help in reducing baggy skin and making the skin look younger.
Promotes Thyroid Function
The thyroid plays a vital role in heart rate, breathing and also hormone production. A study suggests that the capric acid present in coconut oil can significantly improve hormone production and thus regulate the thyroid cell metabolism.
Improves Type 2 Diabetes
A study was conducted by researchers on rats that were induced with Type 1 diabetes. They were given coconut oil treatment and after 4 weeks, the rats that had hyperglycemia previously, showed significantly lowered blood sugar levels and this has been thought to have occurred due to the fact that the oil stimulates insulin secretion. This leads to better regulated blood sugar levels and can thus help in improving Type 2 diabetes.
Apart from coconut oil, coconut milk is can also be considered as a “superfood” due to its high nutritious content. Coconut milk benefits the body in many ways by lowering cholesterol levels and improving blood pressure levels. It also can be used in cooking and can be used as “vegan food”.
Coconut Oil For Cooking
For storing coconut oil globules, you can refrigerate at 10 degrees Celsius or at -4 degrees Celsius. Before using it to cook with, thaw the oil by immersing the container that has the oil in water whose temperature is 40 degrees Celsius and thus it will thaw faster. You can use it to bake with and it is best to use virgin coconut oil as it will incorporate all the health benefits of coconut into your food.
- Coconut Flour: Coconut flour is extracted from mature coconuts. The coconut meat is dried and ground to produce flour. It is gluten-free and high in fiber and carbohydrates.
- Coconut Milk: The meat of the mature coconut is shredded and mixed with water. It is then passed through a sieve or cheesecloth and the white milky liquid that is produced is the coconut milk.
- Coconut Cream: Coconut cream is basically coconut milk with the high water content. It is usually thicker and is in the form of a white paste. The water is removed by squeezing out the water from the cheesecloth.
- Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar is extracted from the budding flower of the coconut. It is highly nutritious and has a similar taste to brown sugar.