Many of us have childhood memories of coconut-covered birthday cake or special occasion German chocolate cake. Today coconut is gaining popularity and popping up in many dishes because of its many health benefits.
The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Because the hairy nut seems to have eyes and resembles the head and face of a monkey, early Spanish explorers called it coco, or “monkey face”. Coconut contains nutritious white meat, juice, milk, and oil, and it has been a staple food for populations around the world for generations. A third of the world’s people depend on coconut for food.
Coconut is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is classified as a functional food. Coconut oil has healing properties and is used in the traditional medicine of Asian and Pacific populations. Coconut oil is considered curative for all illness by Pacific islanders. Indigenous people there refer to the coconut palm the tree of life.
Traditional medicine around the world has used coconut to treat a wide variety of health problems including abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds. Medical science research is now confirming the use of coconut in treating many of the above conditions.
Medical journals report that various forms of coconut demonstrate a wide range of health benefits that include:
*Killing viruses, bacteria, fungi and yeast
*Expelling or killing tapeworms and other parasites
*Providing quick energy and endurance
*Enhancing physical and athletic performance
*Improving digestion and absorption of other nutrients
*Improving insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose
*Relieving stress on the pancreas
*Helping to protect against osteoporosis
*Helping to relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease
*Relieving symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
*Supporting tissue healing and repair
*Supporting and aiding immune system function
*Helping to protect the body from breast, colon, and other cancers
Coconut contributes to heart health and improves the cholesterol ratio to reduce risk of heart disease. It protects arteries from injury that causes atherosclerosis. Coconut functions as a protective antioxidant and protects the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease. It is even known to dissolve kidney stones, support thyroid function, and promote the loss of excess weight.
Applied topically, coconut forms a barrier on the skin to ward of infection. It also reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. It improves the hair, and skin conditions ranging from sagging to blemishes.
Coconut oil is the most highly saturated of all the fats and oils. It does not need hydrogenation, the process of adding hydrogen to make a liquid fat hard. Because it is so saturated, it maintains its integrity in a broad range of temperatures and for a very long time. Depending on room temperature coconut can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid.
Coconut oil is a blend of fatty acids and contains an unusual blend of short and medium-chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44%) and myristic (16.8%) acids. It is this unusual composition of short and medium-chain fatty acids that offers many of its health benefits.
Dr. Oz tells us “It has been shown that lauric acid [in coconut] increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help 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 help restore normal thyroid function. When the thyroid does not function optimally, it can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol.”
Linoleic acid makes up the polyunsaturated fat content of coconut oil. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, which the body is unable to make. Essential fatty acids must come from food in order for the body to function properly. Linoleic acid is an omega 6 fatty acid and is important for healthy brain function, skin and hair growth and bone health.
Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends we eat a balance between omega-3 (oily fish or take fish oil supplements, walnuts, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs) and omega-6. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids but differ in their chemical structure. We need essential fatty acids for energy production, diffusion of oxygen into the bloodstream, hemoglobin production, transportation and metabolism of triglycerides and cholesterol, and brain and nerve tissue development.
We live in a market driven consumer society. We must never forget that advertizing is there to sell us products or ideas. Often corporations lobby for laws to protect their profits at the individual’s expense.
Do you remember in the 1980’s when we were told coconut oil was unhealthy? Did you ever wonder why all of a sudden you should not eat coconut oil? The American Soybean Association (ASA) launched a series of attacks that became known as the Tropical Grease Campaign. They coined a new term, tropical oils, and used the phrase as a negative label.
We can thank health advocates such as Dr. Oz and Dr. Weil for reintroducing us to the many benefits of coconut and other healthy oils. If we follow Dr. Andrew Weil’s advice for a balance between omega-3 and omega-6, this is a perfect recipe:
Caribbean Coconut Crusted Salmon
(from Foodnetwork Canada)
1 ¼ cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut
4 6 oz wild caught salmon filets, skin removed
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Put coconut into a freezer bag. Drop in the salmon filets one at a time and toss to coat. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.
3. Serve with Caribbean Salsa.
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