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The brown, hairy, egg-shaped coconut sold in the grocery store is actually the seed of the fruit of the coconut palm tree (cocos nucifera). The tree trunk is almost 18 inches in diameter with numerous rings marking the places where former leaves have grown, and reaches a height of up to 100 feet. At its summit, the tree is crowned with about twenty 10 to 15 foot long blade-shaped leaves that droop downward. Amid these leaves, the nuts grow in clusters of 10 to 20 or more, each tree typically carrying 10 to 20 clusters in varying stages of development. The oval-shaped coconuts, which have a pale green, thick, fibrous outer husk and a dark brown, hard inner shell, grow to about 12 inches in length when fully mature. Inside their hard outer shells, they are lined with a layer of rich white nutmeat that surrounds a hollow center filled with a thin, slightly sweet fluid referred to as “coconut water”.
Like most other nuts, the coconut is quite high in fat, but unlike other nuts, virtually all of its fat is saturated. In fact, coconut oil is the most highly saturated of all nut's oils, a quality that makes this oil extremely stable, which is why it is so often used in candies, baked goods, shortening, margins, and deep fat frying. The richness of coconut oil also makes it useful in soaps, lotions, shampoos, and detergent.
One of the oldest food plants, the coconut palm is thought to have originated somewhere in the Malayan archipelago but was soon dispersed throughout the tropics by man and nature, having been known to survive floatation across entire oceans. Its name recorded in Sanskrit in the Vedas, the oldest (circa 1500 B.C.E.) scriptures of Hinduism, the coconut is said to nourish the body, increase strength, and promote beautiful hair and skin. In Ayurvedic medicine, coconut oil infused with herbs has been used medicinally for almost 4,000 years as an effective treatment for skin disease is caused by infestation with parasites, such as scabies and head lice.
Today, about 20 billion coconuts are grown each year, and although the major producers are in the Philippines, India, and Indonesia, virtually everywhere the coconut palm grows - in the tropical regions of Latin America and east Africa, as well as Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Philippines - coconut products serve as a dietary staple. Coconut oil, which we now know contains immune boosting medium chain fatty acids, has long been thought to have a special healing power and is an important constituent not only of the cuisines of each of these countries, but also of their traditional medicines - a practice whose appropriateness is underscored by the fact that Thailand, where coconut appears in virtually every dish in the national cuisine, has the lowest cancer rate of the 50 countries surveyed by the National Cancer Institute.
The importance of the coconut throughout the tropics is exemplified by its many uses in the Philippines, where the coconut palm is called the “tree of life”. In these islands, virtually all parts of the tree are used medicinally, including its roots, bark, leaves, flowers, and cabbage, as well as the husk, shell, water, endosperm, and oil provided by its fruit, the coconut:
The coconut has Spond an expert industry that is vitally important to the Philippines, bringing in $1.2 billion annually and providing a livelihood for almost 1/3 of the population. For the Islanders, the coconut palm is a source of not merely income but timber; food; fermented and unfermented drink; alcohol; vinegar; Sachin material; splints; strips and fiber for making baskets, mats, rope, hats, brushes, brooms, and other articles; fuel; caulking material; eating and cooking utensils; oil for food, cooking, illumination, soap, and ointments; feed for domestic animals; and fertilizer.
Like most nuts, coconuts contain significant amounts of fat, but unlike other nuts, which contain mostly long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, coconuts provide fat that is almost all in the form of health-promoting medium chain saturated fats. Fresh, mature coconut meat contains more than 50% water and approximately 35% coconut oil, 10% carbohydrates, and 3.5% protein. Coconuts are an excellent source of manganese, molybdenum, copper, selenium and zinc.
Until the 1950s, coconut oil was commonly used in the food industry in the United States until it was, as we know understand, mistakenly accused of contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil was implicated in raising cholesterol levels along with the saturated fats found in meats when a researcher in Minnesota fed rats fully hydrogenated coconut oil and saw a dramatic rise in the rats cholesterol levels. Although Harvard scientist later reviewed the study and concluded that the cholesterol-raising factor was not coconut oil per se but the fact that it had been fully hydrogenated and purposely altered to make it completely devoid of all essential fatty acids, coconut oil was labeled as an artery clogging fat. Other studies in which fresh and raw coconut oil was used showed that natural coconut oil not only does not cause an increase in cholesterol but increases levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Approximately 50% of the significant amount of fatty acids provided by coconut is in the form of medium-chain saturated fat called lauric acid, A health-promoting fat whose only other abundant source in nature is human breastmilk. In the body, lauric acid is converted into a highly beneficial compound called monolaurin, an antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride that destroys a wide variety of disease-causing organisms. Studies have demonstrated that monolaurin eliminates lipid-coded viruses, such as Cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex I, HIV, Hemophilus influenzae, measles, the Vesicular stomatitis virus, and the Visna virus. Pathogenic bacteria inactivated by monolaurin include Listeria monocytogenes; Staphylococcus aureus; Streptococcus epidermidis; Groups A, F, and G streptococci; Group B gram-positive streptococcus; and Helicobacter pylori. In addition, not only does monolaurin inactivate H. pylori, but the organism, which has become resistant to a number of antibiotic drugs, appears to be unable to develop resistance to coconut’s natural antimocrobials. Lauric acid and it’s derivative monolaurin also kill or inactivate a number of fungi, yeast, and protozoa, including several species of ringworm, candida albicans, and Giardia lamblia.
Besides being 50% lauric acid, 6 to 7% of the fat in coconut is in the form of another beneficial medium chain fat called capric acid. Like lauric acid, capric acid is converted in the body to a highly beneficial substance called monocaprin, which has been shown to have antiviral effects against sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia trachomatis, herpes simplex I and herpes simplex II, Neisseria gonorfhoeae, and HIV.
Many viruses, bacteria, and protozoa are wrapped in a protective membrane composed of lipids (fats). Current research indicates that the medium-chain fatty acids and the monoglycerides produced from them in the body destroy these pathogens by dissolving the lipids and phospholipids in the fatty envelope surrounding them, causing them to disintegrate. Other recent studies suggest that monolaurin also kills bacteria by interfering with signal transduction, thus disrupting the bacteria‘s ability to interact with the cells they are trying to infect. In addition, lauric acid has been shown to interfere with virus assembly and maturation.
The antiviral properties of the medium chain fatty acids abundant in coconut have been found to be so potent that they are now being investigated as a treatment for AIDS patients. Coconut oil also protects against heart disease and promotes weight loss. Because coconuts medium chain fats are easily absorbed and preferentially used as an energy source, their burning actually increases the bodies metabolic rate.
Look for the least processed oil you can find, virgin coconut oil. Avoid hydrogenated oil, of any kind. Coconut oil will be solid below about 70 degrees and liquid above.
I prefer to purchase in glass jars as they can be heated in a pot of water to melt when very hard in the winter.
Of course you can blend coconut oil with butter in coffee (think NDK Koffee), but there are many, many uses for coconut oil.
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