Coconut Butter and Oil – A Healthy and Versatile Source of Fat

coconut butter

The term coconuts usually refers to the fruit of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera), a member of the palm family.   Coconuts however are not actually a nut, in botanical terms it is a drupe.  Their name is derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word for head, “coco”, because of its resemblance to a human skull with the 3 holes.  Coconuts can be found all over the world in subtropical and tropical areas and prefer areas with high humidity.   The people that inhabit these areas rely greatly on the coconut for food, water, and various other uses.  Due to its influence, the coconut holds very important cultural and religious significance in the cultures that use it.

coconut butterBesides the fruit and water, coconut shells and husks have multiple uses for crafts, body wear, building materials, plant fertilizer and much more.  In this article we will focus on coconut oil and coconut butter.   While both forms do possess many of the same health benefits and characteristics, there is a difference in consistency.  Coconut oil is pure fat, extracted from the coconut.  Coconut oil has become increasingly popular as a cooking oil,  especially with the paleo crowd.  Coconut butter on the other hand is the pureed raw coconut meat, so while it includes the oils, it also contains the fibers.

While they are similar, you cannot use them interchangeably.  Coconut oils are great for cooking because their fat content makes it suitable for high temperatures.  The saturated fats also make suitable for long storage periods, up to 2 years without going bad.   Coconut butter is more suitable as a spread like you would use butter, or as a healthy flavorful addition to smoothies, fruit, pastries, pancakes and many many more dishes.

Health Benefits/Uses:

Healthy Saturated Fats – Coconut oil is one of the foods with the highest concentration of saturated fats, almost 90%.  This may sound bad, however the quality of fats is very different from what you would find in other oils or meat.  Coconut oil is made of medium-chain-triglycerides (MCT’s), which are metabolized by the body much more efficiently and can have positive effects on various disorders.

Overall great for health! – As mentioned above, many cultures, rely heavily on coconut for nutrition.  Some of these communities get as much as 60% of their calories from coconuts.  It has been found that these are some of the healthiest people on the planet, with very few illnesses and no signs of heart disease!

Fights bacteria and infections – Almost half of the fat in coconut is lauric acid.   When coconut oil is eaten, your body forms another monoglyceride called monolaurin.  Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill bacteria, fungus and viruses.  It has been shown to be particularly effective in fighting the yeast Candida Albicans, a common yeast infection that affects people worldwide.  

Therapeutic for seizures and Alzheimers –  When coconut oil is metabolized, the MCT’s travel to the liver where it is turned into ketones.  A ketogenic diet, which involves eating low carbs and high fat, has shown to be effective in treating epilepsy in children.  Studies have also shown that ketones and MCT’s improve brain functions in Alzheimers patients.

Improve cholesterol levels – The saturated fats in coconut raise the HDL or “good” kind of cholesterol and neutralize the LDL or “bad” type of cholesterol.   There is still a lot of discussion about whether saturated fats are good for you or not, but lately research has been showing that it does not affect your body negatively as once thought.

Protect your hair and skin – Many people are using coconut oil for cosmetic uses.  Studies have shown that using coconut oil on dry skin and hair improves the moisture and protects against harmful UV rays.  It also helps strengthen damaged tissues and maintain elasticity and suppleness.  In India and Sri Lanka, coconut butter is very popular for for styling hair and cooling the scalp.  This is also why coconut is being added to many skin and hair products.  

Much more – The list of uses and health benefits of coconut oil and butter is continually growing.  There is still a lot of research that has to be done on how saturated fats from coconut affect our cardiovascular and other bodily functions.  One thing is for sure though, coconut is gaining more and more popularity as a superfood.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut 

https://www.rawgaia.com/content/some-interesting-facts-about-coconut-butter

http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/ask-diet-doctor-coconut-oil-vs-coconut-butter

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/

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