Coconuts, a Health Food?

July 27, 2012

Wondering about the bad press that coconuts and coconut oil have had in the past? Here's what you need to know about the healthful aspects of this drupe fruit

While coconuts are called nuts, they are not actually nuts… they are the monocot seed of the palm family.  The coconut palm or cocos nucifera, is a member of the Arecaceae family, which also includes acai berries, dates, and other drupe fruits grown in tropical and subtropical regions.

So, is coconut oil the evil villain that the media has made it out to be? Yes and no. Most of the bad press surrounding coconuts is associated with highly processed, refined/ hydrogenated coconut oils.  We know today that hydrogenated oils, (from all sources - palm, coconut, canola, etc.) create dangerous trans-fatty acids which impede cell function, lead to high blood cholesterol, and more.  Many of the studies that pointed to coconut oil, were in fact accurate but left out the fact that participants consumed refined and hydrogenated coconut oil - which in turn led to less than positive health outcomes.  Over the past several years major food companies have made an effort to remove these dangerous fats from their products.  Unfortunately coconut oil has been tainted as a dangerous, disease causing ingredient ever since.

Now for the good news. Coconut oil and other coconut products in their pure, unrefined state (think “extra virgin”), have demonstrated no adverse effects on cholesterol levels, are thought to boost immunity, kill bacteria, yeast, and offer protection from various degenerative diseases. Coconut oil contains no cholesterol since it is a vegetable product.  Coconuts and their oils have been used as a health food in many cultures for centuries, and its medium chain triglycerides are thought to be the main reason for its supposed healing properties.

Coconuts contain lauric acid, which is also a component of mothers’ breast milk; lauric acid is known as a powerful stimulant to the immune system, which may be helpful in preventing sickness.  Can coconut oil help with weight loss?  Studies to date are inconclusive; but the hypotheses are that coconut oil helps to stimulate the metabolism, burning more calories and helping with weight loss and energy levels. Coconuts are a dense source of caprylic acid, which is known to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

How to use coconut oil? Coconut oil is heat-stable so you can cook with it, fry with it, and bake with it or use it straight out of the jar. It is mostly made up of saturated fats which are not sensitive to becoming damaged when heated. It is a delicious butter replacement and melts easily. Since it is solid at room temperature and liquid at body temperature, it is shelf stable for months, even years - but be sure to check expiration dates and read labels for product specific instructions.

Coconut products can be incorporated into a healthy, varied and balanced diet. Today many supermarkets stock fresh coconut meat, coconut water, dried coconut, coconut oils and more. Look for unrefined (fresh), or virgin products for the most nutrition and as always speak with your physician before making any changes to your diet.

Keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends that up to 30% of daily calories consumed come from fat and that no more than 10% of that fat should be saturated.

Information for this article was gathered from The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil, by Bruce File (2001, Piccadilly Books) and The Weston A. Price Foundation