Nutritionally Important Facts about Coconut Oil
Important facts about coconut oil
Coconut oil contains roughly about 93% saturated fatty acids, 5% monounsaturated fatty acids, 2% polyunsaturated fatty acids and 0% cholesterol. The major fatty acid present in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a main component fatty acid of human milk. Table 1 compares the fatty acid composition of coconut oil with that of other common edible oils.
Table 1. Fatty acid composition of common edible oils (% by gas chromatography)
C8: Caprylic acid, C10: Capric acid, C12: Lauric acid, C14: Myristic acid, C16: Palmitic acid, C18: Stearic acid,
C18:1: Oleic acid, C18:2: Linoleic acid, C18:3: Linolenic acid
The lipid fraction of coconut oil has a unique fatty acid composition (Table 1). There are no significant amounts of C8-C14 fatty acids present in other common edible oils or any other sources of fat. The average fatty acid chain length of coconut oil is about C13 while that of other common edible oils is close to C18. Therefore, coconut oil is considered as the one and only natural medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. Even though saturated fat, as a group, was blamed in early reports for its effect on increasing serum cholesterol levels, the recent findings indicate that the chain length of a fatty acid is one important factor that decides the metabolism of fatty acids. Though saturated, the fatty acids present in coconut oil are medium chain and such fatty acids present in medium chain triglycerides are rapidly metabolized to generate energy and the chance of deposition of such fat is less compared to other fats.
Effect of any plant-based oil on the serum lipid profiles cannot be predicted merely based on fatty acid composition. Cholesterol deposition on the arterial walls occurs through a complex self-regulating mechanism. However, such self-regulating mechanisms do not apply for oxidized cholesterol. Therefore, controlling the levels of oxidized cholesterol is important for the control of arterial depositions. Antioxidants inhibit the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby contributing to the prevention of cholesterol deposition. Coconut oil contains many phenolic antioxidants that are known to exhibit excellent antioxidant activities. According to our studies, coconut oil contains following phenolic antioxidants: gallic acid, (-)-epigallocatechin, (+/-)-catechin, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, (+)-epicatechin, caffeic acid, syringic acid and ferulic acid.
Many researchers in the world are engaged in research related to various nutritional aspects of edible oils. We are focused on the effect of coconut oil antioxidants on serum lipid profiles and oxidation of cholesterol. In addition, we are also engaged in studying of the effect of coconut oil on the absorption of small molecules in the intestine.
Kapila Seneviratne (Ph.D. Wayne State, USA), Dean Faculty of Science, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, Professor in Chemistry