Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel of the matured coconut fruit, harvested from the coconut palm tree. It is a common source of fat used in tropical countries and has various applications in the food, medical and cosmetics industries. Coconut oil has a relatively high smoke point of 360°F or 180°F. This temperature is high enough for most searing of meats and baking of cakes and pastries.

Most plant sources of fat such as olive oil, grapeseed oil and canola oil contain mainly unsaturated fats, which can be mono or poly. The lack of saturated fats makes these fats (or oils) liquid at room temperature. Fats are made up of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms bonded to them. Saturated fats are called saturated because each of their carbon atoms has 2 hydrogen atoms attached to them, using up all their “free” electrons. Unsaturated fats on the other hand have only 1 hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom. That’s why margarine is bad because additional hydrogen atoms are added to vegetable oil (through what we all know as the hydrogenation process) to artificially create a vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature and in the process creating trans-fats.

This is however not the case for coconut oil. Coconut oil is from a plant source but it is naturally solid at room temperature because it contains 40-50% saturated fat. You might conclude that coconut oil is an unhealthy source of fat even though it’s not from an animal source. Now, this is one of those instances where the knowledge of science take over and common knowledge. There is more to fats than what we commonly know and talk about.

Besides their degree of saturation (i.e. the number of hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon atom), the length of each chain of triglycerides also determine how easily digestible a fat is. In layman terms, think of triglycerides as components that make up fats; chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These chains can be short, medium or long. Saturated fats from animal sources consist of long-chain triglycerides (LCT), making them more difficult for the body to digest and hence a greater tendency for them to be stored as fat in the body when they are not burned as energy soon enough. The saturated fats in coconut oil on the other hand are medium-chain (MCT), making them easier for the body to digest and burn as energy.

There are several scientific studies out there that indicate coconut oil as beneficial for weight loss, especially abdominal weight loss, when combined with a balanced diet. And I found out that there are other known non-food benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil is used quite extensively in the cosmetics industry especially in hair care products. It’s supposed to make your hair smooth and shiny.

Now how’s getting to know your coconut oil?

1. Bach, A.C., Ingenbleek, Y., Frey, A. “The Usefulness of Dietary Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Body Weight Control: Fact or Fancy?”, Journal of Lipid Research, Vol. 37, 1996.
2. Xue, C., Liu, Y., Wang, J., Zhang, R., Zhang, Y., Zhang, J., Zhang, Y., Zheng, Z., Yu, X., Jing, H., Nosaka, N., Arai, C., Kasai, M., Aoyama, T., Wu, J. “Consumption of Medium- and Long-Chain Triacylglycerols Decreases Body Fat and Blood Triglyceride in Chinese Hypertriglyceridemic subjects”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63 (2009), Pg. 879-886.
3. Assuncao, M.L., Ferreira, H.S., Dos Santos, A.F., Cabral Jr., C.R., Florencio, T.M.M.T. “Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity”, American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), 44 (2009), Pg. 593-601.
4. Takeuchi, H., Sekine, S., Kojima, K., Aoyama, T. “The Application of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids: Edible Oil with a Suppressing Effect on Body Fat Accumulation” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 17 (2008), Pg. 320-323.

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