Against the wishes of the corn and soy industries so prevalent in our country, coconut oil is making a big comeback with savvy consumers. With good reason; the benefits of using coconut oil as opposed to the more readily available and less expensive corn and soy oils is becoming more evident among those wishing to improve their health and extend their lives.
Coconut oil is made from the dried meat, or copra, of the coconut. The oil is used extensively in tropical countries, especially India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines. Most coconut oil comes from the Philippines. Virgin coconut oil, like virgin olive oil, is cold-pressed, and not refined, bleached or deodorized. The oil is liquid in its native climate, but solidifies at temperatures below 85 degrees F.
Coconut oil was used throughout the western world as well for parts of the 20th century. Produced in large quantities, it has several properties that made it desirable to the food industry and to home cooks. But due to its large percentage of saturated fat, and the link that this fat was considered to have on cholesterol levels, coconut oil was largely replaced in the 1970’s and 80’s with seed oils. These oils were partly hydrogenated, and it is now known that they contain high levels of undesirable trans fatty acids. The type of saturated fat prevalent in coconut oil is medium chain triglycerides, mainly lauric acid, which is supposedly helpful to the body in dealing with harmful bacteria and viruses. Although research on these types of fat is preliminary, it is believed that they work differently in the body than any other type of saturated fats, namely those from animal sources.
Coconut oil has been consumed for thousands of years in the afore-mentioned tropical regions. Studies have been done on the natives of some of these places, and the general consensus of these studies is that the natives are in good overall health and suffer much less from the diseases prevalent in the western world. Recent research has seen the effects of Alzheimer’s disease improved or even reversed in people using coconut oil. Improvements from the use of the oil have also been observed from people with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. The use of coconut oil has also proved to be effective in the aid of weight loss, improving some skin diseases, improving hair quality and improving strength and endurance in athletes.
Coconut oil, in particular the cold-pressed or virgin variety, can be used in a multitude of ways. It can be substituted for other oils, butter or margarine in baking or cooking. It can be added to coffee, tea or other hot beverages as a flavor and health enhancer. It can also be added to cold ingredients, just remember that it will solidify at 85 degrees or lower. Some people who have benefited from the ingredient have even reported taking coconut oil straight by the tablespoon-full.
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. 1999. Oxford University Press. Pg. 201