In a speech before the Asian Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. F.A.C.N., tackled the new recognition of “functional foods” – or those foods which provide health benefits over and beyond the basic nutrients – as important components in the diet.
As a coconut oil advocate, Dr. Enig specifically related the concept of functional food to the special saturates found in coconut oil. She stressed that the role of “functional food” is exactly what coconut and its edible products such as desiccated coconut and coconut oil do. As a functional food, coconut provides both nutrients for energy and functional components converted by the body into antimicrobial fatty acids and monoglycerides.
The physiologically functional components found in the fat part of whole coconut or desiccated coconut, and in the extracted coconut oil are mainly lauric acid, with a little serving of capric acid. Increasingly, lauric acid, and even capric acid, has been the subject of favorable scientific researches on health parameters.
A pproximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria, including listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.
Also, approximately 6-7% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are capric acid. Capric acid is another medium chain fatty acid, which has a similar beneficial function when it is formed into monocaprin in the human or animal body.
Monocaprin has also been shown to have antiviral effects against HIV and is being tested for antiviral effects against herpes simplex and antibacterial effects against chlamydia and other sexually transmitted bacteria.
Enig pointed out that the food industry has actually been long aware that the functional properties of the lauric oils – especially coconut oil – are unsurpassed by other available commercial oils. Unfortunately, in the U.S., both during the late 1930s and again during the 1980s and 1990s, the commercial interests of the U.S. domestic fats and oils industry were successful in driving down usage of coconut oil. As a result, in the U.S. and in other countries where the influence from the U.S. is strong, the manufacturer has supplanted lauric oils as an ingredient in its food products. As a result, consumers in these parts have, since then, been largely missing out on the many health benefits derivable from regular consumption of coconut.
Reference: Enig, Mary G. “Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21 st Century,” presented at the 36 th session of the Asian Pacific Coconut Community, 21-25 June 1999.
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