In most parts of India, coconut oil is mostly considered as a hair oil and people are apprehensive about its use in daily cooking. Also, it has earned a bad reputation because it contains up to 90% saturated fats. However, recently coconut oil has come in the limelight for its vast benefits on heart health. Coconut oil, which has been most popular among South Indians who use it extensively for cooking and deep frying, is now one of the hottest selling health product in the US market as well. It imparts a very peculiar flavour to the food which can be loved by many but also equally disliked by some others.
Health benefits of coconut oil
Medium chain triglycerides: Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids or medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which have shorter chain length of fatty acids leading to faster and more complete digestion in the stomach and upper small intestine than the long chain triglycerides. The breakdown products of MCT hydrolysis are absorbed into the intestinal cells almost as fast as glucose and transported directly to the liver where they are metabolized to release energy quickly. These are more likely to be used instantly to provide for the energy needs rather than going into storage form.
Increased metabolism and weight loss: The fats in coconut oil are used to fulfil energy requirements thereby boost metabolism. An active metabolism means more energy expenditure and increased weight loss. Individuals with higher intake of coconut and coconut oil have higher metabolic rate and lower body fat as compared to those who use the polyunsaturated oils.
Good saturated fat : Although saturated fats are considered as the bad fats which increase risk of heart diseases, there are certain types of saturated fats which are in fact beneficial. These are present in plant -based foods rather than animal sources. Lauric acid, present in coconut oil, is one of the most unusual and beneficial form of saturated fat. It is the the source of disease fighting fatty acid derivative monolaurin. It has anti-microbial properties and has a favourable impact on lipid profile by increasing the HDL/good cholesterol.
Easy digestibility : Medium chain triglycerides present in coconut oil are easily digested as they are directly absorbed and metabolized in the liver. This makes it an ideal choice for infants in whom the digestive system is just developing but at the same time require energy. Also, in certain disorders where digestion is compromised such as a irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, liver problems , etc coconut oil is preferred due to its easy digestibility and instant energy.
Antioxidant: Coconut oil contains antioxidants such as vitamin E, provitamin A, polyphenols and phytosterols. It is also resistant to oxidation and has a longer shelf life. Coconut oil kept at room temperature for even up to a year does not get rancid or change its flavour. So within the body also, its antioxidative effect protect cells from toxins, chemicals or other physical damage.
Favourable in diabetes : The MCTs in coconut oil do not cause a spike in insulin and hence do not stress the pancreas. In fact, they help improve insulin secretion. They are a good source of fat for individuals suffering from diabetes in whom insulin secretion is often low or absent.
The list of health benefits of coconut oil can go on and on. Besides, these specific health benefits we do know that coconut oil has wide range of applications for maintaining good hair and skin, treating wounds, lubricant, sunblock, cooling and soothing effect,etc.
As we have mentioned in our earlier blogs, no one oil is perfect and hence blended oil or rotational use is preferred. Also, we know that flavour of coconut oil may not go well with all kinds of vegetables. But, coconut oil can definitely be used for cooking in certain curries and vegetables and become a part of healthy balanced diet.