The controversy over coconut oil stems from the fact that 1 tablespoon contains 14 grams of fat, of which 12.5 grams is saturated fat. Saturated fats are known to clog up the arteries because they are easily converted by the liver into cholesterol. Most saturated fats are from animal sources, only a few are from plants.
Types of Fats
Saturated actually means that the molecule which is mostly made up of hydrogen and carbon contains as many hydrogen atoms as is possible (each carbon atom can bond to two hydrogen atoms). It is called monounsaturated if one pair of atoms is missing and it is called polyunsaturated if more than 1 pair of hydrogen atoms is missing. Although the presence of the hydrogen atoms determines the type of fat, the length of the fatty acid chain is also important.
Types of Fatty Acids
Nearly all fats are Triglycerides consisting of three fatty acids and one glycerol. When 3 fatty acid chains of similar length are joined together by a glycerol molecule, it is referred to as a triglyceride. Hence the term long chain triglyceride (LCT), medium chain (MCFA) and short chain (SCFA). Short chain fatty acids are very rare. There are dozens of types of fatty acids and each of the categories contains several members. Some of the very healthful fatty acids Coconut oil includes Lauric acid (which is contained in breast milk), caprylic acid and capric acid both of which demonstrate anti-microbial properties.
Trans Fatty Acids
Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fats that have been bombarded with hydrogen atoms during a high heat process (this is known as hydrogenation). This process makes the oil less susceptible to spoilage, but also creates toxic Trans fatty acids. The health risks include suppressing the immune system (can even kill white blood cells), a greater degree of conditions such as asthma, allergies and memory loss. They have been linked to cardiovascular health problems as well as cancer, multiple sclerosis and complications of diabetes. The heat used in the extraction and refining process of most of the vegetable oils available in the stores creates Trans fatty acids.
First of all polyunsaturated oils can become rancid and toxic from exposure to oxygen, heat or light. The rancidity is not evident through objectionable flavor or smell (if mixed with other substances). This exposure not only causes rancidity, it also causes free radical formation. To minimize this issue, you could buy oils processed at low temperatures and packaged in dark containers. Cold pressed (or expeller pressed) oils are minimally processed and retain most of their antioxidants.
Anti Microbial Affects
MCFAs destroy many bacteria and viruses by weakening their nearly fluid membrane to a degree that disintegrates the membrane. When eaten Coconut oil breaks down into monoglycerides and free fatty acids which have antimicrobial properties. Laboratory tests have shown that these MCFAs are effective in destroying influenza, measles, herpes, hepatitis C and AIDS. However, this does not help when we have the common cold because that virus does not have a nearly fluid membrane. One of the MCFAs known as Caprylic acid (commonly sold as a dietary supplement) is very effective against Candida and other forms of fungi.
The MCFAs in coconut oil are digested and utilized differently than other fats. Coconut oil consists primarily of medium chain fatty acids, which are burned almost immediately for energy production (the way carbohydrates are converted but without raising your blood sugar) rather than converted into body fat or cholesterol. It also contains 6.8 calories per gram rather than the usual 9 calories per gram.
It has been well documented that replacing LCFAs with MCFAs results in a decrease in body weight gain and a reduction in fat deposition. Many people report that that coconut oil helps them control sugar cravings and reduces hypoglycemic symptoms.
The Tokelau and Pukapuka studies begun in the early 1960s and included the entire population of both islands. Although they are under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, the populations have been relatively isolated from Western influence. Their diets are high in fiber, low in sugars and high in fat derived from coconuts. Both groups showed no signs of kidney disease, hypothyroidism or hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol). However, when some of them migrated to New Zealand and started consuming a typical Western diet, their health deteriorated.