Nuts for Coconuts

Health fads come and go. What was conventional wisdom yesterday is gone tomorrow.

Published February 20, 2015 9:27 PM
4 min read

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health-home-thHealth fads come and go. What was conventional wisdom yesterday is gone tomorrow.

By Caitlin Brown

coconut-super-heroHealth fads come and go. What was conventional wisdom yesterday is gone tomorrow. Case in point, coconut oil, a food we once shied away from because of its saturated fat content, something we know to contribute to heart disease. But, this “superfood” has gone from villain to superhero as an end-all-be-all to just about everything under the sun, and is now all the rage. Its popularity has garnered shelf space across the nation at health food stores and supermarkets alike (Whole Foods carries ten different brands). The word from Dr. Mehmet Oz is: “If you’re going to use one product to add to your health arsenal, this is it!” That’s quite a testimonial.

So, what is it that has health proponents going nuts for coconuts? Are any or all of the claims about it being a go-to for just about every ailment and beauty need based on fact?

Many describe it as a wonder oil, stating that it lowers cholesterol, promotes weight balance/ weight loss, boosts energy, helps prevent Alzheimer’s, and can even turn the clock around as a beauty aid (moisturizer, hair treatment, dental aid).

Coconut oil has a saturated fat called lauric acid, which it is believed can increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood and improve cholesterol ratio levels. Coconut oil lowers cholesterol by promoting its conversion to pregnenolone, a molecule that is a precursor to many of the hormones our bodies need. Coconut can also help restore normal thyroid function, which can contribute to healthier cholesterol, according to Dr. Oz. That said, not many studies have been done to date to prove it.

And, whether it lowers the risk of heart disease (another claim) is not known; what is known is that Polynesians, whose main consumption of dietary fat comes from fresh coconuts, do not have high rates of heart disease.

The claims that coconut oil can help you lose weight stem from the fact that it is mostly composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which go from the intestinal tract directly to the liver where they are burned as fuel rather than being stored in body fat. The MCT-rich oil from coconuts has been studied in Alzheimer’s patients, but so far few studies have been able to provide compelling evidence. A study in 2009 found that women who consumed 2 tablespoons a day of coconut oil for 12 weeks not only didn’t gain weight, but also had lowered amounts of abdominal fat, one that is more difficult to lose. That said, these women also had exercise routines in place and healthy eating routines.

 

“If you’re going to use one product to add to your health arsenal, this is it!”

 

And then there are the beauty benefits… Coconut is having a moment in the beauty department. Supermodels and celebrities — Gisele, Miranda Kerr, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few — swear by the stuff as a natural alternative to anti-aging. The oils found in coconut have a positive antioxidant action in the body. Oxidation is a major contributor to skin aging, but coconut oil can lower the need for antioxidant intake. It can hydrate as well as mineral oils and is non-toxic, which appeals to more and more women as they take greater care of not only what they are putting in their bodies, but what they are putting on them.

Women everywhere are slathering coconut oil on straight from the jar. It’s being used for frizz taming, scalp treatments, hair mask, an eye cream, a natural sunscreen, face and body oil, cuticle oil… makeup remover (just heat it up for a minute in the microwave, and slather it on). Google it and an infinite number of coconut oil beauty do-it-yourselfs pop up with compelling testimonials that would make any naysayer give it a college try. And it’s inexpensive! One jar goes a long way (I’m on my second).

So, what to make of coconut oil? Although it is made up of 90% saturated fat, the scientific community has started to figure out that not all saturated fats are equal. Coconut oil is a better alternative to other ones (cooking, etc.) and that seems to be behind some of the studies that show results. Saturated fats, however, should be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends limiting total saturated fat to less than 7% of calories per day. Perhaps one reason coconut oil has made a comeback is because it isn’t the same one that was sold in the 70s and 80s. Its predecessor was highly processed and refined, unlike the versions sold today.

Whether you use it as a moisturizer for your skin or hair or add it to your weight-loss plan, coconut oil’s benefits are many. The Indians have been using it as a natural healing agent for well over a thousand years, and the rest of the world is catching up.

 

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