All About Coconut Oil: Benefits And Harms

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The fact that the fruits of the coconut palm are edible has been known to mankind for a long time. In SEA, in the homeland of the plant itself, it was domesticated in ancient times. Palm trees are believed to have originated in what is now Malaysia. Due to the fact that the trees grew on the seashore, mature coconuts fell near or directly into the water, were caught by currents, and eventually spread throughout Southeast and South Asia. By the way, despite the fact that the fruits of the coconut palm are usually called nuts, they are drupes (berries) with a fibrous intercarp.

Initially, only the coconut water contained within the young coconuts was consumed. It served not only to quench thirst but also to make sauces and prepare food. Due to its chemical composition, which resembles that of human plasma, coconut water has also been used in medicine. In particular, during the Second World War, due to a shortage of isotonic solutions in Japanese military hospitals, saline and plasma were replaced with coconut water.

The second most important (and since the XX century – the most important) is the white, buttery flesh with a rich taste, which is formed inside the ripe fruit. It is from the pulp that the most popular coconut products are produced – milk and butter. The latter in the XXI century, at first, at lightning speed earned the title of a superfood, and then just as rapidly left the list of “superfoods”.

Negative attitudes towards coconut oil emerged following news reports that Harvard University professor Karin Michaels called it “pure poison” in her public lecture.

However, many American nutritionists agree that coconut oil, due to its saturation with fatty acids, should not be made the basis of food and it is better to combine it with other oils in food. Members of the American Heart Association recommend replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones: this reduces the level of “bad” cholesterol and, accordingly, the risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Types of coconut oil
By production method

Cold-pressed. An expensive type of production in which fresh or dried coconut pulp (copra) is placed under a press. As a result, only 10% of the oil can be extracted from copra, but the resulting product will contain a maximum of useful substances.

There are several technical ways to obtain virgin oil:

  • using a screw press to squeeze the pulp directly;
  • mixing the pulp with water to obtain coconut milk and further fermentation of milk for 36–48 hours, followed by separation of the oil from the liquid.

Cold-pressed oil can be identified by Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil on the label if it comes from fresh pulp, and Pure Coconut Oil if it is squeezed from the dried pulp (copra).

Organic Coconut Oil signifies that the oil is obtained from palms, fertilized only organically, without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Hot-pressed. In this type of production, copra is crushed, subjected to heat treatment (boiling, in some cases, frying), and filtered, obtaining the finished unrefined coconut oil.

Only Coconut Oil is written on the label of such oil, without additional designations and markings.

By the degree of purification

Unrefined oil. It is “crude” oil that undergoes minimal purification: settling, filtration, and passing through a centrifuge. The oil is then bottled and sealed. Unrefined oil is easily distinguished by its thick consistency, light yellow tint, and pronounced fresh coconut aroma.

Refined oil. Such a product has the designation RBD Coconut Oil (refined, bleached, deodorized) on the label. The oil is transparent, has no pronounced odor and taste. It is refined oil that is used for frying and as an ingredient in the preparation of any dish, as well as for adding to various factory cosmetics.

Coconut oil composition
Coconut oil has become a culinary bestseller due to its chemical composition unparalleled among other vegetable oils.

The most important ingredient in a product is saturated fat, or rather, its main ingredient is saturated fatty acids.

When lauric acid enters the human body with food, it turns into the monolaurin ether, which has antiviral and antibacterial effects. Studies have shown that monolaurin is effective against Staphylococcus aureus, lamblia, and other protozoa that cause human diseases.

Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that affects metabolism. Oleic acid is also needed to build the biological membranes that make up the cells in the body. The use of this acid improves the condition of the skin and hair, helps the body to cope with “bad cholesterol”, helps to strengthen the walls of blood vessels.

Myristic acid inhibits the development of pathogenic microflora in the gastrointestinal tract, increases the effectiveness of antibiotics, and stimulates the body’s immune response to various pathogens.

Palmitic acid is a substance that a child normally needs in infancy for rapid growth and development (by the way, it is found in human breast milk and is a popular additive in the formula for artificial feeding).

Phytosterols (phytosterols) are substances of the group of steroid alcohols produced by plants. Once in the human body, phytosterols reduce the amount of cholesterol, thereby having a positive effect on the work of the cardiovascular system. Scientists have also found that phytosterols reduce the likelihood of developing stomach cancer.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that prevents oxygen from contacting unsaturated membrane lipids. It promotes the transport of oxygen throughout the body and is a natural immunomodulator. With a lack of vitamin E, vitamin deficiency begins, characterized by muscular dystrophy.

Vitamin K is involved in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphoric acid (ATP) and serves as a carrier of electrons in molecules. With a deficiency of vitamin K, problems arise with the digestibility of food in the gastrointestinal tract. The absence of this substance in the diet leads to the deposition of salts on the walls of arterial vessels and deformation of the cartilage tissue and bones in children.

Iron is part of the enzymes involved in the transport of oxygen through the cells of the body. With iron deficiency, a person experiences fatigue, lack of energy, lack of concentration, headaches, and other symptoms.

The benefits and harms of coconut oil

  • The smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and release carcinogens) of refined coconut oil is 204 degrees. Since the Maillard reaction (the process of frying and the formation of a golden crust on food) occurs at 130–160 ° C, coconut oil can be considered absolutely harmless for frying. Moreover, it does not even change its properties. The smoke point of unrefined oil is 177 ° C, and it is more suitable for salads and desserts. However, you can also cook on it, but only products that do not require long frying.
  • In 2017, the case of pediatrician Mary Newport, whose husband was diagnosed with an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, became known. Before that, she had read about studies showing a link between medium-chain triglycerides (medium-chain fatty acids) and increased brain cell metabolism and suggested that her husband try adding coconut oil to his daily diet. The results were amazing: As long as Steve Newport ate a serving of coconut oil a day, the disease stopped. This case led to the start of research on the effectiveness of coconut oil in neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Studies in rodents have shown that extra virgin coconut oil reduces stress after exercise and may act as a natural antidepressant. The effect on the human psyche has not been studied, but doctors believe that it can potentially be used as a mild antidepressant.
  • Biologists who have conducted studies on rats have found that the use of coconut oil is effective prevention of liver diseases, in particular hepatosteatosis (fatty degeneration).

Coconut oil is high in high-calorie saturated fat. Continuous consumption of it in food can lead to weight gain, and in the absence of exercise, obesity.

Coconut oil is not a strong allergen, but sometimes there are cases of individual intolerance. If it’s new to your diet, watch for a rash.

How you can use coconut oil (in cooking and not only)
On the kitchen

Frying. Refined oil is used for frying food. Coconut oil for frying is odorless and tasteless and can be used to cook meat, fish, vegetables, pancakes, cheeses, and other foods. You can also fry in unrefined oil, but it gives dishes a sweetish flavor and a characteristic nutty flavor. Suitable for baking pancakes.

Adding to baked goods and desserts. Unrefined coconut oil is perfect for adding to sweet baked goods: it itself gives a slight sweetness and coconut flavor, due to the presence of fat, it makes the dough thicker and participates in creating a golden crisp crust.

Butter can also be added to desserts: coconut pairs perfectly with chocolates and truffles, buttercream, or jelly. Ice cream is often made with coconut oil and milk.

Soups and main courses. Many Thai, Sri Lankan, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines are based in principle on combining coconut oil with other ingredients. It is added to salads, sauces, and soups.

You can also just eat it. Spreading coconut oil on bread makes a delicious and healthy sandwich.

In the bathroom

For body. The benefits of unrefined coconut oil for the body have been known for a long time, it is not without reason that it is used as a massage tool in Asia. However, there are other reasons to get a jar of unrefined oil and store it in your bathroom.

  • Helps with sunburn thanks to vitamin E. It is better, of course, to use sunscreen (although the oil contains substances that protect the skin), but if you are already sunburned, smear the affected parts of the body with coconut oil for a couple of days. This will enhance skin regeneration, remove fine peeling and cracks.
  • Softens the skin, especially the areas with scars and scars. Lauric acid stimulates collagen production.
  • The same lauric acid has a powerful antibacterial effect and is a local antiseptic. It can help you heal scratches, acne, and mosquito and other insect bites faster.

For face. Although many show business stars use coconut oil for facial care, cosmetologists advise you to treat it with caution: in its pure form it cannot replace cleansers or cream for nourishing and moisturizing, and in excess, it can “clog” pores and provoke rash acne. But it is added to natural cosmetics very often.

For hair. Coconut oil can be used as a hair mask: it moisturizes and seals split ends. It should be applied only to the hair and not to the scalp to avoid clogging the pores.

For the oral cavity. All the same lauric acid makes coconut oil very beneficial for dental and oral health. It kills bacteria that cause tooth decay. Doctors believe that coconut oil is a natural analog of chlorhexidine. A side effect of the oil is to eliminate bad breath.

How and how much to store coconut oil
The oil can be stored both at room temperature (preferably not higher than 18 ° С) and in the refrigerator at + 5 ° С. For him, direct sunlight is destructive, so it is necessary to keep the oil in a dark place.

By the way, do not be alarmed if the oil is frozen directly in the bottle at room temperature. Its melting point is 25 ° C, in cooler conditions it changes its consistency and color. The liquid transparent oil, when solidified, acquires a white tint and a lumpy inhomogeneous structure. At the same time, all the beneficial properties of the oil are preserved.

The shelf life of refined oil is 1 year. If the oil changes from white to yellow, it is spoiled. The smell of such a product also changes – from delicate nutty to “smoked”, and the taste – from sweetish to rancid. In this case, you can not use it either for food or for cosmetic purposes.


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