Why is it that in every movie about being stranded on an island, there are always plenty of coconuts?
Honestly, that’s not a bad deal. Coconuts are extremely nutritious and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are such an important source of food and medicine that pacific islanders refer to the coconut tree as “The Tree of Life”.
In my post on the best & worst cooking oils for your health, I mentioned that coconut oil has been sparking debates among nutritionists. According to the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness site, coconut oil was demonized back in the 1980s. Tropical oil in general was blamed for heart disease, and health practitioners were quick to agree. Way too quick, as more recent research shows how beneficial coconut oil really is.
What I’ve noticed is that coconut anything has been sort of a ‘flavor of the year’ health fad item.
And what is the deal specifically with coconut oil?
I wanted to take a deeper dive on this oil and its health benefits.
Let’s break it down shall we?
LDL vs. HDL – Bad vs. Good
As a little refresher, there are different types of cholesterol. I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again, so I’ll make it quick. But I’m not just going to say “good” and “bad” and end it there, I’m going to tell you what’s going on.
- LDL – Stands for ‘Low-Density Lipoprotein’. The word ‘Lipo’ stems from the greek word lipos, which means fat. A fat molecule that has less density is going to be larger than a fat molecule that has more density. Think of LDL as a ball – a lot of material on the outside, not as much on the inside. LDL is the type of cholesterol associated with plaque formation in our arteries, which is why it’s labeled the bad guy.
- HDL – Stands for ‘High-Density Lipoprotein’. A molecule with higher density, conversely, is going to be smaller. So think of HDL as something of a fat diamond. I’m exaggerating here – but diamonds are really dense, and really small. Similarly, HDL is dense and small. HDL help remove LDL from the bloodstream by bringing it to the liver, which is why HDL is seen as the good guy.
Despite commonly held assumptions we do need both LDL and HDL cholesterol because they both have important roles to play in the body. But it’s better to have a higher ratio of HDL to protect against cardiovascular issues.
The weird thing is that the name ‘Low-Density Lipoprotein’ has the word ‘low’ in it, making us think it is smaller. This isn’t the case. Just think of it as HDL is small and good, LDL is big and bad. It does get a little bit deeper than that but we’ll leave the more complex cholesterol rant to another day 🙂
Let’s get back to the topic of coconut oil.
Lauric Acid – Lower Cholesterol
You know I always used to freak out a little bit when I saw the word ‘acid’, thinking that it meant burning disaster. But actually ‘acid’ is just a scientific term for a compound that has a higher concentration of hydrogen in it. No burning disaster required!
Alright so back to lauric acid, this bad boy makes up over half of the fatty acids in coconut oil.
What does this mean?
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that eating a diet rich in lauric acid resulted in a favorable lipid profile compared to a diet rich in other fats. What this means is that the folks in the study who ate more lauric acid vs. trans-fats (something like soybean oil), had lower LDL, higher HDL, and better overall cholesterol levels.
Anti-viral Coconut Oil
As mentioned above, lauric acid helps promote good cholesterol levels in the body, and there is an additional benefit. Lauric acid is converted to monolaurin in the body and monolaurin is a natural germ-killing disinfectant.
A study posted in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology analyzed skin culture samples of young people with primary and secondary skin infections. The conclusion was that some bacteria, like E. Coli, showed smaller colony growths at higher monolaurin concentrations.
Another interesting study at the Georgetown University Medical Center showed that monolaurin from coconut oil may inactivate viruses such as HIV, measles, and herpes.
While additional studies need to be conducted to cement coconut oil’s validity as an anti-viral, it’s clear that the anti-viral properties of coconut oil help its case as a superfood. It should be noted that monolaurin also comes as a supplement, but without further studies around things like drug interaction and toxicity, I’d suggest sticking with the natural sources (like coconuts).
Medium-Chain Fatty Acids
Coconut oil has a high percentage of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). So many science words…what does this one mean?
There are different chain-lengths of fatty acids (for our purposes we will discuss two):
- Long-Chain Fatty Acids (LCFAs) – Chains of fatty acids that are 13-21 carbons long, most oils consist primarily of LCFAs
- MCFA – Chains of fatty acids that are 6-12 carbons long, coconut oil is about 60% MCFA
So LCFAs are longer, MCFAs are shorter, and coconut oil is mostly made up of MCFAs. So what?
Well, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition in March 2002, MCFAs are oxidized in the liver. So they are likely to be burned as fuel, and not as readily stored as fat tissue compared to LCFAs. Therefore, MCFAs increase energy expenditure and increase fat burning.
And according to Dr. Marie-Pierre St Onge of the Columbia University Medical Center, “may result in faster satiety and facilitate weight control when included in a diet as a replacement for fats containing LCFA”.
Straight up, you’ll feel fuller, and have an easier time controlling your weight if you replace other oils with coconut oil.
A lot of us consume diets higher in sugar and fat than we’d like and the result of this poor consumption can be diabetes mellitus. One particular pitfall resulting from diabetes is decreased renal function (kidney problems).
But did you know the consumption of coconut oil can reverse the destructive effects on the kidneys?
I was blown away by this.
According to a study in the Physiological Journal, Dr. A.M. Akinnuga and team studied the effects of virgin coconut oil on laboratory animals with diabetes. Other research has indicated that coconut water and coconut milk have protective effects on the kidneys, and thus it would make sense that coconut oil would also. The study concluded that renal dysfunction can be significantly reversed by dietary consumption of virgin coconut oil.
Coconut Oil In the Face
Ok we got it, the stuff’s good for you. It’s good fat, burns fat, and has healing properties. So then how do I eat it? Would we just treat it like normal oil and throw it on the pan while heating up some rib-eye? Well yes you could but I’ve got plenty of other options for getting that good fat in folks.
Here are a few to get you started.
1. Super Coffee
Have you heard of the new coffee trend of putting butter in your coffee? And how it will help kick-start your day?
I’ve tried it and it’s true, but there’s a catch…I think it’s gross. Why not put some coconut oil in your coffee instead? You get all the benefits of the increased energy expenditure, HDLs, and MCFAs in your morning sip.
EDIT: I just tried this. And about four sips into my coffee I was wired! I don’t know the mechanism of action for this, but holy cow does it work!
2. Coconut Oil Salad Dressing
Do you make your own salad dressing? Usually olive oil and vinegar or something similar? Well duh, we can substitute in some coconut oil!
Here’s one from the folks at coconuts and kettlebells:
- 2/3 Cup Coconut Oil (melted)
- 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Oil Oil
- 1/3 Cup of Balsalmic Vinegar (Try Lemon!)
- ½ Table Spoon Raw Honey
- 1 Small Garlic Clove (Hulk Smashed)
- ½ Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste
3. Coconut Oil in Granola Parfait
Ah, yogurt parfait. It’s breakfast, it’s a snack, it’s amazing.
I just take some organic granola, a handful of sliced nuts (almonds usually win), some blueberries, raspberries, and mash it all into a bowl of yogurt. But before the mashing, you could take some melted coconut oil and mix it with the granola.
I know that all sounds a little lazy cave-man style, so if you want a more refined approach, I suggest taking a look at this Healthy Homemade Granola Parfait recipe from YummyHealthyEasy.com.
Coconut Oil on the Body
So you may have noticed that coconut oil is making quite an appearance in the beauty scene. And why not? The lauric acid that has strong disinfectant and microbial properties can work from the outside too!
So how can we use it to both feel and look amazing?
1. Body Oil
A lot of massage professionals swear by coconut oil. It has a creamy texture, is gentle, has vitamin E, and well, smells like coconuts. Celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder mentioned to the Huffington Post that “commercial moisturizers contain lots of water, which makes you feel like your skin is being moisturized. But as soon as the water dries, your skin becomes dry again. Also, many commercial brands of moisturizers contain petroleum-based ingredients that can suffocate the skin. In contrast, coconut oil provides deep and real moisture. It helps strengthen underlying tissues and helps remove excessive dead cells on the skin’s surface that makes your skin rough and flaky in texture”.
2. Shiny Pretty Head
Did you know coconut oil is also used all over the world as a hair oil?
According to organicfacts.net, it’s used in areas like the Indian Subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Philippines, and parts of the Caribbean. I’m pretty sure a lot of these areas have some extreme heat and humidity, so they must be using something good!
Here are some hair benefits listed:
- Prevents Hair Loss
- Reduces Protein Loss and Prevents Hair Damage
- Cools and Soothes the Scalp
- Helps Retain Moisture
- Fatty Acids Act as Anti-Dandruff Agents
- Protects Against Lice
- Helps Toning Dry Hair
- Helps Minimizing Split Ends
- Baby Bottom Face
Alright so we know coconut oil is good for your skin, it’s good for your hair. It’s only natural that it would also be good for shaving. It isn’t going to generate a huge lather or anything, but that’s actually not the key to a perfect shave.
Here are some tips I’ve adapted from hellonatural.co:
- Get a good razor. Have you ever tried to cut a tomato with a crappy knife? You need the right tools for the job.
- Soften the skin with warm water. This opens up the pores and releases the hairs for a closer shave. Best time? After a shower. You think that old-school hot towel treatment was just for kicks?
- Getting rid of dead skin and clearing your pores will go a long way in reducing ingrown hairs.
- Shave one time with the grain. Not against, you want to trim the hairs as close as possible with minimal irritation for the first go, especially for longer hairs. Now, if you want an even closer shave, you can re-lather and shave against the grain. But this is where drama occurs. Beware.
- Rinse with cold water, this closes the pores and soothes the skin.
- Pat, pat, pat dry. Don’t go rubbing your skin all crazy-like and irritating it.
- Use a good moisturizer. Running sharp objects over the skin tends to dry it out. Here’s a hint: Try coconut oil.
The above tips were written with mug-shaving in mind. Plus, I really wanted to write ‘Baby Bottom Face’. But by all means, these tips may be applied to shaving whatever you need to shave.
As usual, I’ve learned something here, what about you?
Let me know of any interesting coconut oil uses you know that I’ve missed!