The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is native to all the tropical regions of the world, and the benefits of coconut oil are just one aspect of this abundantly life-enhancing plant. Historically the peoples of Africa, South and Central America, India, much of Asia and the Pacific Islands have harvested the various parts of this beautiful tree for a myriad of material, medicinal and culinary uses.
The fruit of the coconut palm is a generous provider of tasty flesh, water, milk and oil. As such, it’s been a staple food of many of these populations for thousands of years, providing their main source of essential dietary fats. Coconut is an important part of the economy of almost a third of the world’s population and valued by them for its role in traditional medicine.
The medicinal properties and health benefits of just one product of the coconut palm, organic virgin coconut oil, is the focus of this article. In recent decades coconut oil has received unjustified bad press regarding its fat content. At a time when all fats were lumped together as ‘bad for your heart’, the high saturated fat content of coconut oil was seen as a negative.
Modern research shows that in fact, the opposite is true. Science has only recently identified the high content of types of healthy fatty acids in coconut oil which contribute to its health benefits. After all, research now shows that there are reasons why the coconut palm is called the ‘Tree of Life’ by Pacific Islanders who look on it as a medicinal cure-all.
When buying coconut oil, for consumption or skin application, it is important to differentiate between virgin coconut oil and mass-produced commercial grade coconut oil. Commercial grade coconut oil is produced from copra, the dried flesh of the coconut. The oil extracted is then refined using high heat, clay filters and sodium hydroxide as a preservative. Other methods use chemical solvents to extract the oil. The end product is known as RBD coconut oil, or Refined, Bleached and Deodorised. RBD oil may also be hydrogenated and therefore contain unhealthy trans-fatty acids.
In contrast, only fresh coconut flesh is used to extract virgin coconut oil. This is either quick dried using minimal heat and mechanical oil pressing; or a wet-milling method is used which presses coconut milk from the fresh flesh first, then separates the oil from the water.
How does coconut oil help to balance well-being?
The fats in coconut oil are mostly medium chain triglyceride fatty acids (MCT fats) whereas the fats in dairy, meat or other saturated fat sources are mostly long-chain triglycerides. MCT fats are more easily absorbed and metabolised by the human body into an available source of energy. They are not associated with unhealthy blood lipid levels or imbalanced immune system responses, given they are consumed within the recommended daily amounts.
So – health benefits of coconut oil in a nutshell:
- Pure virgin coconut oil helps to maintain cardiovascular health. Studies show healthy blood lipid levels are maintained with regular, balanced intake of good quality coconut oil
- Helps to support energy and immune system response
- Support of digestive functions
- Helps to balance the health of kidneys and liver
- Coconut oil contains a high lauric acid content. This fatty acid helps to support a healthy balance of digestive flora and contributes to the health benefits mentioned above
How to use coconut oil
Coconut oil can be used in the kitchen as well as in the bathroom. Use it as a spread, in dressings, in smoothies, for cooking and baking and applied topically as a nourishing skin treatment. Pets can also benefit from coconut oil when used on skin irritations as a product that will help rather than harm them if they lick it off.
Due to the high content of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil, it is much more heat stable than other oils, meaning it has a high smoke point. It is suitable for cooking up to 170 degrees C or 350 degrees F so it’s a healthier option for cooking.
Another interesting application is coconut oil pulling. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic cleansing practice, used to draw impurities out of the body through the mouth. Coconut oil offers a pleasant tasting option for oil pulling. The method is to hold about a teaspoon of coconut oil in the mouth and gently swish it around for 10 minutes, and then spit it out. It’s important not to swallow the oil because by this time it may have absorbed impurities from your tissues as well as bacteria in the mouth that you won’t want to take back into the body. It’s recommended that you do this cleansing practice once a day to balance the health of not only your mouth and sinuses but your immune system too.
Want to try some coconut oil? Shop online for premium quality virgin coconut oil.
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Have you used coconut oil for cooking or skincare? What’s your experience?
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