Indeed, Why Coconut Oil?
I grew up in Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was then called. My father managed 3000 acres of tea and rubber in the low country. I grew up with coconuts (cocos Nucifera). Sri Lanka is a significant producer of coconuts on the world stage.
The prize for the main producer goes to Indonesia. I quickly realised what an important role the coconut played in the lifestyle and economy of those tropical and sub-tropical nations that have been host to those tall and stately palm trees. The Portuguese were early colonisers of Sri Lanka and they named the nut “Cocos” because it resembled the human skull. The fruit is a drupe and not a nut if we want to be precise.
Coconuts have many uses and supported whole populations in the early days.
The original home of the plant was probably the islands of the Pacific namely Samoa and Tonga. Travellers transported the “seeds” to other places with warm, humid climates. Coconuts could support whole populations.
The nuts themselves provided food in the form of white coconut meat, high in saturated fats that lined the inner shell. Deeper inside the shell was a reservoir of fresh sweet water. The meat could be processed to make cooking oil and/or coconut milk. Young ladies moisturized their skin and made their hair glisten with the oil. The hard shells when burned provided a first-rate source of charcoal. The fibrous husks were made coir from which ropes and sacking are made. The dried meat goes by the name of copra. It is an ingredient in beauty products, soaps and cosmetics. The sap from the flowers provides toddy when fermented it becomes a beer type alcoholic drink and when distilled is the basis of a powerful spirit known as arrack. It also makes a sugar known as jaggery
which we loved as children. The leafy fronds are used to make brushes and simple shelters and the wood from the trees provides timber for buildings. The Coconut Palm is very versatile. I almost forgot, there is also coconut flour. You make the flour by slow drying the coconut meat. It is gluten free and high in much-needed fibre.
When I moved to Thailand in 2005 I had very distant memories of Sri Lankan rest houses serving full English breakfasts cooked if not doused in heat treated coconut oil. Admittedly, not my favourite food. And Thailand, like Sri Lanka enjoyed a fertile abundance of coconut trees. From Bangkok on down the peninsula everywhere you look you will be sure to spot one or more of these majestic palms.
But there was something missing. Where was the coconut oil? I looked in supermarkets, and in local markets and in tourists’ souvenir shops but there was practically none to be had. I found tiny 125ml bottles of cold-pressed oil in pharmacies but surely these were far too impractical for cooking purposes? Yes, Coconut Oil has been used as a medicine in these tropical countries for centuries. It was a powerful anti-bacterial agent long before the advent of antibiotics. Traditional practitioners learned that dosing with coconut oil could quickly dispel an illness like a cold or a flu. It is also an effective anti-parasitic. Today they understand that Medium Chain Fatty Acids like coconut oil quickly breakdown the lipid coating of viruses and certain bacteria and kill them. The Oil also contains lauric acid which has been proven to work where antibiotics have failed and has success combating Helicobacter Pylori, Listeria, Staph and Strep to name only a few. Oh, Lauric Acid and its companion Capric Acid both combine to kill off fungal overgrowths found in Candida like infections.
Yes, I understood why Coconut Oil was sold in pharmacies but why wasn’t it openly available in Supermarkets amongst the cooking oils?
Then I Met A Man Called Scott.
Talking to Scott it all became clear. “Superfood” Coconut had been denigrated to a poison by the American Heart Association because ever since the 1950s they have been telling people that saturated fats are not heart healthy. They recommend Canola Oil made from Rapeseed but not Coconut Oil. The cows won’t eat the yellow rapeseed because they know it’s a poison.
It contains Erucic Acid made up of Glucosinolates which taste very bitter and have to be heat treated and chemically refined before anybody can eat them!!. All this because an oil that has been the mainstay of life in numerous tropical communities for centuries is deemed to be saturated and as such unhealthy. It poses two questions what is it saturated and what is going on?
All fatty acids comprise a chain of carbon atoms. Each carbon atom can hold a maximum of 2 hydrogen atoms and still remain stable. A fatty acid molecule that has two hydrogen atoms attached to each one of carbon is said to be saturated. In essence, it’s saturated with hydrogen. We use the word saturated loosely in everyday English. Someone goes out in the rain, gets very wet and says they are saturated. In truth that would mean they cannot get any wetter, In Chemistry a saturated compound is one in which the atoms are linked by single bonds. That means there can be no double or triple bonds. They are holding all the atoms they possibly can. It’s not that dissimilar to the getting wet in the rain analogy. A Monounsaturated Fatty acid like Olve Oil is missing a pair of hydrogen atoms. If more than two hydrogen atoms are absent the substance is deemed Polyunsaturated. The more hydrogen atoms are missing the more Polyunsaturated a fatty acid becomes. Now here is the rub! When hydrogen atoms go missing the carbon atoms have to seal the empty space by forming a double bond. This weakens the structure and makes it more unstable. This double bond dilemma is one that can pose a health hazard. In the case of a saturated fat it has a longer carbon chain, the harder it is and the higher the melting point. When 3 fatty acids are joined by a glycerol molecule, the resulting combinations are called Long Chain Fatty Acids, LCFAs (14-24 Carbon atoms), Medium Chain Fatty Acids MCFAs (8-12 Carbons) or Short Chain Fatty Acids SCFAs(2-6 carbons). Long Chain Fatty Acids make up most of our food source. They are found primarily in meat and vegetable oils. Now listen carefully, this is the key to the Saturated versus Polyunsaturated fat argument.
Coconut Oil Comprises 64% MCFAs
Tropical oils are unique as they a made up of predominantly Medium Chain Fatty Acids. What does this mean? Remember Scott who popped up a while back? Well, he was adamant that MCFAs are digested more easily and used mainly for energy production. Because of the breakdown factor, they do not need to be stored as residual fats or provide the coating for arterial walls as in atherosclerosis. This sounded pretty good to me. But of course, there was more. To safeguard heart health and reduce cholesterol levels we are all being urged to eat heart-healthy fats from a vegetable source. These fats which do not occur in nature are man-made. I think the best example is margarine.
This is an example of a TFA or Trans Fatty Acid which is made from polyunsaturated vegetable oils and heated to extreme temperatures. That is not really the problem. Trans Fatty Acids do not cause oxidation in and of themselves. I wrote about this before in that free radicals are the principal cause of inflammation which is the main cause of disease. It is when cooking oil is re-used that the rancidity and free radical issues raises its head. DO NOT RE-USE COOKING OIL. The downside of TFAs is they are hydrogenated. What does that mean? Well, coconut oil is a lipid. It is liquid above room temperature but becomes solid below. Room temperature is considered to be 20*C of 68*F. The heart healthy margarines that were being turned out had to be solid at room temperature because they were designed to be imitation butter. They added hydrogen to the process so they became solid because they were hydrogenated. It is this hydrogenation process that causes the oxidization and the ensuing free radical damage. It was these products that were being touted by the marketing industry as healthy alternatives to coconut oil.
Something Wrong Here:
It was because of all of this misinformation that I had found it difficult to buy Coconut Oil in Thailand. But things were about to change. Scott had found a producer in Koh Samui who had the equipment to make cold-pressed extra virgin Coconut oil. The product was as clear as water, smelled fresh and sweet and tasted delicious. Would I help him market it? My answer was a resounding “yes.”.
Canadian Dentist Weston A.Price became interested in nutrition and its effect on dental issues.
In 1939, he published “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” detailing his worldwide travels showing how more primitive societies had healthier teeth and fewer overall disease issues than those in the West who enjoyed a diet primarily featuring sugar, flour and processed vegetable oils. Foods that caused nutritional deficiencies unknown in the less developed regions where he visited.
Empirically speaking, when I was growing up in Sri Lanka many people appeared to be undernourished. I recall very little abject poverty. Food was plentiful and fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and fish, were easily available. Today the story is very different. The degree of obesity which was seldom seen in the past is now staggering. Yes, fruit and vegetables are still easily available but the one thing that has changed is “wheat flour“. In the past, it was seldom seen but now starchy carbohydrates in the diet have skyrocketed. OK, Western Fast Foods have also taken hold but today many people are overweight and diabetes has exploded to epidemic proportions. Dr. Ian Prior and his team reached similar conclusions in their study published in the“ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” They took the inhabitants of two remote Pacific Islands, Tokelau and Pukapuka administered by New Zealand.
The study began in the early 1960s. The inhabitants of the islands lived on a high-fat diet derived mainly from coconuts. At the outset, the researchers gave the islanders a clean bill of health. Better than they expected to find and considerably better than those living in New Zealand itself. The people were slim and healthy and relatively free of chronic disease. Sixty per-cent of the diet of the Tokelauans and Pukapukans derived 60% of its calories from saturated fats. This is double the recommendation of the American Heart Association. In spite of this, the islanders had cholesterol levels ranging from between 170 to 208 mg per deciltre. The inhabitants were tracked when they migrated to New Zealand. Dietary fat intake decreased from 60% to around 43% and the islanders began to eat more wheat products in the form of white bread as well as rice, meat and other floods peculiar to a Western Diet and much less of their favourite coconut-derived foods. Soon the average cholesterol level shot upwards and people began to gain weight. Arteriosclerosis which was practically unheard-of on the islands began to increase and overall health decreased all because the people were eating more supposedly healthy polyunsaturated trans fats, more wheat, more sugar and generally enjoying the benefits of a supposedly healthy western diet.
Coconut oil has had a bad rap which does not really have anything to do with science but more to do with marketing. It seems many of the so-called scientific principals that have come out over the years are cobbled together by the copy-writers in the offices of advertising agencies. The American Soy Growers Association wanted to make their product top dog and so they promoted it as a health food and decried anybody who laid any claim to their market.
They certainly played a big part in the demonisation of the Superfood which is the coconut. I recommend you begin to introduce it into your diet if you have not already done so. Like everything else don’t go overboard. A tablespoon of extra-virgin coconut oil in your morning juice or smoothie is definitely a good and healthy move, but don’t overdo it.
Earlier we talked about Dr. Weston Price. Here is a dental tip using coconut oil, but it doesn’t come from Dr. Price. It has a much older provenance.
Oil Pulling or Kavala
This is a recommendation from Ayurvedic Medicine, which is very, very old.
Take a couple of teaspoons of extra-virgin coconut oil and swirl it around your mouth for longer than 10 but not more than 20 minutes. After the 20-minute maximum, you spit out the oil which has by now lost all of its viscosity and has become like water. Don’t swallow it as it is has absorbed all the toxins in your mouth and upper respiratory tract. Coconut oil is a bacteria killer. After 20 minutes it has broken down the bacteria in the mouth. It kills Streptococcus mutans which are the villains known to cause dental decay. The coconut oil helps whiten the teeth, drains the sinuses, stops gingivitis dead in its tracks and eliminates bleeding gums. Moreover, it can also help with a plethora of different health issues ranging from migraines to chronic fatigue to asthma and allergies. Don’t believe me? Then give it a try. You need to oil pull every morning and don’t expect immediate results. I would really like to hear about your experiences. Be sure to come back and leave a comment below.
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