Coconut oil: safe as mother’s milk
by Junelyn de la Rosa
Volume 5 no. 1
The same health and nutritional benefits in breast milk can be found in coconut oil. The medium-chain fats in natural coconut oil called lauric oils are similar to the lauric oils found in breast milk.
Lauric oils are becoming popular as natural enhancers of the immune system. Like breast milk which makes babies more resistant to sickness, coconut oil can help us from getting sick.
Lauric oils are becoming popular as natural enhancers of the immune system.
Like breast milk which makes babies more resistant to sickness, coconut oil can help us from getting sick.
Half of the fatty acids in natural coconut oil are lauric acids, which are converted to fatty acid monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin works like a soldier by destroying lipid-coated viruses such as herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, and various pathogenic bacteria and protozoa.
In the past, there was misconception that coconut oil increases one’s cholesterol levels and result to heart disease. This was based on an overblown hypothesis that all saturated fats are bad for the body. Coconut oil has a high level of saturated fat. It is only recently that scientists discovered that some saturated fats are in fact good for the body.
Medium chain triglycerides
The fatty acids in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a class of fatty acids whose chemical composition is shorter than the long-chain fatty acids present in most other fats and oils, which accounts for their name.
Also called lean fats, MCTs differ from other fats in that they have slightly lower calorie content and are more rapidly absorbed and burned as energy, resembling carbohydrates more than fats.
Because of their structure, MCTs do not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease like the long chain triglycerides found in seed oils. Negative information on coconut oil was also based on scientific studies that used hydrogenated coconut oil instead of natural coconut oil.
Trans fatty acids
Hydrogenated coconut oil contains trans fatty acids (TFAs). Scientists say TFAs lower the “good” HDL cholesterol and raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol, raise total serum cholesterol levels; increase blood insulin levels, increase risk for diabetes; affect immune response by lowering efficiency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells; interfere with utilization of essential omega-3 fatty acids; and escalate adverse effects of essential fatty acid deficiency.
In short, TFAs are bad for you. We should steer clear or minimize eating processed foods which usually contain TFAs i.e. margarine, potato chips and baked goods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
Today, coconut oil is called an important functional food for the 21st century. That is because coconuts provide health benefits over and beyond the basic nutrients according to Dr. Mary Enig of Michigan State University.
Current research is also done to test the effectiveness of coconut oil in lowering the viral load of HIV/AIDS patients and to increase body metabolism and lose weight in thyroid patients.
Cloning coconut’s ACP thioesterase gene
Recently, a group of scientists from various institutes of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) successfully cloned one of the genes responsible for producing the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil.
Called the acyl-acyl carrier protein (ACP) thioesterase gene, this gene is responsible for the enzyme which determines the length of fatty acid chains during biosynthesis.
The scientists employed three cloning strategies to isolate the acyl-ACP thioesterase gene: RT-PCR, RACE, and library screening and used five and six-month old endosperm tissues from the drupe of the coconut variety Laguna Tall. Coconut meat was freshly obtained for the total RNA.
Scientists are optimistic that identifying the gene will set the groundwork for identifying other coconut genes and is a step nearer to their ultimate goal of creating a transgenic coconut that will have more lauric acids.
If all goes well, this designer coconut will be more valuable in the market and will produce other novel products to ensure the sustainability of the Philippine coconut industry.
The project is part of the UPLB-PCARRD-DOST funded project entitled “Cloning of Important Genes of Coconut”.
Source: Cloning and Partial Characterization of the ACYL-ACP Thioesterase Gene in Coconut (Cococ nucifera L) by Marni Cueno, Rita Laude, Antonio Laurena, Ma.Jamela Revilleza and Evelyn Mae Mendoza of the Institute of Biological Sciences (IBS), Institute of Plant Breeding and Institute of Chemistry of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). Health and Nutritional Benefits from Coconut Oil: An Important Functional Food for the 21st Century by Dr. Mary G. Enig of Michigan State University.