When I travel I don’t just do it with my eyes but with my stomach too; and this is why I have an entire page about my culinary adventures and experiences. Most of my life I’ve been health conscious and this is why I constantly do research about nutrition and fitness. I am mainly vegetarian but I love fish, I try to avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible and my dairy intake is fairly limited.
As I mentioned in my culinary experiences in South India, food was one of the best parts of our trip. It was mostly vegetarian and a little spicier than North Indian food and a key ingredient is COCONUT. In South India, people use coconut oil and milk in most of their curries!. There are coconuts spread all over the streets of Kerala; being coconut water the most popular drink in the whole region. Cool and refreshing!
Back in Canada, Peter had some issues with high cholesterol and his specialist advised him not to consume creamy-based curries due to the high content of saturated fat but he mentioned that coconut milk based curry was fine! On the other hand a friend of us who works as a surgeon assistant in San Francisco told us that the cinemas were banned from using coconut oil to make pop corn due to the high content of saturated fat which leads to high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. In support of this theory the advise from the Medical School of Harvard is to use coconut oil sparingly because it is unknown how coconut oil affects the development of heart disease. This contradictory advise led me to investigate the nutritional facts of the coconut; more specifically coconut oil.
A bit of history: Ayurvedic medicinal texts (an alternative medicine that originated in Northern India) written in Sanskrit about 4,000 years ago report the health benefits of coconut oil. Most Southeast Asian countries call it the “tree of life” because of its highly valued and respected source of plant-based fats that have been used both as an energy-dense food and as folk medicine.
During World War II, coconut water was administered to soldiers intravenously to provide sterile hydration. Individuals pierced a young coconut with an IV tube and placed it directly into the soldier’s vein. It’s still used this way today in remote areas of the world. The unique composition of coconut water — the liquid found inside young coconuts — contains electrolytes, natural sugars, and essential amino acids, giving it a composition similar to that of intracellular and extracellular fluids.
In the last century, coconut oil became one of the preferred sources of plant fats for food manufacturers in North America because of its taste, texture, and stability. In the 1940s, vegetable oils and seed oils from corn, soybeans, and cottonseeds started replacing coconut oil because of the diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys, PhD, which stated that saturated fat contributes to the development of heart diseases. This hypothesis, along with the nutritional guidelines encouraging Americans to adopt low-fat diets (but high-carb instead), unfortunately made coconut oil disappear from our plates for many decades.
Biochemical Properties: Coconut oil is 100% fat and is one of the richest source of saturated fat which makes us think twice before enjoying it. However this type of oil contains a unique composition of fatty acids which could be the cause of its beneficial properties. 65% of its fats are present in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), as opposed to long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) commonly found in other food sources of fats. MCFAs have only eight to 14 carbons in length. Unlike other fats, MCFAs don’t need to break down into single fatty acids for the body to absorb them. These fatty acids go straight from the digestive tract to the liver, where they are likely to be turned into ketone bodies and provide a quick source of energy. The fatty acids are about 90% saturated. This makes coconut oil highly resistant to oxidation at high heats. For this reason, it is the perfect oil for high-heat cooking methods like frying.
In addition, coconut oil is rich in Lauric Acid. Lauric acid is recognized for its antimicrobial properties. When lauric acid infiltrates the membranes of lipid-coated bacteria or other microbes such as fungi, protozoa, and even viruses — which it can do because of high MCT blood levels — it destabilizes their membranes, causing them to disintegrate, and kills the microbes as a result. However, this process can occur only in the presence of sufficient blood concentrations of lauric acid. Therefore, coconut oil can be protective against various infections.
Coconut oil helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases: Unrefined coconut oil (non-hydrogenated) actually improves blood lipid profiles. The virgin coconut oil significantly reduces Total and LDL cholesterol, oxidized LDL, triglycerides and increased HDL (the good) cholesterol. It also had favorable effects on blood coagulation factors and antioxidant status.
To further support the safety of coconut oil, researchers in a randomized clinical trial gave 40 middle-aged Brazilian women with abdominal obesity 2 teaspoons of soybean or coconut oil daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, both groups lost weight, but only the coconut oil group saw a significant decrease in waist circumference. In the soybean oil group, levels of total and LDL cholesterol significantly increased, while HDL levels decreased, worsening their cardiovascular risk profile. The blood lipid profile of the women in the coconut oil group didn’t change significantly, although they tended to have higher HDL cholesterol levels, indicating improved cardiovascular health. Therefore, coconut oil may be protective against heart disease and at the same time can help you to loose weight.
When buying coconut oil always choose the unrefined coconut oil which is refers as a “virgin”. It is coconut oil extracted from fresh coconut meat rather than dried. If it is a white solid in the jar then it is unrefined. If it is like a transparent liquid, then it is processed and more likely to be partially hydrogenated.
Beauty benefits: A few months ago I was reading an interesting article called “Discovering India’s beauty secret: The Coconut” written by an English woman who now lives in India. She emphasizes the fact that Indian women use coconut oil in their hair, rubbing it right into their scalp to stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss. This is why most deep conditioners contain coconut oil as it more readily assimilates with hair. Coconut oil also helps to fight dandruff. Regular oiling of the scalp helps improve blood circulation and provides the vital essential oils and nutrients required to hydrate and nourish the skin. This helps in treating and preventing dandruff to create healthy, strong and beautiful tresses.
Overall coconut oil is used in many natural beauty products, and for good reason. It’s naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal, it’s an excellent body and hand moisturizer, perfect for using as eye make up remover and the best part: it smells delicious and is affordable!
You can make wonders in your kitchen using coconut flakes, milk, cream, oil, ice cream, etc.. One example of it is this vegan raw cheesecake a friend of mine shared with me. You don’t need to cook anything. All you need to do is gather the ingredients and blend them all in three different stages: The flour-less crust, the non-diary cheese part and the fruity top layer. Below are the sources of information, I used to do this investigation. There is a lot of information out there about the wonders of the coconut. Just Google it and you will find out that 95% of the information are in pros of this exotic tropical plant!
- Today’s Dietitian. The Magazine for Nutrition Professionals.
- WebMD. By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD Weight loose and diet plans.
- Authority Nutrition. An Evidence-Based Approach.
- Discovering India’s Beauty Secrets: The Coconut!
- Prevention: 10 Amazing Beauty Tricks with Coconut oil.
- The Rawtarian. Raw Cheesecake Recipe.