School’s out for summer (or so sang Alice Cooper circa 1972) but, as any good teacher will tell you, learning never stops. With the weather warming (except in the San Francisco Bay Area where fog season is just getting started), the time has come to explore the coconut. Namely: is coconut a nut? And, what is coconut oil good for?
Is Coconut a Nut?
In a word, no. Coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). And, despite having “-nut” as its suffix, the coconut is not a nut but a stone fruit, related, stone fruit-wise, to coffee, dates, plums, apricots, and, surprisingly, pistachios and almonds.
What is Coconut Oil Good For?
Over the last five or so years, the packaged food industry has gone bananas for coconut. Its water is credited with heroic levels of hydration. Its flesh available fresh, dried, shredded, sweetened, floured, and powdered, and its sap turned into sugar to supply the no and low carb demands of the paleo crowd. As the demand for coconut soars, companies are searching for new positioning of the nutritional benefits of this tropical stone fruit. Many have seized on coconut’s Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). Say what?
The term “medium chain triglyceride” explains the arrangement of the carbon atoms in the oil after it has been processed from the coconut’s flesh. But only recently did coconut take on the status of a superfood. Though coconut oil is mostly made up of saturated fat, this saturated fat is loaded with MCTs and humans metabolize MCTs differently than other, long-chain fatty acids, such as those found in butter or other animal fats. MCTs go straight to the liver for quick energy or are turned into ketones, or stored fat that is turned into energy when your diet does not contain enough carbohydrates to metabolize into sugar for energy. Ketones are said to offer the body more energy than glucose and to speed up metabolism, a boon for anyone trying to lose those last five pounds.
And, because of the high levels of lauric acid in those MCTs, coconut oil actually is said to act as a balm for your heart. It does not raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and can reduce artery damage. You see, MCTs can benefit just about everyone.
At least this is what proponents of coconut oil tout. And companies have jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon. Bulletproof’s Fatwater line is infused with coconut oil for “mental refreshment.” RAU Chocolate’s Coconut flavor is a superfood drink, combining virgin coconut oil and unrefined organic coconut palm sugar with cacao to “re-energize.” Cocomulsion Brain is a nutritional supplement that blends coconut oil with whey protein, fish oil and vitamin E, to boost energy, manage weight and support better digestion. And Better Body Foods’ Liquid Coconut MCT Oil stays liquid at cold temperatures and “promotes sustained energy.”