Coconut Secrets for Optimal Health
The Tree of Life
Coconut oil -Cocos nucifera
Cocos nucifera is the scientific name of the common coconut. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means “monkey face” because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resembles the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means “nut-bearing.”
This very tall palm tree is always an inviting symbol of the tropics. The plant is one of the most valuable plants to man. It is a primary source of food, drink, and shelter. In Sanskrit the coconut palm is called “kalpa vriksha”, which is defined as “the tree which provides all the necessities of life.”
Man can use every part of the coconut. The white nut-meat can be eaten raw or shredded and dried and used in most cooking recipes. A single coconut has as much protein as a quarter pound of beefsteak. Copra, the dried meat of the kernels, when crushed is the source of coconut oil. The husks, known as coir, are short, coarse, elastic fibers used to make an excellent thatch roofing material for houses. This very diverse plant is also an excellent charcoal, which is produced from the shells, not only does it work as a cooking fuel, but also in the production of gas masks and air filters.
The outer part of the trunk of the coconut palm furnishes, a construction lumber, known as porcupine wood for houses and furniture. The swollen base of the trunk, when hollowed, can be turned into a hula drum that the Hawaiians use for entertainment. These are just a few examples of how extraordinary the coconut palm can be utilized.
Several things go by the name “coconut” – the tree, the fruit, the candy and the spice.
Coconut spice is the dried shredded meat from the fruit of the majestic palm tree that grow in subtropical and tropical regions around the world. It is not surprising that the coconut palm is called the “tree of life.” A typical tree produces from 60 to 180 coconuts a year – the dietary mainstay for millions of people in South and South Asia, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean, where the equivalent of a coconut a day is eaten as coconut water, milk, oil and spice.
Coconut oil has a bad name for some time in the United States because of its high saturated fat content. It has been widely misunderstood. The amazing facts about coconut oil are spreading. The myths are now removed and you are about to read about some very amazing scientific coconut facts. In this article you will learn about why you should use and cook with coconut oil and the amazing heart benefits derived from this precious oil. By the way the best coconut oil to buy is organic virgin-cold pressed
You could call coconut oil the belly-friendly fat. It helps prevent obesity by speeding up metabolism, providing an immediate source of energy with fewer calories than other fats. People who consistently use coconut products, report a stronger ability to go without eating for several hours with no effects of hypoglycemia.
Canadian researchers asked 12 healthy women to eat on of two strange diets for two weeks. Both diets contained 15 percent protein, 45 percent carbohydrates, and 40 percent fat – normal enough. But half the women ate 80 percent of their daily fat from beef tallow, while the other half ate their fat from a combination of butter and coconut oil. In other words, both groups ate plenty of LCT (long-chain triclycerides) containing saturated fat, but only one group also ate saturated fats with MCT (medium-chain triglycerides)
After two weeks, those eating MCT were burning up about 45 percent more LCT!
No one (lost or gained) weight – the study wasn’t designed as a weight-loss experiment. It was designed to prove the hypothesis that MCT are potent fat-burners – and it proved just that.
“The capacity of MCT” to increase fat-burning of long-chain saturated fatty acids “suggests role for MCT in body weight control over the long term,” concluded the researchers in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders.
And in a study in the journal Lipids, Brazilian researchers studied 40 women, dividing them into two groups-one group took supplements of soy oil, while the other group took coconut oil. After three months, both groups lost a little weight. But only those taking the coconut oil had much trimmer tummies (abdominal fat isn’t only unsightly but the fat around your gut has the bad habit of pumping out inflammatory compounds that increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.) Coconut, concluded the researchers, may “promote a reduction in abdominal obesity.”
Importantly, the researchers found the coconut oil didn’t increase heart-hurting LDL cholesterol and did increase heart-helping HDL cholesterol.
Coconut oil improves Heart Health by providing healthy short chain and medium chain fatty acids (MCT) that are essential to good health. Close to 98% of all fatty acids consumed are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), which are very different from MCFA that have no negative effect on cholesterol ratios and help to lower the risk of atherosclerosis and protect against heart disease. Studies have shown that populations in Polynesia and Sri Lanka, where coconuts are a dietary staple, do not suffer from high serum cholesterol or heart disease. Unlike other fats, the unique properties of coconut also contain a large amount of lauric acid, which is the predominant fatty acid found in mother’s milk.
True, coconut contains a lot of fat. Coconut is 82 percent fat, 76 percent of which is saturated. Now hold on for a minute, you were told not to eat saturated fats. Let’s examine this further. Here is the great news! The saturated fat is what makes coconut a super-spice and actually good for the heart. The saturated fat isn’t the same that is in meats and milk.
The saturated fat in coconut is what’s called a medium-chain triclyceride (MTC). To undersand why that’s important let’s take a more in depth look at all fats.
Here is the short abbreviated chemistry lesson. Put a tiny drop of fat under a powerful microscope that displays atoms and molecules, and you will see triclycerides- three (tri) fatty acids hooked up to a molecule of glycerol. Those fatty acids form chains, linked together by carbon atoms. Some chains are short, with four to six carbon atoms. Some chains are long, with 24. And some chains are medium-sized, with 8-12.
Ninety percent of fats- like those in meat and milk-are long –chain fatty acids (LCT). To process them, the body hooks them up with transport molecules in the bloodstream called chylomicrons and sends them off to fat cells.
But MCT isn’t digested that way. The body shunts MCT directly from the stomach to the liver, where ‘it’s metabolized in a flash. And that super-rapid metabolic action actually burns more calories than the fat contains. Studies show that people who get lots of dietary MCT burn an average of 100 extra calories a day, compared to folks who don’t eat an MCT-rich diet. Coconut contains more MCT than any other food.
First of all lets banish the myth that Coconuts are high in cholesterol, they are not. The fat from coconut is considered saturated but it is actually called Lauric Acid which is a type of fat which is easily absorbed by the human body and used instantly as energy.
Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid which is abundant in coconut oil and is considered responsible for many of its health benefits. Coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid. The only other abundant source found in nature is in human breast milk.
This is quite amazing by itself and shows the power of the oil as it is such a close match to our mother’s milk. Just imagine how powerful this stuff is!
Will Eating Coconut Oil Raise My Cholesterol?
HDL VERSUS LDL
This is the number one question asked question regarding coconut oil. This is a legitimate concern because we have been conditioned to believe that all saturated fats raise cholesterol. Since coconut oil contains a high amount of saturated fat it would stand to reason that it too would raise cholesterol.
The truth is, eating coconut oil will improve your cholesterol values and reduce your risk of heart disease. Many people, however, have expressed concern after having their blood cholesterol checked and found that their total cholesterol has increased since they began using coconut oil. If coconut oil reduces risk of heart disease why did their cholesterol levels rise?
It was found that people’s response varies when they start using coconut oil. In some people total cholesterol decreases, while in others it increases. But in either case, their HDL (good) cholesterol always increases. The rise in total cholesterol that some people experience is due mostly to an increase in good cholesterol. Their cholesterol ratio (total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol) improves, thus reducing their risk of heart disease.
It is an established fact that the cholesterol ratio is a far more accurate indicator of heart disease risk than total cholesterol. Total cholesterol, in fact, is misleading and is a poor risk indicator because it lumps together both LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. Total cholesterol gives you no indication of how much is good and how much is bad. You can have high total cholesterol, but if a large percentage of it is made of up HDL, then your risk is low.
The lower the cholesterol ratio the better. A cholesterol ratio of 5.0 mg/dl is considered average risk. Above this value is high risk and below is less than average risk. A ratio of 3.2 mg/dl or less is considered optimal or the lowest risk.
If you have a total cholesterol value of 240 mg/dl, this would be considered high. You would be told that you are at high risk for heart disease. Your doctor would tell you to reduce your saturated fat intake and have you to take cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, if your HDL value was 75 mg/dl, your cholesterol ratio would be 3.2 mg/dl. This value is in the optimal range and you would have the lowest risk. Since the cholesterol ratio is a far more accurate indicator of heart disease risk, even though your total cholesterol may be high, your actual risk is very low.
Just the opposite can also happen. If a person has a total cholesterol reading of 178 mg/dl that we be considered ideal and be said to be at low risk. If, however, their HDL was only 35 mg/ld, their cholesterol ratio would be 5.1 mg/dl, which is in the high risk category! This explains why so many people who die of heart disease have normal or below normal total cholesterol levels and why many people with high total cholesterol levels live long lives without experiencing heart problems.
So when you go to the doctor and ask about cholesterol, ignore the total cholesterol and figure the cholesterol ratio. You find the cholesterol ratio by dividing the total number by the HDL and that gives you your ratio. In every case, the cholesterol ratio improves when they start using coconut oil and their risk of heart disease drops.
Here is an actual case. A woman had a family history of high cholesterol. Family members had total cholesterol readings in excess of 400 mg/dl. After adding coconut oil into her diet her total cholesterol rose from 336 to 376 mg/dl. Ordinarily this is considered very high. However, her HDL (good) cholesterol nearly doubled from 65 to 120 mg/dl. Her cholesterol ratio dropped from a high risk value of 5.2 mg/dl to a low risk value of 3.1 mg/dl, which is in the optimal range. Although she had a very high total cholesterol reading, her true risk was very low. Her blood pressure was optimal at 110/60.
Studies have consistently shown that coconut oil increases HDL and improves the cholesterol ratio. While coconut oil does not reduce total cholesterol as effectively as polyunsaturated oils do, it has a greater effect on HDL. When HDL and cholesterol ratio values are evaluated, coconut oil reduces risk of heart disease more than soybean, canola, safflower, or any other vegetable oil typically recommended as “heart healthy.” Interestingly, most vegetable oils increase the cholesterol ratio thus increasing the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil is definitely the best oil you can use to protect yourself from heart disease.
Iodine is often in value mentioned when describing the properties of oil, including coconut oil. What does this mean?
Most people don’t understand this term and mistakenly believe it represents the iodine content of the oil. It has nothing to do with iodine content. Processed oils don’t have any iodine. The iodine value is a measure of the degree of the unsaturation of an oil. Technically it is the value of the amount of iodine, measured in grams, absorbed by 100 ml of a given oil. Although the iodine value may sound uninteresting, it has some very important health implications.
All fats and oils are composed of fat molecules known as fatty acids. The molecules can be classified into three categories depending on their degree of saturation. You have saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
No oil in nature is composed entirely of any one of these three. All dietary oils contain a mixture. Soybean oil, for example, is referred to as a polyunsaturated oil because that is the predominant fatty acid. It also contains 24 percent monounsaturated fatty acids and 15 percent saturated fatty acids. Coconut oil is also a mixture. It contains 92 percent saturated fatty acids, 6 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, and 2 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The terms saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated refer the degree of hydrogen saturation. A saturated fatty acid contains all the hydrogen atoms it possibly can. In other words, it is fully saturated with hydrogen. A monounsaturated fatty acid contains all but one pair of hydrogen atoms it can hold. A polyunsaturated fatty acids is lacking two or more pairs of hydrogen atoms.
The iodine value is a measure of the amount of unsaturated fatty acids in the oil. A fatty acid that is missing any hydrogen atoms is classified as being unsaturated. This includes all monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Although the iodine value is used primarily in industry, it is of value to us because it gives an indication of the oil’s stability and health properties. Coconut oil has an iodine value of 10. This indicates that it contains a high amount of saturated fatty acids and a very small amount of unsaturated fatty acids. The higher the iodine value, the greater amount of unsaturation. As noted above, coconut oil is 92 percent saturated and 8 percent unsaturated. Soybean oil, in contrast, has an iodine value of 130. It contains only 15 percent saturated fatty acids with 85 percent unsaturated fatty acids, thus the reason for its high iodine value.
The higher the iodine value, the less stable the oil and the more vulnerable it is to oxidation and free radical production. High iodine value oils are prone to oxidation and polymerization. During heating, such as when used in cooking, oils with a high iodine value readily oxidize and polymerize. Polymerization is an irreversible process which causes the fatty acids to become hard, insoluble, plastic-like solids.
Because of their tendency to harden when oxidized, polyunsaturated vegetables have been used extensively as bases for paints and varnishes. You can see this effect in the kitchen. When you use polyunsaturated vegetable oils in cooking sometimes the oil spills onto the outside of the pan. If the outside of the pan is not thoroughly cleaned, over time you will notice a buildup of a very hard, amber colored, varnish-like substance on the bottom of your fry pans. This is polymerized vegetable oil. The oil you used in cooking has literally turned into varnish. It takes a scouring pad and a lot of elbow grease to scrub it off the pan. When high iodine value oils are heated, you are creating polymerized fatty acids in your food. The higher the temperature or the longer the exposure to heat, the greater the degree of polymerization.
These products of oxidation have been shown to be associated with numerous health problems including cancer and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Coconut oil has the lowest iodine value of any dietary oil. Therefore, it is very resistant to oxidation and polymerization. It makes a very safe cooking oil.
Iodine Values of Some Common Oils
- Coconut Oil 10
- Palm Kernel Oil 37
- Beef Tallow 40
- Palm Oil 54
- Olive Oil 81
- Peanut Oil 93
- Canola Oil 98
- Sunflower Oil 125
- Soybean Oil 130
- Above are the iodine values of some common oils. Personally, I wouldn’t cook with any oil that has an iodine value over 80.
The following are few more benefits of the amazing coconut.
Coconut is full of High in Dietary Fiber rivaling other fiber sources such as psyllium, wheat bran, oat bran, and rice bran. Coconut supplies an impressive 61% dietary fiber! Foods contain two types of carbohydrates – digestible and non-digestible. Digestible carbohydrates (soluble fiber) consists of starch and sugar and promote calories. Non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber) contains NO calories. Since the body cannot digest the dietary fiber in coconut, no calories are derived from it and it has no effect on blood sugar.
Low Glycemic Index (GI) measures how fast available carbohydrates in food raise blood sugar levels. Coconut fiber slows down the release of glucose, therefore requiring less insulin to utilize the glucose and transport it into the cell where it is converted into energy. Coconut also assists in relieving stress on the pancreas and enzyme systems of the body, in turn, reducing the risks associated with Diabetes. Coconut Nectar and Crystals have a very low GI of only 35 (compared to honey with a GI of 55-83, and sugar with a GI of 65-100.)
Reduces Sweet Cravings and improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose. The healthy fat in coconut slows down any rise in blood sugar and helps to reduce hypoglycemic cravings.
Improves Digestion and many of the symptoms and inflammatory conditions associated with digestive and bowel disorders, by supporting absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids while also providing beneficial dietary fiber.
Quick Energy Boost that provides a super nutritious source of extra energy. Coconut is utilized by the body to actually produce energy, rather than to store it as body fat. It supports improved endurance during physical and athletic performance. As well, it promotes healthy thyroid function and helps to relieve the symptoms of chronic fatigue.
In addition, coconut contains No Trans-Fats, is Gluten-Free, Non-Toxic, Hypoallergenic, and also contains Antibacterial, Antiviral, Antifungal, and Anti-parasitic healing properties. Coconut helps to aid and support overall Immune System functions.
- Coconut Water
Coconut water is a refreshing beverage that comes from coconuts. It’s a powerhouse of nutrition containing a complex blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates, antioxidants, enzymes, health enhancing growth hormones, and other phytonutrients.
Because its electrolyte (ionic mineral) content is similar to human plasma, it has gained international acclaim as a natural sports drink for oral rehydration. As such, it has proven superior to commercial sports drinks. Unlike other beverages, it is completely compatible with the human body, in so much that it can be infused directly into the bloodstream. In fact, doctors have used coconut water successfully as an intravenous fluid for over 60 years.
Coconut water’s unique nutritional profile gives it the power to balance body chemistry, ward off disease, fight cancer, and retard aging. History and folklore credit coconut water with remarkable healing powers, which medical science is now confirming. Published medical research and clinical observation have shown that coconut water:
- Makes an excellent oral rehydration sports beverage
- Aids in exercise performance
- Reduces swelling in hands and feet
- Aids in kidney function and dissolves kidney stones
- Protects against cancer
- Helps balance blood sugar in diabetics
- Provides a source of ionic trace minerals
- Improves digestion
- Contains nutrients that feed friendly gut bacteria
- Helps relieve constipation
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Improves blood circulation
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Improves blood cholesterol levels
- Helps prevent atherosclerosis
- Prevents abnormal blood clotting
- Possesses anti-aging properties
- Restores strength and elasticity to skin
- Reduces discolored aging spots on skin
- Reduces wrinkles and sagging skin
- Enhances healing of wounds and lesions
- Supports good vision and prevents glaucoma
- Contains potent antioxidants
- Enhances immune function
You can buy many different versions of coconut water. Of course you can drink it from the coconut. You can get fresh coconut from many grocery stores these days. You can buy coconut water that is pasteurized. There are many brands on the market. I recommend you buy a brand that has only one ingredient, coconut water. You can also buy raw coconut water at your nearest health food store. This doesn’t store long and must be consumed right away. One option is to freeze the coconut water to use at a later time if you are in the habit of storing up when you buy. This is my personal favorite because it has not been processed at all, which means no pasteurization.
- Coconut milk
Coconut milk is made by pouring hot water or coconut water over shredded coconut and squeezing it to extract the milk. It’s sweet and milky-white with an almond-like flavor. It’s widely used as a spicy flavoring in cooking throughout Southeast Asia, South India, Indonesia, South American, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean.
Coconut milk gives distinctive flavor to sate lalot, grilled meatballs on the Indonesian island of Madure, near Java. It’s widely used in Bahian cooking a Cajun-like cuisine of Brazil, and is in the base of the much-beloved Bahian peanut sauce, which also features garlic, tomato, and cilantro. In Sri Lanka, coconut milk is used with toasted spices to mellow and give body to hot curries. Coconut milk is also used in hoppers, steamed fermented breads made with rice flour and served for breakfast.
- Coconut cream
A thicker, more –paste-like version for coconut milk– is used in many dishes in Kerala, an area of South Indian known for its wonderful fish curries.
- Coconut spice
Is dry and grated and is an essential ingredient in curries and vegetables in Indonesia and Malaysia, along with coconut milk. The spice is also used in the beef dish called rending. And it’s used to make rice pudding and dadar, pancakes with a sweet coconut filling. Fish and seafood cooked with rice and shredded dried coconut form the daily diet of people living along India’s tropical Malabar Coast. Dried coconut is used extensively in South Indian cooking, especially curries. Vegetarian dishes generally feature toasted desiccated coconut.