What Are The Benefits Of Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is basically made up of saturated fat. And saturated fats are often linked to increased bad cholesterolâ€”that is LDL. So how true that coconut oil has health benefits?
In this article we discuss the role of coconut oil in our body and how it differs from other foods that contain the saturated fats.
Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats:
In Biochemistry, these refer to the fatty acids. These molecules make up chains of structures to produce the cholesterol molecules, which can be chylomicron, VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein), IDL (Intermediate Density Lipoprotein), LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or triglycerides.
In simple terms, only the HDL or the High-Density Lipoprotein is the â€œgood cholesterolâ€ and the rest are the bad guys. The reason for this is because of the scavenging ability of the HDL against the rest of the bad cholesterol. That means, HDL can destroy and scavenge Lower Density types of lipoprotein (chylomicrons, VLDL, IDL, LDL and triglyceride). This renders the bad cholesterols not to get deposited as cholesterol plaques in the arteries, including the arteries that supply the heart.
The fatty acids are responsible for the formation of the cholesterol molecules mentioned above. These fatty acids can be assimilated from the food we eat and can either be saturated or unsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids make up most of the oils that we get from palm trees, such as dates and coconut. Molecularly, saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between their individual carbon atoms. The term saturated is because the chain of carbon atoms in their structure is full of hydrogen atoms. Other sources of saturated fats are butter, meat, kernel oil, cow’s milk, cocoa butter and other dairy products.
Unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, are usually found in fish and plants. The presence of the double bonds in their fatty acid chains make them different from the saturated forms. Moreover, the hydrogen atoms in their molecular structures are eliminated. The term poly- or monounsaturated fat depends on the number of double bonds formed within their fatty acid chains.
Supported by medical textbooks and researchers, saturated fatty acids are often linked with cardiovascular disease. The idea that these researchers raise is that saturated fats can increase the formation of bad cholesterol in the blood when not taken in moderation.
However, a meta-analysis done by Tarino et al in 2010, concluded that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with and
Coconut Oil Benefits:
The research by Tarino has been debated by much later studies. There is also the thought that coconut oil is still saturated fat, isn’t it?
The answer is yes and many researches and health organizations advise against consumption of high amounts of coconut oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is a saturated fatty acid that can raise blood cholesterol through augmenting the LDL (a bad cholesterol). But coconut oil has also some heart-friendly fatty acid the myristic acid according to Dr. Roger Clemens of the Institute of Food Technologists and 2010 Dietary Guidelines Committee.2
On the good side, lauric acid also increases HDL (the good cholesterol), which in turn, can develop a more favorable blood cholesterol profile. This is supported by a meta-analysis in 2003 by Mensink et al concluding that the effects of dietary fats on total:HDL cholesterol may differ markedly from their effects on LDL.
Additionally, a review on by Tran et al in 2006 has mentioned that â€œlauric acid-rich palm kernel oil and coconut oil (approximately 50% lauric acid), in terms of effect on total/HDL cholesterol ratio, are still a better alternative for the food industry than partially hydrogenated oil in products that require solid fats for texture.
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) is currently heralded as healthy oil and can even be good for the heart. VCO contains MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides), the reason that it is much favored by health enthusiasts. In a study of the effect of MCTâ€™s in rats, low body weight, low fat deposition and excellent survival rate has been shown.5 Medium chain triglyceride in virgin coconut oil is thought to be better than other saturated fats which carry potential cardiovascular risks.
In addition to body fat loss, the energy expenditure is enhanced when MCT is taken at 15 to 30 grams per day according to a study.6 In connection with this, you can increase your 24-hour energy expenditure by 5% , and in the long term, can cause significant weight loss.
Furthermore, MCTs can curb your hunger as shown by a study by Stubbs and Harbron. The study examined the substitution of MCT in the diets of six healthy male volunteers with mean age 27.17 years, mean weight of 63.33 kg and mean height of 1.72 m. The data showed that the substitution can limit the weight gain and excess energy intakes of the subjects.7 The effect on reduced appetite can greatly help in controlling your food intake and thus, may aid in controlling weight gain.
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) has also been recently studied and showed beneficial effects on lipid parameters. In this study in 2004, rats were fed with VCO for 45 days and their lipid profile was determined. The results showed that VCO has potential beneficiary effect in lowering lipid levels in both tissues and serum and can cause LDL oxidation through physiologic oxidants. According to the study, the biologically active polyphenol components present in virgin coconut oil may be the reason for such effect.8
Other potential health benefits of coconut oil have also been attributed due to its contents. It includes anti-septic effects, moisturizing effects on the skin, hair and scalp moisturizing effects.
Coconut oil is a healthy alternative to other saturated fat-based foods and oils. Though being saturated and can increase the levels of LDL, it can also increase HDL, which may counter the effect of the bad cholesterol increase. The virgin form (VCO) is more recommended since it has medium-chain triglycerides that has been studied for its beneficial health effects.
Although other studies and even health organizations advised against the consumption of high saturated fats, coconut oil is not a health-risk if taken in moderation. It has great health benefits and the virgin coconut oil form (VCO) has more positive health effects as proven by studies. Thus, in choosing an oil alternative, coconut oil (more particularly the VCO) is a good choice and is recommended.
1Tarno et al (2010) Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies Evaluating the Association of Saturated Fat with Cardiovascular Disease http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824152/ . Accessed: 07/03/14.
2Zelman (2014) The Truth About Coconut Oil http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health . Accessed: 07/03/14.
3Mensink et al (2003) Effects of Dietary Fatty Acids and Carbohydrates on the Ratio of Serum Total to HDL Cholesterol and on Serum Lipid and Apolipoproteins: A Meta-Analysis of 60 Controlled Trials http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/5/1146.full.pdf+html . Accessed: 07/03/14.
4Trani et al (2006) New and Existing Oils and Fats Used in Products with Reduces Trans-Fatty Acid Content http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Articles/JADA106_867-880.pdf . Accessed: 07/03/14.
5Kaunitz (1986) Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) in Aging and Arteriosclerosis http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3519928 . Accessed: 07/03/14.
6Dulloo et al (1996) Twenty-Four-Hour Energy Expenditure and Urinary Catecholamines of Humans Consuming Low-to-Moderate Amounts of Medium-Chain Triglycerides: A Dose-Response Study in a Human Respiratory Chamber http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8654328 . Accessed: 07/03/14.
7Stubbs RJ and Harbron CG (1996) Covert Manipulation of the Ratio of Medium-to Long-Chain Triglycerides in Isoenergetically Dense Diets: Effect on Food Intake in ad Libitum Feeding Men http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8696422 . Accessed: 07/03/14.
8Nevin KG and Rajamohan T (2004) Beneficial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil on Lipid Parameters and in vitro LDL Oxidation http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15329324 . Accessed: 07/03/14.