Coconut oil has a myriad uses and has recently grown very popular, even though it’s been used for centuries. The health benefits of the oil, extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts, were first recorded over 4,000 years ago.
The earliest mentioning of coconut oil can be found in Ayurvedic medicine texts written in Sanskrit, according to Today's Dietician, an online magazine that features articles on a wide range of nutrition topics.
Ancient Polynesians are believed to have used coconut oil for a wide variety of purposes, including skin health. In addition to being one the earliest beauty products, coconut oil was also used to relieve joint stiffness, rheumatism and back pain by rubbing a liberal amount of coconut oil on the affected area.
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New research points to the benefits of including coconut in your daily diet and health regimen.
Coconut oil is a rich source of saturated fats (90% saturated fat).
After being dismissed in the past as an unhealthy oil, new research shows that coconut oil may not be as harmful as once believed. Coconut oil is now being promoted as a suitable ingredient as part of a balanced weight-loss plan. The argument is that coconut oil contains 2.6% fewer calories per gram than other fats.
There’s still much debate worldwide about the exact role of saturated fats in the diet, whether these fats do indeed contribute to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and heart disease, and to what extent. The latest research, however, shows that these fats may not be as unhealthy as previously thought, but health authorities haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet.
In the meantime, it’s useful to note that coconut oil’s unique composition of fatty acids does mean it’s highly resistant to oxidation at high temperatures, making it ideal for frying.
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The oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are transported directly from the digestive tract to the liver, providing a quick source of energy.
Other possible health benefits
According to the US Coconut Research Centre, coconut oil may have a wide range of other health benefits. These include:
• Thwarting viruses that cause flu, measles, hepatitis C
• Killing bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, tooth decay, pneumonia
• Killing fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis and athlete’s foot
• Improving digestion
• Reducing symptoms associated with pancreatitis and diabetes
• Protecting against osteoporosis
• Reducing inflammation
However, there’s no conclusive evidence to support most of the above claims, and not every statement made by the Coconut Research Centre has been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
That said, research by Dr Brady and Prof Neil Rowan of the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland did demonstrate that the antibacterial properties of coconut oil can prevent tooth decay.
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Brady and his team discovered that digested coconut oil stopped most streptococcus bacteria (which produce teeth-decaying acids) from multiplying.
How to make use of coconut oil
Until there’s strong enough evidence to prove that ingesting coconut oil isn’t harmful because of its high saturated-fat content, here are some other uses for coconut oil:
• Cuticle care: Rub coconut oil into your nail beds to treat dry and flaky cuticles.
• Lip balm: It’s great for chapped and dry lips caused by an extreme climate.
• Skin moisturiser: It sinks in really quickly to give skin a supple, baby-soft feel.
• Makeup-remover: Rub some onto your face, leave for a minute or so and wipe off.
• Get a close shave: Works extremely well for a really close shave.
• Whiten your teeth: Mix a bit of oil with baking soda to make a paste, then use it to brush your teeth.
• Add life to leather: Give that old leather jacket some shine by rubbing it down with some coconut oil.
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Image: Coconuts and oil from Shutterstock.