It’s no secret coconut products are consistently gaining in popularity. A quick search of Google Trends shows that the words “coconut” and “coconut oil” have been increasing in popularity as search terms since 2011. This increase in popularity can be reflected in both standard grocery stores as well as health food store shelves. Health food stores are taking it to the next level and offer everything from coconut based coffee creamer to sugar-coated coconut bites.
While many of these products are a company’s attempt to profit on this hot commodity, coconuts are, at their core, a healthy food staple that’s been around for thousands of years.
Keep in mind that health benefits would come from fresh unprocessed coconut flesh which is full of fiber and improves satiation and gut health, or coconut oil a great source of medium chain fatty acids. Candied coconut on the other hand, as delicious as it sounds, probably doesn’t core very high on the nutritional scale.
With that being said and without further adieu, here are three scientifically investigated benefits of coconut when taken as part of a daily diet:
1. Coconut used for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the potential mechanisms by which coconut can improve Alzheimer’s disease is a flashy benefit, with some merit. The thorough review of literature found that the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) found in coconut are converted into ketone bodies, which help provide energy for the brain, and may be beneficial for individuals who already have or are developing memory impairment.
While the immediate ingestion of MCFA through coconut products might improve brain metabolism, the literature identifies that MCFA are utilized immediately, with limited lasting benefits, therefore indicating the addition of some coconut products on a daily basis.
2. Virgin coconut oil aids in metabolizing fat cells and inhibiting the growth of new fat cells.
The summary of this study is that the health benefits of coconut oil all come down to the processing. The University of Kerala team compared virgin coconut oil with copra oil, olive oil and sunflower-seed oil on their respective effects on fatty acids in normal rats. Copra is a harsh method of extracting the oil from the coconut, including extreme heating and bleaching to ensure uniformity of bland taste. While copra oil had no significant benefits and past research has found a negative impact on cholesterol levels when subjects consume copra coconut oil, the results of supplementing with VCO were drastically opposite.
In the study subjects (rats), supplementation of VCO had four major benefits:
1) Decreased tissue lipid levels
2) Reduced CoA carboxylase and fatty acid synthase activity (enzymes involved with the process of lipid cell creation)
3) Down-regulation of the mRNA expression of fatty acid synthesis
4) Up-regulation of mRNA expression of PPARalpha (increased oxidation of fat cells)
Basically, VCO was able to reduce the formation of new fat cells and improve the body’s ability to use existing fat cells as fuel during aerobic metabolism.
3. Virgin coconut oil and its potential cardio protective effects
With the high incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the 21st century, finding diets that truly lower the risk of developing CVD are a main focus of public health from a government level. A review out of Postgraduate Medicine, recognizes the connection between fiber, fruits vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids on CVD, and investigated whether virgin coconut oil would have the same positive impact on CVD reduction.
Upon completing a literature review, the authors conclude that research appears to indicate that virgin coconut oil may reduce the risk of CVD – however more thorough investigations are necessary.
Babu, et al. (2014). 126. 7.
With such a wide range of benefits, coconuts are an all-around awesome food and an essential component to include in a nutritious and sustainable diet.