The coconut craze

Posted on: 6th March, 2014

Category: Health

Contributor: Hannah Dare

Organico Shop Cafe and Bakery is open Monday to Saturday from 9.15am - 6pm (the Cafe from 10 - 5pm). Please call us on 02751391 or visit us online at www.organico.ie for more information, and look us up on FaceBook for tempting cafe menus and interesting health tips. None of this information is intended to replace medical advice, so if you are on medication or are concerned at all about your health please consult a medical practitioner before taking any foods in medicinal quantities.

Coconuts are exotic but are certainly not a new food in Europe, having been first reported by Marco Polo in 1280! However, it feels as if there is a coconut craze both in Ireland and across the world at the moment. More and more companies are developing new and exciting coconut products, for example there is a new Irish made ice ‘cream’ called NoBo, which uses coconut among other ingredients to make a deliciously smooth, dairy-free dessert and CoYo, a delicious coconut version of Petit Filou, which uses Xylitol instead of sugar. Coconut water has been one of the most popular drinks in health-stores for a couple of years now, and in Organico we have all been enjoying the Life Changing Bread, which we make using a blend of seeds bound together with coconut oil.

Coconut is a fantastic addition to many dairy free treats, and we all know how delicious coconut curries are. However the current craze seems to be the result of research focused on the health properties of the oil, specifically the organic, extra virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil. For example, if you search for articles mentioning ‘coconut oil’ on Patrick Holford’s ‘100 per cent Health’ website, you see titles ranging from ‘The Fat that doesn’t make you fat’ to ‘Coconut Oil benefits for Alzheimers and Weight loss’ to ‘How to beat Candida’, which gives an idea of the range of uses for this fascinating fat. When coconut oil was first introduced to Western Europe, it was thought to raise Cholesterol levels, because it contains a high level of saturated fat, but it was soon recognised that rather than being unhealthy, coconut oil contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s), which have health benefits ranging from improved memory function, improved athletic performance, weight loss, reduced cholesterol levels, and coconut oil can be used as a body butter, a hair oil (especially good for itchy scalps) and is a natural effective eye makeup remover!

In cooking, coconut oil is very useful because it has a high smoking point, which means that it is a safer oil to fry with than many others. It’s great for stirfries, baking, and also as a (remarkably delicious) dairy free replacement for butter. And I absolutely love it added to porridge — it’s even better than cream!

Cosmetic uses of coconut topically are very interesting — the exotic smell and easily absorbability makes it very versatile. It is said to help the skin heal, and as such can be used on burns once the heat has gone, on cellulite, on nappy rash (even better as a preventative salve), as a lip balm, as a body butter, when mixed with coarse salt or sugar it can be used as a body scrub, as a salve for dry skin, and as a eye make-up remover (I tried this last one recently and it really works; just massage into the eye area and wash off with a clean warm flannel).

Now let’s take a look at the information on coconut oil and improved memory and specifically on Alzheimer’s patients. On October 11, 2009, an American Pediatrician called Dr Newport uploaded a video to YouTube on which she discusses her husband’s condition and the benefits he has experienced from taking coconut oil. Her husband Steve had early onset Alzheimers Disease and his experience certainly got people’s attention.  “He began to get his short-term memory back,” says Dr Newport. “His depression lifted, he became more like his old self. The problem he’d had with walking improved. An MRI scan showed his brain had stopped shrinking.”I just watched all three YouTube videos and they are extremely interesting; Steve said that it felt like ‘switching on a light’ and it ‘energised’ him. He felt like a different person, and best of all, in his case, it didn’t take a long time.

Another interesting aspect of coconut oil is that it helps you to burn more calories. This is because the MCT’s increase energy expenditure by as much as five per cent, which leads to considerable weight loss over time. MCT’s also apparently increase the blood concentration of ketone bodies, which is of great interest in terms of weight loss, as well as memory improvement. From online research it seems as though people using coconut oil find that it has an effect on their fat to muscle ratio, which means that clothes fit better and people feel trimmer and healthier.

When Dr Newport’s husband started taking a medicinal dose of coconut oil, she was concerned about his cholesterol levels because they were high to start out with. But they improved. And now what is being said about the fats in coconut oil is that, in contrast to what was believed 20 years ago, they actually improve cholesterol levels. Specifically they improve your HDL levels and can even change the LDL to a benign form. Studies in both human and animals have shown that consuming coconut oil can actually improve cholesterol risk factors, which may lead to a reduced risk of heart disease.

Coconut oil also has anti-microbial properties and can be helpful in eliminating candida yeasts (Caprylic Acid is a component of coconut oil and is sold as a treatment for internal candidn overgrowth). Used topically, coconut oil is also good for promoting hair growth and is even said to be partially effective as a sunscreen — only reducing 20 per cent of the UV rays so not to be used exclusively but still an interesting extra benefit.

Most health food shops sell a few different types of coconut oil; the purest is organic, cold pressed and virgin, which means it is not heated or otherwise altered. This is the one people are taking as ‘medicine’. The second type is organic but is deodorised, which means it has had the taste removed, but this can be done in a clean way, which still leaves the health benefits intact. There are also coconut oils which are better used on the hair rather than eaten. For the best coconut oil for your purposes call in to your local health food shop; the product range is wonderful and is growing every month.

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