Coconuts are a great example of a functional food. What’s a functional food, you ask? It’s a food that has health benefits above and beyond its nutrient content. Coconuts are incredibly good for you!
Coconut oil had a bad reputation for many years because of its high saturated fat content. But it has been consumed daily in the diets of Asian cultures for thousands of years and is now gaining recognition in the west. The saturated fat in coconut oil is different from most other saturated fats because the hydrocarbon chains in its fatty acids are of medium length. To put it simply, a better measure of whether a fat is unhealthy is the fatty acid chain length, not the degree of saturation. The fats most of us consume in our diets are overwhelmingly long-chain fatty acids, or LCFA. But coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, or MCFA. These MCFA do not affect cholesterol levels, and actually show a protective effect against heart disease.
The particular MCFA found in coconuts is lauric acid, which is a substance with antimicrobial properties. It is converted in the body to an even more potent antimicrobial substance, called monolaurin, which is effective against numerous types of pathogenic bacteria and protozoa. Interestingly, lauric acid is also found in human breastmilk. Have you heard of using a few drops of breastmilk to treat a skin, ear, or eye infection? Coconut oil works the same way!
Coconut oil has a relatively high melting point, about 76 degrees, which means that whether it will be solid or liquid all depends on the room temperature in your kitchen. In its solid form, below 76 degrees, it looks a lot like shortening and it works great for greasing a baking pan. In its liquid form, above 76 degrees, it can be poured easily and used countless ways in cooking. With a little experimentation on how to use coconut oil, it’s fairly easy to adapt your favorite recipes by substituting coconut oil for other oils, butter, or shortening.
Coconut oil also has fewer calories than any other type of fat, and it helps to increase metabolic rate, both of which help people to maintain a healthy weight. It also improves insulin function and aids in blood glucose regulation. There are numerous other health claims about coconut, like reducing inflammation, improving calcium and magnesium absorption, and protecting the body as an antioxidant. While traditional cultures have used it medicinally for generations, western medicine is just beginning to appreciate the health potential of coconut. This amazing fruit is truly a functional food!
Article by Jennifer Needham
Jennifer is a homeschooling mom to five kids, and works from home as a Nutrition Educator. She's currently a grad student earning a masters degree in Nutrition. View her website, full of free lesson plans to teach children about nutrition and health, at Nutrition For Healthy Kids.
Jennifer has written 15 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.