From the husk that could be smoked as mosquito repellent to the meat that is very rich in protein, just about every part of a coconut is of great use (except for superstitious Nigerian folks who believe drinking its juice can render a person unintelligent). And then, there is the coconut oil!
Fast becoming the dietician’s favorite; coconut oil, which is extracted from the white fleshy part of the coconut, is not a new discovery at all. For hundreds of years, it has been used as cooking oil especially in the Pacific region. Until recent times though, coconut oil sold in most stores were considered as one of the bad fats (with its consumption linked to health issues like obesity, and consequently heart diseases).
Considering the fact that it is regarded as one of the purest oils presently, one might be surprised by the turnaround. But there wasn’t really any major change. The difference lies in a very important detail: the method of extraction.
The method by which the coconut oil is extracted allows us to categorize it into two groups: the virgin oil and the refined (or hydrogenated) oil. The virgin coconut oil, for example, is extracted by simple processes like sun-drying and wet-milling while the refined coconut oil is extracted using hexane and high heat. The refining process lessens the saturated fat content of the oil and turns it into unhealthy trans fatty acids.
Virgin coconut oil is said to be thermogenic — this means that it can generate heat. This term is usually associated with heightened metabolism (and fat burning). However, the researches that highlight its efficacy in weight reduction are dependent on past studies of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oils. Coconut oil contains sizeable amount of naturally occurring MCTs although 50% of its makeup is Lauric acid which is also partly a medium-chain triglyceride (as it has a chain of twelve carbons as opposed to the usual ten carbons).
Unlike long-chained triglycerides (LCTs), the body metabolizes MCTs quicker because of their shorter carbon chains and immediately absorbs them into the liver — a move that means it bypasses the lymphatic system. This rapid transition into the liver, where the MCTs are converted to energy and ketones, may produce thermogenic effect in the body and hence, burn up accumulated fat. This fact is what distinguishes the coconut oil from other kinds of refined vegetable oil which are first broken into fatty acids and have to undergo other processes before it is finally converted to energy. Technically, coconut oil is digested in a manner similar to that of carbohydrates.
A 2016 study has also shown that the MCTs in coconut oil also aid weight loss by enhancing satiety; a sensation that gives a person the impression of fullness. This is just as important as rapid metabolism because it helps to tone down appetite and check excess food intake. The oil can be used to cook meals, can be added to beverages, and can be consumed raw too. (A teaspoon a day is good for a start. Don’t worry, it tastes coconut-y).
Apart from working it’s way up to becoming a dietary heavyweight, coconut oil is also pulling weight in the cosmetic world. Coconut oil nourishes the scalp, moisturizes the skin and is also helpful in the treatment of acne.
While the oil continues to wow us, it is necessary to add that it is not a magic potion from Hogwarts; it is important for people interested in shedding weight to incorporate other healthy practices into their lives, like regular exercises and constant hydration.