Coconut Oil: The Food And Medicine Miracle

[color-box color=”gray”]Coconut oil is unique in many ways, and the research is very clear. It supports heart and brain health, weight loss, as well as immune and endocrine gland function. It does not contribute to heart disease.

In this article we will discus:

  • Not All Coconut Oils are the Same
  • Different Kinds of Coconut Oil
  • How to Incorporate Coconut Oil into Your Daily Life
  • The Different Ways To Use Coconut Oil
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    Still concerned about fat? That’s understandable. Since the Framingham heart study released its initial findings in the sixties and nutrition scientist Ancel Keys said there was an epidemic of heart attacks caused by fat, most of the world has believed that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease. By 1980 the World Health Organization began promoting low fat diets, presumably to reduce the risk of heart attack and cancer. In 1988, the American Heart Association (AHA) launched a program to label foods as “heart healthy.” This meant that the Kellogg company could now pay the AHA for their “heart healthy” seal of approval for products like Frosted Flakes and Low Fat Pop Tarts. Then, to top it all off, a couple of years ago celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, MD, wrote an article completely trashing coconut oil, parroting the myth that it — like all saturated fats — caused heart disease.

    So what is a person to believe? Have you noticed that during the same time period that we collectively reduced our intake of fat, that the levels of heart disease, serum cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, and obesity have gone through the roof? Here’s an interesting study. In 1992, the Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine published research showing that Pacific Island populations had almost non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease. Yet, they consumed nearly 60% of their calories from saturated coconut oil. So what does this mean? It means that not all fats are created equal.

    It is perfectly safe, and the benefit list is as long as your arm. Where’s the research? Try going to If you look up coconut oil, coconut milk, monolaurin, caprylic acid, and lauric acid studies (all constituents or derivatives of coconut oil), it will keep you busy for weeks. Not enough? Go to the US National Institute of Health PubMed site This location indexes almost 6,000 biological and medical journals from around the world. Punch in coconut oil and there are over 1,300 studies. If you put in other keywords like extra virgin coconut oil, lauric acid, caprylic acid, medium chain triglycerides, or medium chain fatty acids, the amount of research explodes to over 17,000 peer-reviewed studies. Some of this research is listed twice under different categories. Our guess is that there are over 10,000 studies that you can easily review on this subject.

    What does this research say? Let’s start with a bit of a primer on coconut oil, and break it down by constituent and benefit. Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat (90%), which makes it much more resistant to oxidation (going rancid). This makes it an excellent fat to cook with. Saturated fats are the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. They also carry important fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body. When you eat saturated fat as part of your meal, it also slows down absorption so you can go longer without feeling hungry. The remainder of coconut oil is mostly monounsaturated fat (which tends to reduce low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol). Over 50% of the saturated fat is lauric acid. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which is a powerful anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-parasitic. We’ve known since the groundbreaking research of Kabara and Vrable (1977) that monolaurin kills many kinds of bacteria, viruses, and even Candida Albicans. Caprylic acid has similar benefits.

    Coconut oil is unusual because it contains a high percentage of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Most oils consist entirely of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). These are difficult for your body to break down; they put more strain on your pancreas, liver, and digestive system; they are predominantly stored in your body as fat; and they can be deposited in your arteries as cholesterol. In stark contrast, MCTs have many health benefits. Foremost amongst these is that the liver and gallbladder do not need to digest or emulsify MCT. This results in instant energy, increased metabolic rate and thus more heat production, and increased circulation. This can lead to weight loss. Anyone with impaired fat digestion or a removed gallbladder will benefit from coconut oil, as it is easily digested.

    After many trying years of misinformation, misunderstanding, and ignorance, the many benefits of coconut oil are now emerging into mainstream consciousness. This has not been easy. However, the sheer volume of positive research has made it difficult for media, government, and Western medicine to perpetuate the myths around saturated fat in general and coconut oil in particular. As for Dr. Oz, he eventually reversed his position and acknowledged that coconut oil is indeed a healthy food. He now consumes it daily, hosts other experts on the subject, and has a number of TV episodes dedicated to the benefits of coconut oil. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article where we will explore the many uses and qualities of coconut oil, as well as where to get your supply of this amazing food and medicine.

    Not All Coconut Oils are the Same

    In Part One of this article, we learned that most people have the wrong idea about saturated fat and cholesterol, and we began to appreciate how good coconut oil is for us. In this second addition to the three-part series, we will give an example of how research has misled us about fat and then we’ll learn about the various qualities of coconut oil.

    Junk Science and Junk Food

    In 1997 I read a study in the American Journal of Cardiology that had been done by Robert A. Vogel and his team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. In this now famous and oft-cited research, Vogel claimed to have proven that a high fat diet “decreased flow-dependent vasoactivity in the brachial artery”. This means that it decreased the diameter of blood vessels. The conclusion was that saturated fats should be avoided in order to reduce the likelihood of heart disease. His study tested 10 volunteers after a high-fat (50 gram) and a low-fat (0 gram) meal of 900 calories. What was the high-fat meal? Well, as the Western A. Price Foundation so rightfully pointed out, it was an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin, two hash brown patties, and a decaffeinated drink. No, I am not kidding! According to Vogel, 28% of the high-fat meal consisted of saturated fat. What he failed to mention was that this meant the other 72% was a cocktail of trans fats, polyunsaturated/monounsaturated fats, and MSG. All of these can cause the endothelia (the inner lining of blood vessels) to become inflamed, and therefore decrease the diameter of blood vessels.

    Complete Reversal

    For those of us who employ a more natural approach to wellness, the past several decades of government, university, and institutionally promoted “low-fat” diets have been nothing less than madness. At the same time that junk science was being taught to medical doctors and nutritionists across the globe, there were entire populations getting as much as 60% of their calories from saturated fat with almost zero incidence of heart disease or any significant age-related cognitive decline.

    In fact, there are no credible studies linking heart disease to cholesterol or saturated fat. Even the U.S. government may be starting to change its tune. Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post recently wrote, “The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.” So does that mean we can rush out there and buy any old coconut oil? Not so fast. Not all coconut oils are the same.
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    Different Kinds of Coconut Oil

    There are two broad categories of coconut oil: one that is less refined, called virgin coconut oil (VCO), and another, which is heavily refined, called RBD oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. RBD oil is made from dry coconuts called “copra”, a commodity that is bought and sold as a raw material and may or may not be rancid. It is not uncommon for RBD oil extraction to include super high heat, which can damage nutrients. This high heat is used to try to kill bacteria. Hexane, a highly toxic solvent made from petroleum, can also be used to extract the oil. Steam, acid and alkaline clays, as well as bleaching, dewaxing, degumming, and deodorizing chemicals can be employed to get any dark brown, rancid, and/or foul smelling oil to look and smell better. Additionally, RBD oil can contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenated oils are extremely unhealthy.

    The term virgin has been borrowed from the olive oil industry and is generally considered to describe oil that has been minimally processed without excessive heat. According to Carl Nordeng, leading expert and producer of VCO, “the key is how quickly the meat is dried and/or pressed after the nut has been opened, not so much the extraction technique.” Processing the coconut quickly after it has been opened means that the raw material stays fresher. Common ways to extract oil from dry coconut or from coconut milk (wet milling) is through fermenting, centrifuge, cold press, expeller press, or DME (Direct Micro Expelled). The DME method is the fastest and freshest way to create VCO. It also uses moderate heat. Contrary to popular belief, using moderate heat during the manufacturing of coconut oil does not harm the oil in any way, but actually increases antioxident value. This is because bound polyphenols (antioxidants) are released by heat.

    It is high time we start introducing adequate amounts of good fat back into our diets. Remember, however, that not all coconut oils are created equal and, as with many things, the cheapest brands are not the healthiest.
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    How to Incorporate Coconut Oil into Your Daily Life

    In Part One, we learned how good coconut oil is for us, and in Part Two we saw an example of how bad research has misled us about fat. We also learned about the various qualities of coconut oil. In this final segment, the importance of quality will be stressed and we’ll learn how to incorporate coconut oil into our daily lives.

    Unlike the wine or olive oil industry, there are no hard and fast rules that people must adhere to for the production of coconut oil. There are some guidelines for the production of virgin coconut oil, but this does not mean that everyone producing VCO is using the best practices. The bottom line is that we must get to know and ultimately trust our food suppliers, and that includes our coconut oil producers. Carl Nordeng, leading expert and producer of VCO, sums it up this way: “I tell people, if you’re okay consuming oil that is bleached, deodorized, superheated and contains potentially deadly neurotoxins, then by all means opt for cheaper coconut oil brands.” If you are adding coconut oil into your diet because you want the health benefits, then you owe it to yourself to ensure that the oil you are eating is both safe and nutritious.

    Virgin oil is usually more expensive and has more taste than RBD oil, but it is worth it. Think of VCO as medicine as well as food. If your oil is odorless and tasteless then you know it is RBD oil. True virgin coconut oil that is properly filtered, especially the DME variety, can last five years or more under ideal storage conditions. Keep coconut oil in a dry, dark place with the lid tightly closed.
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    Using Coconut Oil

    There are literally thousands of uses for coconut oil. Try experimenting and learn what works best for you. Here are some of my favorite topical uses:

    Moisturizer: Use as a face, hand, or body moisturizer. Coconut oil creates a natural “capric and caprylic acid”-moisturizing barrier and it is high in lauric acid, which has natural antimicrobial properties. Add a little essential oil for fragrance.

    Natural Cleansing and Deodorizing: Because coconut oil has very good antibacterial properties, it can be used as a deodorant (mix with baking soda and arrow root powder); toothpaste (oil, bentonite clay, baking soda, essential oil); scrub (equal parts oil with cane sugar); or for oil pulling (to reduce gingivitis and plaque just swish oil for several minutes in your mouth and spit out).

    There is a lot of information on the Internet that goes into detail about using coconut oil as a fizz-remover for hair, to reduce sunburn symptoms (apply only after ice is used, to take the heat out), as SPF 5 sun protector, and to get rid of head lice and athlete’s foot, to name a few. My favorite thing to do with coconut oil, however, is eat it. Here are some ways to get coconut oil into your diet:

    Frying: When adding coconut oil to your frying pan, always add more than you think you need.  You can always drip the left over oil on your food. Green plantains (locally called verdes) are fantastic after sliced, boiled for two minutes, and then fried in coconut oil for about five minutes.

    As a Spread: Put it on healthy breads, rice cakes, raw crackers, etc. It goes on almost like nut butters, because saturated fats are solid at room temperature. One of my favorite spreads is coconut oil with cacao powder.

    Topping on Veggies and Starches: The process of adding fat to a starch helps slow down digestion and reduce any subsequent blood sugar spike. Add coconut oil to your veggies. The fat and fiber combination is great for curbing hunger.

    Add It to Liquids: It is a great addition to your smoothies and soups. It can also be added to juices, coffee, and tea.

    Supplement Boost: If you are taking vitamins, try taking coconut oil at the same time. When coconut oil is consumed with supplements, it improves the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

    Bake with It: You do not necessarily want all your baking to taste like coconut. This is when you use clarified butter or ghee instead. For some things, however, VCO may be your preferred choice. Coconut oil is my favorite fat in power cookies or bars.

    According to world-renowned nutritionist/biochemist Dr. Mary G. Enig, if you want “stronger bones, improved cardiovascular health, improved liver health, healthy lungs, healthy brain function, proper nerve signaling, a strong immune system and balanced energy levels”, start ensuring that you consume the equivalent of 3-5 tablespoons of saturated fat a day. Virgin coconut oil is a great choice of saturated fat, because it is antimicrobial, easy to digest, and has good nutrient and antioxidant properties. ¡Buen provecho!
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