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Coconut Oil: A Substance of Myth And Mystery

Written by Aaron A. Lim  Entrepreneur. Business Owner

“Consider the coconut,” sang Moana’s father, in the latest animation hit, Moana. He continues to sing enthusiastically about the usefulness of the tropical fruit – all virtues that we have known for some time. The husk can be made into implements like bowls and containers. Its water cools you down on hot and humid days. Its flesh can be made into coconut milk for cooking, or boiled and strained to a colourless and odourless coconut oil.

Of all the by-products of the fruit, coconut oil remains largely the most controversial and thoroughly scrutinised, by far. Certain pundits have touted its many health and nutritional benefits, while others have claimed overconsumption leads to life-threatening conditions like heart disease. So, what’s true and what’s not? We attempt to shed some light below. 

MYTH #1: It’s going to give me a heart attack!

The point of contention many have against coconut oil is that it’s filled with over 90% saturated fat, an alarmingly high percentage could pave the way to unhealthy cholesterol levels and ultimately, heart disease. But don’t let that high percentage fool you. Just as there are different kinds of vitamins, there are different kinds of fats – and it turns out the ones in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids, called lauric acid, which lowers bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol (found in food fried with hydrogenated oils) while promoting good ‘HDL’ cholesterol.

Here’s another interesting fact: there are two kinds of coconut oil. The variant that has garnered much attention is refined coconut oil, which has been sun-baked and bleached to rid it of microbes. On the other hand, there’s virgin coconut oil, which has undergone little processing at all, allowing it to retain its naturally high levels of antioxidants, milder content of saturated fat, and a greater level of the medium-chain fatty acids. Most consumers would use refined coconut oil for their cooking, while virgin coconut oil is usually taken as a supplement.

MYTH #2: Coconut oil isn’t easily readily absorbed

Myths surrounding coconut’s oil bad absorption rate is linked with the earlier misunderstanding of saturated fats and bad cholesterol. Today’s fried foods contain high amounts of long-chain fatty acids, which are not easily absorbed by our bodies and end up clogging our arteries and organs. And because coconut oil contains an inordinate amount of saturated fats, which many have presumed consist of long-chain fatty acids, reasoning exists that it would be difficult for our bodies to ingest properly.

But as we’ve pointed out, the fatty acids of coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids, instead of its long-chain counterpart. Medium-chain fatty acids are naturally occurring fat that is readily absorbed by our bodies – making it a great medium to facilitate the absorption of other essential nutrients and minerals. Eating salads or dressing food with virgin coconut oil can be a great way to squeeze every drop of goodness from the ingredients used – because its nutrients will be digested with coconut oil’s medium-chain fatty acids, and readily absorbed by our bodies.

MYTH #3: Coconut oil is irritating to the skin!

As with any skin product, your mileage on this may vary. Remember the rich content of lauric acid present inside coconut oil? It turns out the substance has substantial antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, making it the perfect remedy for dry, oily or acne-prone skin types. But some sensitive skin pores may react negatively against certain natural oils, resulting in itchiness or discomfort. Those considering coconut oil as a moisturizer should first opt for proven, coconut oil-infused products, and secondly, conduct a few trials to see if there are any problems.

The moisturizing properties of coconut oil also makes it a natural addition to the ingredients of natural hair shampoo or conditioners. Virgin coconut oil, with its rich content of medium-chain fatty acids, is a popular addition, and is often used to help the scalp absorb the mineral content of other natural ingredients.

At the end of the day, moderation is key, even for something as beneficial as coconut oil. There will always be myths and claims surrounding a natural substance as dynamic and widely-used as coconut oil, and the best way to find out the truth is to try it yourself – and observe the results. Only then can you can truly appreciate the admiration that Moana’s father gave to the coconut – and sing your own song about its benefits for your life.

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