By Punya Srivatsava
Not only is the once vilified coconut oil back on the kitchen shelves, it is now hailed as a super food, says Punya Srivastava For South Indians, particularly those on the coastal belt, there is nothing more delicious than food cooked in coconut oil, whether it is the delectable banana chips, a plate of hot fish fry, or an aromatic avial. The rest of India may not quite get it, but even they agree that the coconut oil is a class apart. There is nothing better than a massage of fragrant coconut oil on the body, and as for its use as a hair oil – it is well nigh universal. A drop in the ears and nose keeps dryness away. And it is also the first choice when it comes to oiling a rusty joint or screw.
In tropical countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries, it has always been a significant ingredient of health and healing. Filipinos are well-known for their youthful appearance and soft, wrinkle-free skin, even though they live in a sunny climate all through the year. They hail the coconut palm as the ‘tree of life’. In India, coconut is revered as sriphal or divine fruit, prominently used in various Hindu rituals. It also finds significant mention in ayurveda texts written over 4,000 years ago. In short, coconut oil enjoyed an impeccable reputation for its dietary, healing, and rejuvenating properties until heavy propaganda by foreign oil brands displaced it from its high pedestal.
The vilification came from the West around the early 20th century when market forces were trying to angle polyunsaturated fats like corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, as the main dietary fats for public consumption. And as the trickle effect worked, coconut oil was booted out of the list of healthy oils. Health benefits However, that was then. Today, quite unabashedly, the same experts who knocked it down are busy building it up as a super food in the West. Today, coconut oil is said to be the healthiest oil in the world. This is because of the presence of naturally occurring fats in the oil, instead of man-made fats processed through hydrogenation as in other mineral oils.
“Coconut oil is an ideal fat next only to mother’s milk,” claims Padma Bhushan Dr B M Hegde, scientist and educationist. According to him, little over 50 per cent of coconut oil is medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) namely Lauric acid and another 7-10 per cent is a medium chain Capric acid. Lauric acid gets converted inside the human system into mono-laurins – the best fat that mother’s milk has. Other than mother’s milk, mono-laurins are found only in coconut oil. New born babies and infants depend on the mono-laurins for their immune system development and capacity to withstand any infection. Moreover, since more than half of the fats are saturated MCFAs with only eight to 14 carbons in length, they don’t need a long process to get absorbed in the body. Unlike other fats, MCFAs don’t need to break down into single fatty acids for the body to absorb them. Rather, they make their way directly to the liver through the portal vein, thus making coconut oil easy to digest. Also, since a major portion of this oil gets absorbed and metabolised rapidly and easily, there is almost no apprehension of clogged arteries and formation of layers of body fat. “This alters the lipoprotein fractions of blood which is another great boon. In addition, coconut oil can be digested by the salivary lipase, getting absorbed very fast to give energy like carbohydrates. All other fats need pancreatic lipase for digestion that infants do not have, making coconut oil a great alternative for baby food,” shares Dr Hegde. Another thing that works in favour of coconut oil is its anti-oxidant content which helps resist oxidation even if it is preserved for as long as a year. The other fats, in comparison, would have been already oxidised and become trans-fatty acids by the time they came on the food store shelves. Coconut oil resists oxidation even on boiling at 76 degree centigrade; hence there is no change in its molecular structure. This means that no trans-fats are produced in the whole process, thus making coconut oil an ideal medium for frying. Weight control/loss Coconut oil is a low calorie fat and as such helps control body weight. Switching to coconut oil could help reduce weight, particularly the stubborn midsection fat in men and women both. It also helps to control blood fat levels in diabetics. Switching to coconut oil could help reduce weight, particularly the stubborn midsection fat in men and women both Cardiovascular disease Its regular use in diet regularises blood fats and is known to increase the HDL cholesterol fraction while decreasing the LDL and triglycerides significantly. “This disproves the myth that coconut oil increases cholesterol and triglycerides,” says Dr Hegde. Digestion Coconut oil improves the digestive system, and prevents various digestion-related problems including irritable bowel syndrome. The saturated fats, with their anti-microbial properties, help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause indigestion, and it helps in the absorption of other nutrients like vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Coconut oil is also known to do away with kidney and gall stones. Alzheimer’s The website of Coconut Research Centre is inundated with success stories of people who got tremendous positive results in varying degrees in Alzheimer’s disorder just by consuming two to four tablespoons of coconut oil daily. According to Dr Kieran Clarke, head of the Cardiac Metabolism Research Group, Alzheimer’s is the diabetes of the brain. Alzheimer’s generally happens because patients lose sufficient glucose in the brain cells, necessary to place fresh memories and reason clearly. “Virgin coconut oil includes fats which can be transformed into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies could function as an alternative source of energy for the human brain. The ketone body could possibly give vitality to the glucose-deprived brains of Alzheimer’s victims,” shares Dr Clarke who also happens to be the professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University. Moreover, the world over, people who have tried coconut oil to treat this neurological disorder have reported getting more positive results than the prescribed drug called Apricept. Topical use According to Naini Setalvad, nutritionist and food columnist with Life Positive, coconut oil is found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product. “Being a triglyceride of lauric acid (principal fatty acid), it has a high affinity for hair proteins, and because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, is able to penetrate inside the hair shaft,” she supplies. Moreover, its regular application on body and face delays wrinkles and sagging skin. It helps in curing problems like psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and dry flaky skin. Another amazing result many people are reporting from coconut oil is using it directly under their arms as a deodorant. Many have theorised that the MCTs in the oil attack the bacteria in the sweat that cause odours. Dental care Oil pulling for about 20 minutes daily is all you need for your complete dental hygiene. Gaining popularity in the West, this technique of swishing about two tablespoons of coconut oil thoroughly inside your mouth ensures tightened gums, removal of plaque and relatively whiter teeth. Since this oil has anti-bacterial properties, it helps in battling the streptococcus mutans bacteria responsible for causing cavities. The additional benefit of oil pulling with coconut oil is that it permeates the porous surface of the teeth and removes absorbed toxins. Healing I remember my father asking us to apply a bit of giri ka tel or coconut oil every time we kids got bruised or sustained cuts and wounds. My brother, being most susceptible, would clean the wound with a swab of Dettol, and coat it with a layer of coconut oil, and within two days the wound would heal. For healing infections, coconut oil protects the infected part of the body by forming a protective covering, preventing the entry of dust, air, fungi, bacteria, and virus. For bruises, it speeds up the healing process by repairing the damaged tissue. According to the Coconut Research Centre, coconut oil kills viruses that cause flu, measles, hepatitis, herpes, and the bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, gonorrhea, Candida, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and thrush. With such tremendous benefits, coconut oil seems ready to conquer the world.
The only regrettable side-effect? The price of the humble coconut and its oil is already shooting through the roof!
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