Coconut oil has a myriad uses, and even though it has only recently been elevated to superfood status, this tropical staple has been used for centuries. The health benefits of the oil, extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts, were first recorded over 4,000 years ago.

History


The earliest mentioning of coconut oil can be found in Ayurvedic medicine texts written in Sanskrit, according to Today's Dietitian, an online magazine that features articles on a wide range of nutrition topics

Ancient Polynesians are believed to have used coconut oil for a wide variety of purposes, including skin health. In addition to being one the earliest beauty products, coconut oil was also used by them to relieve joint stiffness, rheumatism and back pain by rubbing a liberal amount coconut oil on the affected area.

New research points to the benefits of including coconut in your daily diet and health regimen.

The nutritional content


Coconut oil is a rich source of saturated fats (it consists of 90% saturated fat).

After being dismissed in the past as an unhealthy oil, new research shows that coconut oil may not be as harmful as was once believed. Coconut oil is now being promoted as a suitable ingredient as part of a balanced weight-loss plan. The argument is that coconut oil contains 2.6% fewer calories per gram than other fats.

However, there’s currently much debate worldwide about the exact role of saturated fats in the diet, whether these fats do indeed contribute to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and heart disease, and to what extent. The latest research shows that these fats may not be as unhealthy as previously thought, but health authorities haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet.

In the meantime, it’s useful to note that coconut oil’s unique composition of fatty acids does mean it’s highly resistant to oxidation at high temperatures, making it ideal for frying.

The oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are transported directly from the digestive tract to the liver, providing a quick source of energy.

Other possible health benefits of coconut oil


According to the US Coconut Research Centre, coconut oil has a wide range of other purported health benefits. These include:

    • Thwarting viruses that cause flu, measles, hepatitis C

    • Killing bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, tooth decay, pneumonia

    • Improving digestion

    • Reducing symptoms associated with pancreatitis and diabetes

    • Reducing inflammation



However, some of the claims of the Coconut Research Centre are yet to be substantiated by longer term studies to confirm the extent of these benefits.

That said, research by Dr Brady and Prof Neil Rowan of the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland did demonstrate that the antibacterial properties of coconut oil can prevent tooth decay. Brady and his team discovered that digested coconut oil stopped most streptococcus bacteria (which produce teeth- decaying acids) from multiplying.

How to make use of coconut oil


Coconut oil can be used in place of butter or oil when cooking or baking, or to add a creamy texture to your juices or smoothies.

Coconut oil has many other uses in your daily life:

    • Cuticle care: Rub coconut oil into your nail beds to treat dry and flaky cuticles.

    • Lip balm: It’s great for chapped and dry lips caused by an extreme climate.

    • Skin moisturiser: It sinks in really quickly to give skin a supple, baby-soft feel.

    • Makeup-remover: Rub some onto your face, leave for a minute or so and wipe off.

    • Get a close shave: Works extremely well for a really close shave.

    • Whiten your teeth: Mix a bit of oil with baking soda to make a paste, then use it to brush your teeth.

    • Add life to leather: Give that old leather jacket some shine by rubbing it down with some oil.



Sources:
• Today’s Dietitian (http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100713p56.shtml)
• Dr Enig M.G. Health and nutritional benefits from coconut oil and its advantages over competing oils (http://coconutboard.gov.in/English-Article-MaryEnig.pdf)
• Coconut Research Centre (http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/)
• Authority Nutrition (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249804.php)
• British Dental Journal 213, 269 (2012) (http://www.nature.com/bdj/journal/v213/n6/full/sj.bdj.2012.856.html)

Image via Thinkstock.




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