After spending most of its time in the wilderness from being tarred with the ‘saturated fat brush’, coconut oil is now seen as a popular oil found in many kitchens. With people using it in nearly all of their cooking and even using it as a health and beauty product, many are asking why coconut oil has grown in popularity…
Understanding the structure of fats.
Before explaining the benefits of coconut oil, it is important to understand the simple chemistry of fats.
Fats, or lipids, are a class of organic substances that are not soluble in water. In simple terms, fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. Fats provide a concentrated energy source in the diet and provide the building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and hormone like substances. In addition to this, they act as carriers for important fat soluble vitamins.
Most fats that we consume are in the form of triglycerides (three fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule). These fatty acid molecules can be classed in two ways; by saturation (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) or by molecular size or length of the carbon chain with the fatty acid (short, medium, or long-chain fatty acids).
Coconut oil comprises of 92% saturated fat with over two-thirds of the saturated fat in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (medium-chain triglycerides). A fatty acid is saturated when all available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom. Unlike unsaturated fats, they are highly stable because all the carbon-atom linkages are filled—or saturated—with hydrogen.
Are saturated fats not bad?
When consumed in the right amounts, natural saturated fats are essential for health and have important functions such as cell structure and integrity, enhanced immune function, and nutrient uptake. This is not to be confused with chemically modified trans fats that are dangerous to our health. These are polyunsaturated fats that have undergone harsh chemical processes such as hydrogenation or extraction to alter the structure and appearance of the fatty acids, and can be very dangerous for our health.
Why coconut oil?
- Due to this unique structure and high saturated fat content, it means that the fats don’t go rancid when heated. They are straight in form and as a result they pack together easily forming a solid or semisolid fat at room temperature. For this reason, they are great as a cooking oil (unlike many polyunsaturated fats), and deliver an exceptional taste to the plate.
- Of particular interest is also the type of saturated fats found within Coconut Oil. It is made up of key fatty acids; Lauric, Capric and Caprylic Acid. In particular, it is Lauric Acid that has significantly strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties which can help fight off bad bacteria, fungi and parasites, which often lead to indigestion and impaired immune function. Fantastic for keeping the immune system intact and supporting proper digestion.
- In addition to this, the majority of the fats are medium-chain in length, which means that, unlike many other fats, they can be absorbed directly for energy. This makes them a fantastic source of slow release energy compared to longer chain fatty acids.
Which type is best?
Look for oil that has been produced from fresh, mature kernels without any chemical refining, bleaching, deodorising or any other process which would lead to the alteration of the nature of the oil. ‘Virgin’ coconut oil is far superior to many raw coconut alternatives, and because it is in the purest form the coconut oil has a colourless appearance, with a mild fresh coconut aroma.
What to look for?
Next time you’re looking for a choice of fat to cook with, think about ditching the vegetable oil and use some coconut oil, sparingly, to reap the above benefits. If you’re not a fan of the taste and still want these benefits try some coconut oil softgels, which can be taken at any time to get these healthy fats in your diet. Either way, it’s definitely an oil that is worth every single bit of its hype.
About the Author
Steve has a Masters degree in Sports Physiology and works within the BULK POWDERS™ product team. His role includes all aspects of new product development, from recipe concept and formulation, to website content and legislations.