By Allan Bucka Jones
PRIDE Health Columnist
I recall growing up in Jamaica when the only cooking oil was coconut oil. Many people actually made their own coconut oil. Back then there was prolific growth of the tall variety of coconut trees, providing a ready source of raw materials for the oil.
However things changed, and the product was shunned by the health and wellness community due to its high saturated fat content, but in recent years coconut oil has experienced a huge increase in sales, and taken the media by storm. Coconut oil can be found in specialty health food stores and at local grocery stores as well.
Coconut oil is becoming more of a staple cooking oil in many households. Manufacturers are using coconut oil in favor of other oils in packaged products, and there are claims that coconut oil can do everything from supporting weight loss to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Coconut oil is made up of 100% fat. However, the structure of fat in coconut oil differs from the traditional saturated fat often found in animal products (primarily comprised of long-chain fatty acids).
Coconut oil has an unusually high amount of medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides, which are harder for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier for them to burn off than long-chain fatty acids or triglycerides. Virgin coconut oil has potential antioxidant properties due to certain plant nutrients it contains called phenolic compounds.
In addition to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, coconut oil has been linked to other health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a randomized clinical trial, 40 participants were given either 2 tablespoons of coconut oil or 2 tablespoons of soybean oil once a day for 12 weeks.
The soybean oil group saw their HDL (good cholesterol level) go down and their LDL (bad cholesterol level) go up, indicating an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The coconut oil group did not experience a significant change in their cholesterol numbers but were more likely to have a higher HDL (good cholesterol) level.
A diet that include coconut oil has shown benefits to diabetics. Diets high in medium chain triglycerides, which makes up 65% of coconut oil, have been shown to improve glucose tolerance and reduce body fat accumulation. Coconut oil may also improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics.
Weight loss is also a benefit of a coconut oil rich diet. In the coconut oil versus soybean oil study described above, both groups lost weight, however only the coconut oil group saw a decrease in waist size.
In trying to incorporate more coconut oil into your diet, avoid any packaged or manufactured foods that contain partially hydrogenated coconut oil. When cooking, choose only virgin coconut oil and use it in moderation, as with all cooking oils.
Coconut oil clearly has health benefits. It is not a bad idea to take one tablespoon of cold pressed coconut oil each day. However, talk to your family doctor or naturopath first, to determine if this approach is best for you
Allan Bucka Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. You can contact Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org.