More to coconut than meets the eye

Different parts of the coconut like coconut water, coconut oil and the fruit have distinct properties. Coconut oil, once a villain for high saturated fat (which solidifies at room temperature) is being recognised as a heart-friendly fat.

Most studies were done on hydrogenated coconut oil. This oil is formed after a chemical process causes formation of harmful trans fats that raise cholesterol levels. Studies on non-hydrogenated coconut oil found the oil to be neutral in terms of atherogenicity (ability to cause heart disease). Not all saturated fatty acids in natural fats are atherogenic.

According to recent research, butter, desi ghee and coconut oil as part of a healthy diet are not contraindicated. Epidemiological and experimental data on coconut eating groups note that dietary coconut oil does not lead to high serum cholesterol or high coronary artery disease, mortality or morbidity. Some studies have shown that when virgin coconut oil is added to otherwise normal diets, there is either no change or a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. A 2004 study at University of Kerala, by Nevin KG and Rajamohan T, demonstrated the potential beneficiary effect of virgin coconut oil in lowering lipid levels in serum and tissues and LDL oxidation by physiological oxidants — polyphenols present in the oil.

Coconut oil also protects arteries due to its anti-infective properties. It is the richest source of lauric acid, which helps the body produce antimicrobial lipid monolaurin. Both herpes virus and cytomgalovirus are inhibited by monolaurin.

Coconut oil has also shown anti-cancer effects. In 1987, Lim-Sylianco published a review of 50 years of literature showing anti-carcinogenic effects of dietary coconut oil. Animal studies show its anti-tumour effects too.

While coconut oil studies are in their early stages, some suggest that it improves brain function and has anti-ageing properties. Other benefits include positive effects on the immune system. The main MCFA (medium chain fatty acid) in coconut oil is lauric acid, a proven anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal agent found in mother's milk. Our body converts it to monolaurin.

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