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7 Health Reasons to Include Coconut Oil in Your Daily Diet

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By Jacky Miller

Coconut oil is the extracted oil from coconut, the fruit of the coconut tree that's well-known for growing in tropical areas. It's also an outrageously popular topic among social media and health outlets in recent years.

Typically coconut oil is refined, bleached and deodorized using high heat. The bleach filters the oil to eliminate any impurities and sodium hydroxide is used as a preservative and to get rid of excess fatty acids. Coconut oil typically has a long shelf life because its high saturated fat content prevents oxidation.

Coconut oil is the topic of hot debate, typically known for being fairly high in saturated fats. This can put it off-limits for some people trying to consume a low-fat diet plan. However, the benefits of coconut oil span much further than the detrimental effects of its saturated fat content and not just in the digestive tract. It can be used in lots of different ways.

In addition to being consumed as part of the diet, coconut oil can also be applied for health benefits in a lot of different ways. It can be used topically, as a lotion, melted and inhaled as a vapor solution or used as shampoo.

Coconut oil is made by compressing the fats out of the white part of coconut flesh. Its reputation for being high in saturated fat is not unjustified—around 84 percent of the calories in coconut oil are from saturated fat. This is incredibly high when compared to another organic oil like olive oil, which only contains 14 percent saturated fat. Even butter contains just more than 60 percent saturated fat.

How Can a Food High in Saturated Fat Be Healthy?

Coconut oil has been studied for its effects on preventing Alzheimer's, heart disease, cholesterol buildup and blood pressure. It's been studied for its ability to prevent kidney disease and inflammation and for its defensive capabilities at fighting the development of cancer. How can one food—a food high in saturated fat, no less—be responsible for so many amazing health benefits?

First, coconut oil's saturated fats are mostly composed of medium-chain fatty acids. The most dangerous fatty acids are long-chain fatty acids. Certain types of long-chain fatty acids are known for contributing to heart disease, though some can be neutral. Most people consume far too many of the unhealthy long-chain fats and this is largely what leads to heart disease.

There are three main long-chain fatty acids: Myristic acid (coconut oil contains between 16 and 21 percent), palmitic acid and stearic acid. Myristic and palmitic acid have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is short for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is highly reactive and can oxidize easily, leading to heart disease, strokes and an increased chance of cancer.

Myristic acid was more potent in this regard and has a higher chance of increasing LDL cholesterol. Myristic acid is also rarely found in natural foods and is more likely to be obtained in junk food.

Stearic acid has been shown to actually help balance cholesterol levels and is the healthiest of the three long-chain fatty acids.

In comparison, coconut oil's primary fat constituents are medium-chain fatty acids, including lauric acid (45 to 52 percent), caprylic acid (5 to 10 percent) and capric acid (4 to 8 percent).

The most common medium-chain fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, making up almost 75 percent of coconut oil's fait content. Medium chain fatty acids are connected with a higher rate of weight loss; in fact, subjects in a study who replaced olive oil with coconut oil or palm oil were shown to lose weight at a much quicker rate. These medium-chain fatty acids have also been studied for their efficacy at treating Alzheimer's and helping the body absorb nutrients more efficiently.

The rest of coconut oil's fat composition is made up of a mixture of caproic acid, oleic acid, palmitoleic acid and linoleic acid. Most of these are short-chain fatty acids.

How Does Coconut Oil Improve My Diet?

Residents of the South Pacific, who get up to 60 percent of their total calories—not just their total fat—from the highly saturated fat that is coconut oil, are shown to have virtually non-existent rates of heart disease.

The particular types of saturated fats in coconut oil are proven to not only not damage your cardiovascular system but are proven to improve it. Regular intake of coconut oil can improve heart health, help you lose weight, boost your metabolism, give you short and long-lasting energy. Most of these benefits are due to lauric acid, one of the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil. Lauric acid is the fat that composes the most significant percentage of coconut oil's profile.

The body converts lauric acid into a new substance, known as monolaurin. This particular compound is an antiviral, anti-bacterial and immune-boosting substance. Being a fat itself, it can also attack lipid-coated bacteria and pathogens such as herpes and HIV, the flu (caused by the influenza virus), measles and lipid-based protozoa and bacteria.

Lauric acid is extremely effective at battling viruses and bacteria and coconut oil has more of it, gram for gram, than any other substance.

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil's benefits can be experienced by using coconut oil as a topical lotion, a food additive or even a vapor rub. Here are the top health benefits and the best ways to receive them.

1. Coconut Oil Helps Fight Diabetes

The human body typically makes use of medium-chain fatty acids, like the ones in coconut oil, by sending them to your liver for energy production. Since coconut oil is extremely high in medium-chain fat content, it's a great source of energy.

The energy coconut oil provides is instant due to the quick metabolization of fats, which is usually only provided by carbohydrates. The most important difference between the fats in coconut oil and carbs? Coconut oil doesn't cause a blood sugar spike or tax your body of insulin. You get all the energy from a burst of carbohydrates, but don't have to deal with the dangerous after-effects that come alongside excessive carbohydrate or sugar consumption.

Diabetes is caused, among other things, by the body developing insulin sensitivity. This comes by frequent and repeated blood sugar spikes. Insulin is the body's hormone that regulates the production of glucose (sugar) and the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar and energy. With a high carbohydrate diet comes an excessive release of insulin and with that, the body develops a sensitivity. People develop insulin sensitivity when they become dependent on large doses of carbohydrates for energy.

A quick-acting, long-lasting energy source that doesn't cause a blood sugar spike is extremely useful for diabetics and health-conscious individuals who want to avoid diabetes. Coconut oil has been shown to minimize weight gain in people with diabetes and pre-diabetics. This is very helpful at preventing diabetes from reaching type-2 stage.

2. Coconut Oil is a Great Fighter Against Cardiovascular Disease

Diabetes isn't the only blood-related illness that coconut oil fights. It has been shown in multiple clinical trials to combat a number of cardiovascular diseases, to limit heart attacks and strokes and help manage cholesterol.

Managing cholesterol is, alone, a huge improvement towards preventing heart disease. Coconut oil has a few other tricks up its sleeve though.

The nutritional profile of coconut oil helps the body form fewer blood clots, lowers the risk of developing free radicals and keeps higher reserves of antioxidants in cells. Free radicals are "rogue" atoms that are missing an electron in their outermost shell. These electrons compensate by stealing an electron from a neighboring atom and when uncontrolled, create a chain reaction of electron-theft. Each stolen electron creates an unstable atom which can spread and lead to cancer.

Many heart diseases are caused by atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. This is caused by excess of plaque in the arteries, which can be caused by a variety of things: toxins, viral or bacterial infections, free radicals.

Much like blood will clot to heal wounds on the outer layer of skin, it sends platelets to heal wounds affecting the cardiovascular system itself. Platelets are proteins that stick together and stick to damaged tissue. They act similar to a bandaid for the cardiac system. The combination of platelets, minerals, cholesterol and scarred tissue build up in the body and can eventually harden, leading to potentially deadly disease.

Having effective systems to produce enough platelets is important. If your body cannot properly bandage an internal injury, your veins will produce too much scar tissue.

3. Coconut Oil is Great at Lowering Cholesterol

In one study on coconut oil's effect on cholesterol, 40 subjects were given either two tablespoons of coconut oil or two tablespoons of soybean oil daily for 12 weeks. The group taking soybean oil saw an increase in LDL cholesterol (not the kind you want) and a decrease in HDL cholesterol, whereas the coconut oil group saw only an increase in HDL.

HDL cholesterol can help the body wipe out LDL cholesterol. Since HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol, as its name indicates, is dense, it can sweep LDL cholesterol off the walls of veins and arteries. This prevents excess cholesterol from building up, which is one of the biggest causes of cardiovascular disease.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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