Recent studies are showing the health benefits of coconut oil, which had been looked upon as a source of saturated fats and therefore to be avoided for those individuals with concerns over their cholesterol levels.
While it is true that coconut contains saturated fats, what is now being brought to light is that there are actually different types of saturated fats, just like there are different types of fats in general, and some types of saturated fats are good for you.
A very traditional food, coconut oil is making a comeback these days as a popular cooking oil. Much of the saturated fat in coconuts is not long chain, but medium-chain fatty acids; in fact, coconut oil contains between approximately 55-65% 62% medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), including the healthy fats, lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid. (Lauric acid is the most plentiful of the MCFAs in coconut oil, and sometimes accounts for as much as 75% of this oil's total MCFAs). MCFAs have been used for many years as dietary supplements in situations where absorption of nutrients needs improvement, including situations involving premature infants and adults with compromised bowel function. In some areas of the world where coconut oil is a regular component of the diet, the milk of nursing mothers is rich in MCFAs, and may be related to desirable health trends in later life.
While the research points in this direction, there doesn't seem to be enough clinical research to conclusively state this at this point. I have also noticed that coconut oil is a very well promoted subject on the web, with many claims for its health benefits, notably for its antiviral activity. But from the research I have seen, many of these conclusions seem very preliminary given that there has not been that much research published on this subject and that which has been conducted has often been done on individual components of coconut oil. Yet, the research published to date suggests coconut oil is healthful.
Another good thing about coconut oil is that its saturated fatty acid profile gives it a higher smoke point than many polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils. Therefore, while I don't like to use oil in high heat applications, I understand that some people do. Coconut oil may be a good oil for this type of cooking.
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