Coconut oil is the latest cause célèbre, having gone from an evil monster, loaded with saturated fat, to the must-have supplement for a healthy lifestyle. So what’s changed? It wasn’t long ago that health experts had coconut oil lumped in with lard and tallow, and now they’re saying it can help with everything from dandruff to Alzheimer’s.
Once considered an exotic luxury in the western world, this tropical oil is now considered by many to be a “super food”. Proponents of the oil claim its unique chemical make-up makes it not only suitable for cooking, but as a possible medicine, biofuel, cosmetic constituent and anti-microbial agent. Are these claims backed by the scientific evidence, or is it all just the latest health buzz?
The history of coconut oil use
It is true that coconut oil has been used for thousands of years by native cultures in the tropics of South East Asia, both as a medicine and cooking ingredient. When Europeans arrived, the demand for coconut oil back home skyrocketed, and plantations were set up in tropical regions, including the Caribbean and South Pacific. As a result of this mass production, coconut oil was commonly used in cooking in Europe and America, right up until the start of the Second World War when supply was cut off.
After the war, plantations were keen to start exporting again, but the 1950’s saw a massive change in the attitude of people towards coconut oil. Nutrition researcher Ancel Keys published his hypothesis that high cholesterol levels are the result of saturated fats, and that high cholesterol then in turn leads to clogged arteries and heart disease. Home grown soybean oil had replaced coconut oil during the war, and with coconut oil having 93% saturated fat, that was how it remained.
Coconut oil and the fear of saturated fats
The idea that saturated fats equal heart-attacks is so ingrained in our psyche that no-one will really question it. Although recent evidence has shown that the original studies were flawed, and that saturated fats are maybe not a contributing factor to heart disease. The argument is that the rats the original studies were conducted on, were only given coconut oil, and it was the lack of Omega-3 fatty acids (that coconut oil doesn’t have) that caused the cholesterol. The people of the tropics also have a high fish diet, which is rich in Omega-3, and traditionally they showed no signs of heart disease. In fact, epidemiological studies have shown zero correlation between coconut oil consumption and coronary disease.
Coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel are all derived from palm trees and have the highest levels of saturated fat, although coconut oil comes from a different species than the other two. Of the two main types of coconut oil, copra and virgin, virgin has a higher Vitamin E and antioxidant content. This comes from the differences in their extraction process. Despite the perceived risk of heart disease, many people are now turning to coconut oil for health reasons.
Coconut oil and weight loss?
A study of 20 Malay women, who were given 1 ounce of virgin coconut oil per day, found that they lost on average almost 3cms around their waist in a month. It’s not exactly certain why this and similar studies have shown coconut oil helps lose weight, but one theory is it increases satiety and stops people from over-eating. Athletes are now also using coconut oil and discovering it helps sustain energy levels, possibly due to the ketone formed from the oil.
It is this same ketone that some researchers believe may help with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurological disorders. It has already been established that a ketogenic diet can considerably reduce epileptic seizures in children who are resistant to drug therapies. The brain of an Alzheimer’s patient has a hard time converting glucose, but ketone may provide an alternative source of energy.
The anti-bacterial properties
Coconut oil also has undoubted anti-microbial properties. In fact, many synthetic products contain monolaurin as an anti-microbial compound, which is coconut oil’s predominant fatty acid. It can kill bacteria that causes such diseases as pneumonia, meningitis, and food poisoning. It can also kill the causes of fungal infections such as ringworm, thrush or athlete’s foot. The traditional Indian practice of swishing coconut oil around the mouth is said to prevent tooth decay and bad breath.
Cosmetic uses of coconut oil
Cosmetically of course, coconut oil is very much in demand. Ubiquitous in hand and face creams, lotions and soaps, coconut oil is a billion-dollar industry around the globe. And it’s scientifically proven to work. Because of the lauric acid’s low molecular weight and straight linear chain, the protein is able to get inside the hair shaft, reducing protein loss for both damaged and undamaged hair.
And coconut oil for cooking - the most important benefits
But of course, coconut oil is best known for its cooking properties, and is used widely by the food industry. It has a long shelf life, making it perfect for transportation and storage. The sensual aroma of coconut oil is also one of its main attractions. At room temperature it is solid and pure white, and when melted it gives off a beautiful aroma and pleasant taste. It can replace butter in many recipes, usually as a healthier and tastier alternative.
It's only now, eighty years after the west stopped using coconut oil, that we are starting to rediscover it. Guidelines for the quality of coconut oil have been set by the Asian & Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), which keep the standards not only high, but safe. The oil must be perfectly clear, no suspended particles, and it must not have been subject to temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius. Good quality oil will have a slight coconut aroma, be slightly brown in colour, and have less than 1% of free fatty acids. Of course, here at Olivado, we only use the very best coconut oil.
Why Olivado should be your choice
Olivado’s Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is created using a cutting-edge cold extraction process that preserves the natural goodness of the coconut flesh without using chemicals or heat. The raw white flesh of the coconut is cold pressed and the oil is centrifugally separated and filtered, producing a fresh creamy coconut taste.
This advanced production method eliminates the oily aftertaste found in lesser oils. Our Extra Virgin Coconut Oil can be used for frying, baking, and sautéing. When liquid, our coconut oil is clear and pure, and at temperatures below 15°C it solidifies, resulting in a smooth pure white wax.
Olivado Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is available in 375ml and 500ml glass jars. If you’d like to buy some and live in New Zealand, please click here for our stockists. For sales in the USA, click here, and for international stockists, please click here.