COCONUTS and COCONUT OIL*
The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means ‘monkey face’, because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resemble the face of a monkey. Nucifera means ‘nut bearing’.
The coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice and oil that has fed and nourished populations around the world for generations.
It is estimated that nearly one third of the world’s population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and their economy.
The Coconut Palm
The coconut palms have a comparatively high yield, producing up to 75 fruits, ‘nuts’, per year. The coconut palm tree has been given various names in different cultures including “the tree which provides all the necessities of life”, “the tree of a thousand uses” and “the tree of life”.
The white fleshy part of the nut is the coconut meat. This is edible and can be used fresh or dried. Copra is anther name for the dried meat.
The cavity of the coconut is filled with coconut water. This liquid contains sugar, fibre, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Coconut water provides an isotonic electrolyte balance and is a highly nutritious food source. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young immature coconuts. The coconut water is sterile until the nut is opened. It can be used as in intravenous infusion in emergencies if other fluids such as plasma or whole blood are not available.
Coconut milk is made by processing grated coconut meat with hot water or milk, which extracts the oil and aromatic compounds. It has a fat content of approximately 17%. It is the main ingredient in certain curries and desserts.
When coconut milk is cooled or refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separates from the milk.
Coconut milk is used to produce virgin coconut oil by controlled heating and removal of the oil fraction.
The leftover coconut fibre from coconut milk production can be used as livestock feed.
The coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. These are responsible for the alleged health benefits of coconuts.
The Coconut Research Center, on their website www.coconutresearchcentre.org, states the following:
“Modern medical science is now confirming the use of coconut in treating many …… conditions. Published studies in medical journals show that coconut, in one form or another, may provide a wide range of health benefits.”
There is then a list of 51 health benefits claimed for coconut. These benefits include antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, nutritional benefits of various types, help for a variety of medical conditions including diabetes, and antioxidant effects.
Coconut oil is of special interest. It is believed that it is the oil of the coconut that makes it a remarkable food with the various health benefits as referred to above.
Coconut oil is saturated. It was once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of this. But it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is unique and different from most other fats.
All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are two methods of classifying fatty acids.
1) The first is the well known one based on saturation. There are saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
2) The second system of classification is based on molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atom attached. In this system there are short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA).
Coconut oil is saturated, and is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).
The vast majority of fats and oils in our diets, whether they are saturated or unsaturated, or come from animals (meat, milk, eggs) or plants (including most vegetable oils) are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA).
Why is the size of the fatty acid so important? Our bodies respond to and metabolise each fatty acid differently depending on its size. Thus the physiological effects of MCFA in coconut oil are distinctly different from those of LCFA as found in the majority of our foods.
MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and they help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease as well as stroke.
Coconut oil has large amounts of the fatty acid known as lauric acid, which is the predominant fatty acid in human milk. It is easily digestible, strengthens the immune system and protects against viral, bacterial and fungal infections.
Coconut oil has been shown to detoxify the liver, as well as helping to build lipoproteins, fats, hormones and bile. The MCFA help create a healthy digestive tract, which in turn allows for better digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the food. It is also said to help protect against skin cancer and help prevent premature aging and wrinkles.
Coconut oil is truly an ideal food. It contains no trans fats (see my November 2008 newsletter Trans fats) and being fully saturated is very stable, hence ideal for cooking, and has a long shelf life.
The coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk and oil.
Coconut oil should replace all other oils, except, perhaps, cold pressed virgin olive oil as used in dressings. There is a smell and taste with coconut oil. Personal experience shows that not only do you get used to the distinctive taste, but it adds to the overall flavour of the food.
*Copyright 2010: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the Huntlycentre website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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