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Coconut oil has been used for thousands of years in many countries and cultures. Although coconut oil is rich in saturated fats, it has a lot of health benefits. In addition, this oil is very easy to digest and will help regulate blood lipid levels.
Other properties of coconut oil are its antimicrobial (both internal and external) and antibacterial effects. As if this were not enough, it also helps reduce the excess of weight and can be used in beauty treatments, to moisturise hair and skin. Given this extensive list of properties, it is difficult to understand how there are still people who are reluctant to use coconut oil.
Coconut oil, one of the most natural and beneficial oils for our health
Coconut oil is one of the most natural oils that can be found.
35 percent of a coconut is made of oil. Just by opening a coconut you can immediately dispose of this oil in large quantities. There are other types of oils, such as rapeseed oil or soybean oil, which must be obtained through a long process of industrial manipulation.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, is completely natural and has therefore provided the people of the South Pacific with a food product that has protected their health from the risk of diabetes, cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes, for thousands of years.
However, despite its undoubted benefits, there are people who are still reluctant to use coconut oil. This is due to its high composition in fatty oils, which can reach up to 90 percent saturated fats. These fats are commonly related to the risk of suffering high cholesterol and cardiovascular problems.
But how, then, can the admirable health of the primitive people of the South Pacific, accustomed to consuming coconut oil in large quantities, be explained?
The answer is very simple, coconut oil is a totally natural, high quality, product that has many benefits for the body.
But for those who are not convinced by these simple arguments, it should be sufficient to remind them that the results of the clinical studies have demonstrated the extraordinary health properties of coconut oil and its curative effects, thus including this oil in our regular diet will provide us with multiple benefits.
We will study in detail the composition of coconut oil, especially in relation to its fatty acids.
Fatty acid composition of coconut oil
Coconut oil is integrated, among other things, by:
- Lauric acid: 44-52%
- Capric acid: 6-10%
- Caprylic acid: 5-9%
- Myristic acid: 13-19%
- Palmitic acid: 8-11%
- Stearic acid: 1-3%
- Oleic acid (monounsaturated): 5-8%
- Linoleic acid (polyunsaturated): 0-1%
Most of the fatty acids in coconut oil are called medium chain fatty acids (lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid), which, as we can see in the list above, constitute more than 50 percent of the coconut oil. But why are medium chain fatty acids so important?
Coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids
Medium-chain fatty acids are fatty acids that have a specific chain length. For example, while a long chain fatty acid, such as stearic acid, has a chain of 18 carbon atoms, the medium chain fatty acids have a shorter length (caprylic acid, 8 carbon atoms, capric acid, 10 carbon atoms and lauric acid, 12 carbon atoms).
Conclusion: medium chain fatty acids are composed of chains ranging from 8 to 12 carbon atoms whereas long chain fatty acids range from 14 to 24 carbon atoms. This is important because the medium chain fatty acids are the ones that give the coconut oil its special properties.
Coconut oil is easy to digest - Providing immediate energy
Medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs) are very easy to digest. They can even be digested without the aid of bile acids. Medium chain fatty acid are water-soluble and are easily transported to the liver through the bloodstream.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have the ability to oxidise directly in the liver (avoiding being stored as body fat) without the need of any kind of transformation, this is not the case of long chain fatty acids, which do need this transformation.
Therefore, medium chain triglycerides are metabolized more quickly than other types of fatty acids to obtain energy, making them an interesting alternative for athletes.
In addition, thanks to the fact that they are used by the body as energy, they do not get stored in fat deposits. Furthermore, medium chain provide a calorie less per gram compared to other fatty acids. Because of these characteristics, coconut oil not only supplies less fats to the body but also helps to lose weight.
Coconut oil and weight loss
Its characteristic way of being metabolized, make the coconut fats increase the metabolic expense without producing negative effects on the corporal fat.
Recent studies have shown how replacing long chain fatty acids with those found in coconuts increases energy expenditure by 48% in thin people and 65% in obese people.
MCTs can be considered a functional ingredient or food product for treating obesity and overweight because they have a beneficial effect on thermogenesis, fat oxidation and metabolism.
A double-blind study showed that subjects consuming a caloric excess in the form of medium-chain triglycerides increased diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) by 12% and their expenditure was double that of those who ate other kinds of fats.
The properties of coconut oil for weight loss have been confirmed by a double-blind controlled study that was conducted in 2001 and published in the scientific journal "The Journal of Nutrition". This study was performed on 78 healthy but overweight individuals whose BMI (body mass index) was greater than 23.
The participants were divided into two groups that ate the same during the 12 weeks of the study, except for one group (named group M) was given 60 grams a day of medium chain fatty acids, and the other group (named group L) was given 60 grams a day of long chain fatty acids.
The people from both groups lost weight, but those in group M lost much more weight than those in group L. In addition, people in group M also lost more body fat and subcutaneous tissue fat than those in group L.
Based on the results of this study, the researchers concluded that a diet that includes medium chain fatty acids (such as those contained in coconut oil) helps to lose more body weight and fat than a diet that contains long chain fatty acids. One of the greatest health benefits of coconut oil is that it can also slow down the effects of viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Another reason that coconut oil is a great ally for weight loss diets is the role it plays in helping us reduce calorie intake.
Being a source of fats, it helps reduce hunger and appetite more than other types of food.
However, it must be taken into account that the higher caloric density of the fats can make it very easy to go to far with the calorie intake, so it is important to control the amounts we eat.
Coconut oil is effective to fight viruses, bacteria and fungi
The medium-chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil are antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal, both inside the body and when given a topical use, on the outside of the body.
Because of these properties coconut oil is very effective when applied on the skin to treat fungal infections, vaginal yeast infections and bacterial diseases of the vaginal mucosa.
It can also be used as a vaginal lubricant and for intimate hygiene, as they prevent the appearance of microbes and fungi as well as the annoying itch they cause. In addition to these benefits, coconut oil can also be used as a beauty treatment, to improve hair and skin condition.
The lauric acid in coconut oil acts against bacteria, herpes and viruses
Between 44% and 52% of the coconut oil is formed by lauric acid. Once the lauric acid enters the body it is firstly converted to monolaurine. There are studies that demonstrate that free lauric acid also has an antimicrobial capacity.
However, the monolaurin (a type of monoglyceride) in the coconut oil is the main ingredient that acts against viruses and bacteria. Monolaurin defends the body against certain viruses, such as Herpes, cytomegalovirus and Flu virus. This substance works by locating viruses and rendering them inactive.
On the other hand, approximately six to ten percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are capric acid, another medium chain fatty acid with many health benefits, similar to those of lauric acid.
Coconut oil and intestinal malabsorption
Medium-chain triglycerides are more easily digested and absorbed than the oils and fats contained in the most common foods. In fact, they are absorbed relatively well even when the biliary and pancreatic secretions are reduced.
People who have malnutrition, malabsorption syndrome, cystic fibrosis, short bowel syndrome, celiac disease and liver disease often take medium chain fatty acids.
Medium-chain triglycerides promote cell proliferation and help maintain the intestinal mucosa, which may have a protective action in the intestine of people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal infections.
Coconut oil also promotes intestinal production of immunoglobulin A, which exerts an immunomodulating and protective action on the intestinal wall.
Coconut oil and diabetes
Lauric acid in coconut oil helps maintain lower blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Capric acid in coconut oil acts against chlamydia and other sexually transmitted viruses
Capric acid is converted into the monocaprin monoglyceride upon entering the organism. Monocaprine has been shown to have antiviral properties against the herpes simplex virus and antibacterial activity against chlamydia and other sexually transmitted bacteria.
There are clinical studies, conducted in vitro in 1998 and 1999, that have shown that monocaprine acts against sexually transmitted viruses (including HIV) by rendering them inactive. Based on the results of these studies, researchers have concluded that lauric acid and monolaurin have a higher antiviral activity than the rest of the medium-chain fatty acids or their monoglycerides.
Medium chain fatty acids can deactivate the following viruses:
- HIV virus
- Measles virus
- Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1)
- Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)
- Visna virus
But the fatty acids in coconut oil, as well as acting against viruses and bacteria, also have the ability to work against fungi.
Properties of coconut oil for the treatment of fungi
The medium-chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil also reduce the activity of fungi, such as Candida albicans.
Several clinical studies have demonstrated the effects of capric acid to combat fungal candidiasis and other types of fungi. Therefore, coconut oil can be effectively used for the treatment of infections caused by fungi.
How can we use coconut oil for the treatment of fungi?
The application of the coconut oil may be internal, to treat infections caused by intestinal fungi, or external, to treat fungal infections of the skin or mucous membranes.
Due to the potent antimicrobial activity of coconut oil, one question that can be raised is whether there is any risk that the fatty acids contained in coconut oil can destroy other types of bacteria, that are beneficial to our body, such as Intestinal flora.
Can the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil destroy the innocuous intestinal bacteria?
Medium chain fatty acids and their monoglycerides have no detrimental effect on the intestinal flora, as they only attack pathogenic and potentially dangerous microorganisms.
Researchers have verified in several clinical studies conducted in the 1990s, and corroborated in 2016, that microorganisms that colonize the intestine are not attacked by monolaurin, as long as these microorganisms are not dangerous.
However, as soon as the microbes cause some sort of disease, such as Haemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Streptococcus B pathologies, monolaurin acts immediately deactivating the effects of bacteria. The properties of the medium-chain fatty acids are excellent for eliminating bacteria, viruses and fungi.
But one might wonder, how do they affect heart health, cholesterol, and the condition of blood vessels when they are frequently consumed?
The answer is that its effects are also positive, so coconut oil also offers many benefits for heart and blood vessels health, as well as to optimally regulate cholesterol levels.
Coconut oil and cardiovascular diseases
For more than four decades, extensive research has been performed into the relationship between the coconut oil that is consumed through diet and cardiovascular diseases. The results of this research have always been the same: Consuming coconut oil has multiple benefits in cardiovascular health and helps reduce risk factors for heart disease.
One of the most important studies on this subject was published in 1988 by Blackburn under the title "The effects of coconut oil on serum cholesterol and atherogenesis." In this study it was concluded that coconut oil, if supplemented with other fats such as linoleic acid, may slow down the onset of atherosclerosis.
In the late 1990s, researchers Kurup and Rajmoran conducted a clinical study with 64 volunteers and found that the consumption of coconut oil "statistically and significantly changes all cholesterol values (total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, etc.)”.
The results of this study have been corroborated in another clinical study conducted in 2016. Previously, in the year 1992, researchers Kaunitz and Dayrit reported on the epidemiological experimental data from the groups of people studied that had included coconut oil in their diet: "The population that includes coconut oil in their usual diet does not present a high cholesterol level nor do they suffer a high mortality rate or morbidity due to coronary heart disease."
On the other hand, Mendis, another researcher on this subject, discovered in 1989, after a study carried out on young adults in Sri Lanka, that those who were switched from their usual diet of coconut oil to another of maize oil suffered damaging alterations in their lipid levels. Participants in the study, that replaced coconut oil with corn oil reduced serum cholesterol by 18,7% and LDL cholesterol by 23,8%.
The problem occurred because HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) was reduced by 41,4 percent, well below the acceptable minimum level of HDL, which is 35mg/dL. As a result, the LDL/HDL ratio increased 30 percent, which is very dangerous.Previously, the researcher Prior, in 1981, demonstrated that the islanders' high intake of saturated fats from coconut oil does not cause any harmful effect on those who consume it.
Finally, the researchers Menáis and Hurgamandera compared in 1990 the different effects of coconut oil and soybean oil on young men with normal levels of blood lipids, and again they concluded that the consumption of coconut oil produces an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) cholesterol levels, while the consumption of soybean oil decreases the level of this desired lipoprotein.
Coconut oil prevents atherosclerosis
Clinical studies have shown that herpes and cytomegalovirus play a role in the formation of atheroma deposits in blood vessels, and in the narrowing of arteries after angioplasty (New York Times, 1984).
What is interesting is that antimicrobial monolaurin (as we have seen above) deactivates the effects of herpes and cytomegalovirus, in the cases where lauric acid (coconut oil ingredient) is included in the usual diet.
Therefore, contrary to what had been previously thought, it has now been discovered that saturated fats are not directly related to cardiovascular diseases, but instead, certain saturated fats, especially those contained in coconut oil, help prevent heart disease.
Therefore, the advice of avoiding to take coconut oil because of its saturated (supposedly dangerous) fats is incorrect, on the contrary, the ingredients in coconut oil not only prevent coronary diseases, but also prevent the development of age-related degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and senile dementia.
Coconut oil helps treat Alzheimer's and senile dementia
People suffering from Alzheimer's have the problem that their brain can not properly use glucose as a source of energy.
The ketones in coconut oil stimulate the production of energy in the brain, reduce Alzheimer's symptoms and can slow down the course of the disease and even cure it. Coconut oil, therefore, serves to prevent and treat Alzheimer's, and contributes to supplying more energy to the brain.
Coconut oil to treat and prevent cancer
People with cancer may include coconut oil in their diet, because it provides the body with easily digestible calories, which improve the antimicrobial effects of the immune system and have anti-inflammatory effects.
There is even a specific ketogenic cleansing program that can be performed over a period of three to ten days, helping to destroy cancer cells better and stimulating the production of healthy cells.
Can coconut oil form fatty tumours?
An atheroma or sebaceous cyst is a benign fatty nodule that is mainly formed on the scalp, behind the ears or on the stomach. These cysts are full of fat and are benign. One may think that cysts are made of "bad" saturated fat that is deposited somewhere in the body.
But this is not so, by far. The chemical analysis of an atheroma has shown that it is constituted by polyunsaturated fatty acids, in approximately 40%, and in more than 30% by monounsaturated fatty acids.
In total, the unsaturated fatty acids are 70 percent of its composition and only 25 percent constitutes the saturated fat fraction.
Conclusion: Sebaceous cysts do not contain the typical fatty acids of coconut oil, so coconut oil does not produce fatty tumours.
In contrast, coconut oil has countless cosmetic uses. It is used to improve the condition of hair and skin. As far as skin is concerned, it helps to keep it hydrated. As for hair, coconut oil helps to keep it nourished and is used, above all, as a treatment to repair dry and dull hair.
The interests of the food industry try to hide the benefits of coconut oil
Most of the listed properties of coconut oil have been known for decades, as shown by the data from the aforementioned clinical studies.
However, there are strong interests of the food industry and producers of partially genetically modified industrial oils, such as rapeseed oil or soybean oil, which do not want to lose their market share.
The producers of these type of, unhealthy, oils, emit all kinds of rumours about coconut oil, in order to avoid a decrease in the sale of their products (that are less healthy and much more expensive).
For more than three decades, coconut oil has suffered all sorts of defamation, stemming from the monopolies of soybean and rapeseed oil from the US, which does not want to lose its market share. But how did this defamation of coconut oil begin?
Coconut oil: a victim of rumours and misinformation
In the late 1950s a researcher in Minnesota claimed that hydrogenated vegetable fats were the cause of the increase in heart disease. The producers of cooking oil argued that the problem only occurred in the hydrogenated fats from saturated fatty acids.
At the same time, another Philadelphia researcher reported that the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids led to a reduction in cholesterol levels. Before this publication, the producers of the edible oil industry diverted the attention, attributing the harmful nature to "saturated fats".
However, the industrial process followed by unsaturated fats is much more dangerous because, due to the volatility of these fats, there is a big risk that the products will eventually degrade and become harmful substances that can trigger dangerous trans fats.
Be this as it may, in those days this was not yet known. In that time, saturated fats (including coconut oil, palm oil and almond oil) were unfairly discredited.
This forced the labelling of all products that contained coconut oil or palm oil. The strong US food industry catalogued tropical oils (from other countries) as "unwanted" with the clear intention of preventing consumers from buying such products, purely for economical interests.
Coconut oil in the focus of the soybean oil industry
In the face of the threat coconut oil posed as competition against soybean oil, soybean producers launched a smear campaign against coconut oil and other tropical oils, which in no way obeyed the true properties of these oils, but their interests as a monopoly.
Clinical studies that have been conducted until 2016 have shown that coconut oil is much healthier than other types of oil, such as soybeans, rapeseed or sunflower oil.
The false rumours about coconut oil
The false rumours about coconut oil have managed to stay around to this day, as there is still a lot of people, even doctors and nutritionists, that express their mistrust towards coconut oil due to the saturated fatty acids that are included in its composition.
Ultimately, these people have fallen into the trap of producers of soybean, sunflower or canola oil, who do not want the consumer to try a product that is much healthier than the one they make, as they will risk decreasing their sales.
However, equally soybean oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil are processed industrially and are unhealthy and dangerous, unlike coconut oil, which is totally natural and healthy, as we have had the opportunity to understand.
The real danger of the defamation of coconut oil is that the consumer's attention is being diverted from the main problem, which is none other than soybean, rapeseed or sunflower oils derived from unsaturated fatty acids, hydrogenated fats and trans fats subject to an industrial process which pose a real danger to the health of consumers.
Therefore, a natural and delicious oil, such as coconut oil, which is totally organic and cold pressed, is much better than fats from unsaturated fatty acids (contained in rapeseed oil, soybean oil and oil sunflower).
Cosmetic properties of coconut oil to moisturise skin and hair
Coconut oil moisturises the skin throughout the body and ensures that the skin is always nourished, soft and supple. Its use is especially recommended for treating dry or cracked skin. One of the advantages of coconut oil is that it absorbs very quickly, leaving the skin moisturised and nourished. In addition, coconut oil is also the best moisturiser for hair, and is especially recommended to revitalize dry and malnourished hair, giving your hair more shine and beauty.
Coconut oil for cooking
Cooking with virgin coconut oil (especially with high temperatures that do not exceed 163°C) is a good and tasty option as it has the capacity of not oxidizing or becoming toxic, like others do, when being cooked, keeping its benefits despite the heat.
Below 25 degrees, coconut oil can be used in the same way as butter, by smearing or melting it to blend.
The most advisable option would be to warm it for a few minutes in a water bath. If coconut oil is going to be used in a grill or frying pan, it can be put on it directly, without melting and, as soon as it exceeds 25 degrees Celsius, it becomes liquid. If it is to be used above 25 degrees, being in its liquid state, it can be used in the same way as other types of oils.
Keep in mind that virgin coconut oil has a particular taste and smell. If we are going to use it in hot dishes, it is rarely a problem because it does not provide enough aroma or flavour to mask the rest of the ingredients.
Coconut oil can also be used to make fried food, due to the fact that it is hardly absorbed, it does not affect the taste of food. Even so, we should drain the food very well on kitchen paper for a few seconds if we want to reduce the taste or smell.
It can also be used in stews that require little oil since the taste of the final dish hardly varies. Very different is to use it in meals with an oil base (main ingredient). In these cases, obviously, the stew will smell and taste of coconut, and depending on your personal taste, this can be something good or not. Coconut oil is very good in Asian dishes, rice, sautéed or woks. It can also be used in pastry recipes.
Thanks to its soft, sweet and exotic flavour, coconut oil can be used as an alternative to other, less healthy fats such as creams or lower quality oils. We advise you to add it to your cakes or sponges instead of sunflower or olive oil. It gives a different touch to your recipes. You can also use it in sweet shakes, in custards, puddings, cookies, etc.
Coconut oil: how it can be used
The applications of coconut oil are innumerable. In its food uses we can include all kinds of cooking to make any dish, make delicious popcorn or the dressing of a healthy salad. We must not forget the extraordinary properties of coconut oil to be included in any diet and get slim.
In addition, it can also be used as a beauty treatment, to moisturise and nurture skin and hair and to make all kinds of cosmetic oils or deodorants. Coconut oil can even be used to make insect and parasites repellents for human and pet use. In short, coconut oil is very versatile and admits multitude of uses: for health, for cooking, as a beauty treatment for skin and hair and even for slimming.