You have probably heard it, seen it, and read it as much as I have: the hype about coconut oil. From Dr. Oz to Oprah and just about everyone else in between, people have been singing the praises of the once vilified coconut oil. But, is it possible to cut through the hype and determine the facts about this fragrant oil? While research on this controversial tropical treasure is still fairly limited, a brief overview of the current facts will help us understand a little bit more about the facts and hype about coconut oil.
The Bad Rap
First of all, if you have followed health-related news for very long, you probably remember the trend that moved us away from coconut oil. This may leave you wondering why that same oil is being promoted today. The fact is this: the coconut oil that got the bad rap as an unhealthy fat was not the same as the kind being promoted today. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated coconut oil is the bad oil: hydrogenation transforms the fats to Trans fats, which are definitely on the bad list for heart health. Today’s coconut oil is a far cry from this processed form
The Good Guy
Just like you’ve heard of the health benefits of virgin and extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil is best for you in its virgin state. Just what is virgin coconut oil? Essentially, virgin coconut oil is that which is produced in a traditional wet-milled fashion, using fresh coconut meat, rather than dried. Most commercially available oil is refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD). The process of refining coconut oil strips it of most of its value.
Wet milled coconut oil is extracted by first squeezing the coconut milk out of the meat, then separating the oil from the water and solids. This process preserves the abundance of antioxidants contained in coconut oil.
Checking out the Research
Browse for coconut oil research, and you are likely to come up short. Unfortunately, information regarding the efficacy of coconut oil is sadly very minimal. However, there is enough information to put together some fairly good hypotheses.
- Antioxidant Capacity – in 2009 the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition reported on a study conducted by the faculty of Food Science and Technology at the Universiti Putra Malaysia. In the study, virgin coconut oil was compared to refined oil to determine the antioxidant capacity of both. The virgin oil demonstrated high scavenging activities, likely due to the increased levels of phenolic compounds compared to the refined oil.
- Sri Lankan Research – a professor in Sri Lanka has conducted groundbreaking research on coconut oil. In his results, he realized some valuable points: virgin coconut oil is high in antioxidants, heat does little to change the molecular structure of coconut oil, and commercial, refined coconut is dramatically different in chemical composition than virgin coconut oil.
Understanding Phenolic Compounds
So, what is so important about phenolic compounds? You’ve heard of the healing benefits of olive oil, blueberries, red wine, bilberries, and other similar foods, right? What do they all have in common? You guessed it: phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds have been scientifically proven to be anti-inflammatory, reduce plaque adhesion, and inhibit growth of cancer cells. These powerful antioxidants have multiple functions in the body. A simple search for the benefits of phenolic compounds will bring back large bodies of research. Clearly, phenolic compounds are good for the body.
Cut to the Chase
So, what is the bottom line on coconut oil? While much more research needs to be done, initial analysis concludes that virgin oil in moderation should not be harmful to the body. Instead, it is likely to benefit the body due to its antioxidant capacity. Other information does point the efficacy of coconut oil against streptococcus, so its benefits may stretch far beyond the antioxidant connection. Is it a miracle cure-all? Of course not. No single substance can single-handedly cure all that ails you. But, even though we cannot vouch for all the coconut oil claims out there, it certainly appears that at least some of those claims have some merit.
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