Coconuts are an underutilized food with a hidden wealth of nutritional value for the body. The fat content plays into the mass confusion surrounding healthy and unhealthy fats, but there are a surprising number of benefits with this unusual nut.
The coconut provides a very unique type of oil, made of several ingredients including medium chain fatty acids, lauric acid and saturated fat. It is semi-solid at room temperature as a soft, almost waxy substance. Coconut oil is prized for its health-giving properties, considered one of the beneficial oils to use when cooking. Coconut oil is stable in high heat while many other oils are damaged upon heating, making them very unhealthy for cooking. Over the past several years, nutritional advice has focused on the avoidance of fat, particularly saturated fat. We are now learning, or relearning, what many cultures have known for centuries. Healthy fats can include some saturated fat. The quality of animal fats will depend on the health of the animal. We are also learning that many vegetable oils that were once considered healthy are known to become damaged with heat.
One of the amazing qualities of coconut oil is its antibacterial properties. Monolaurin, an ingredient in coconut oil, has long been recognized for its bug-fighting properties. It is found in breast milk, perhaps in part to help protect the developing baby from infection [Source: Clarke]. It appears that coconut milk can protect against several different kinds of bacteria and fungi [Source: Carpo]. The fatty acids from coconut milk may protect against the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers [Source: Sun]. Coconut milk might help protect us against certain viruses and anthrax as well [Source: Clarke, Vetter]. Coconut oil seems to encompass the unique ability to help protect against the bad bugs while leaving the good bacteria alone [Source: Schlievert]. This is a rare and unique property and is an ideal way to prevent infections. Coconut oil has been used for ages in the tropics as a central source and supply of essential fatty acids. These areas have enjoyed the benefits of antibacterial protection, even at times when there were no antibiotics [Source: Fallon].
Coconut oils provide healing properties for many parts of the body. The skin is a wonderful benefactor since coconut oil is a helpful moisturizer [Source: Agero]. Coconut oil can further benefit the skin by treating and preventing skin infections [Source: Verallo-Rowell]. It can also provide nutrients to help prevent some types of cancer. Clinically, many patients have found success with weight loss by focusing on healthy fats in their diet such as avocado, coconut (milk and oil) and nuts. Either coconut milk or the coconut oils can be enjoyed for their health benefits. Coconut oil can be used with most other oils when cooking or sauteeing in a pan. Coconut milk is an option to add to smoothies or spice up dishes such as curry sauces.
Certain fats are essential to the diet. Coconuts lend a very versatile substance that can help protect us against infection, improve our skin and improve our cooking. Look for coconut oils in the health food section of your local grocery store and enjoy.
- Clarke, NM., May, JT. Effect of antimicrobial factors in human milk on rhinoviruses and milk-borne cytomegalovirus in vitro.
- Carpo, BG., Verallo-Rowell, VM., Kabara, J. (2007). Novel antibacterial activity of monolaurin compared with conventional antibiotics against organisms from skin infections: an in vitro study. J Drugs Dermatol, 6(10):991-8.
- Fallon, S. Nourishing Traditions, 20.
- Schlievert, PM., Strandberg, KL., Brosnahan, AJ., et al. (2008). Glycerol monolaurate does not alter rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) vaginal lactobacilli and is safe for chronic use. Antimicrob Agents Chemother, 52(12):4448-54.
- Vetter, SM., Schlievert, PM. (2005). Glycerol monolaurate inhibits virulence factor production in Bacillus antracis. Antimicrob Agents Chemother, 49(4):1302-5.
- Sun, CQ., O’Conner, CJ., Roberton, AM. (2003). Antibacterial actions of fatty acids and monglycerides against Helicobactor pylori. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol, 15;36(1-2):9-17.
- Verallo-Rowell, VM., Dillaque, KM., Syah-Tiundawan, BS. (2008). Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis, 19(6):308-15.
- Agero, AL., Verallo-Rowell, VM. (2004). A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis, 15(3):109-16.
- Eder, E., Wacker, M., Wanek, P. (2008). Lipid peroxidation-related 1,N2-propanodeoxyguanosine-DNA adducts induced by endogenously formed 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal in organs of female rats fed diets supplemented with sunflower, rapeseed, olive or coconut oil. Mutat Res, 654(2):101-7.
- Nalini, N., Manju, V., Menon, VP. (2004). Effect of coconut cake on the bacterial enzyme activity in 1,2-dimethyl hydrazine induced colon cancer. Clin Chim Acta, 342(1-2):203-10.