Medium chained fatty acids, or MCFA’ for short, continue to create a buzz in nutrition arena. Though MCFA’s are found in vegetable sources, these fatty acids are shorter chained fats (6 to 12 carbon atoms long) than the other vegetable oils (12 to 24 carbons long). Their shorter length makes them soluble in water and they are absorbed more readily than their longer chain fatty acid cousins. However, unlike many of the other vegetable oils, MCFA’s are saturated and this is where the volume on the nutritional chatter spikes.
In the past, most nutrition experts shunned all saturated fats as research showed they increased cholesterol levels (1). However, scientists are taking another look at MCFA’s. These earlier studies were performed with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, a form of “trans-fats” known to increase blood cholesterol levels.
More recent studies done with virgin coconut oil showed a beneficial increase in high density lipoproteins and this may have a beneficial effect on serum lipids. The researchers in this study suggested that lauric acid, the major MCFA found in coconut milk, may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated fats when solid fats are required in food (2). Other research suggests that MCFA’s may help in maintaining a healthy weight after a weight reduction diet (3).
Coconut milk has long been associated with Ayurveda traditions. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of holistic medicine that seeks to address health issues in individuals through the use of herbs, aromas, oils, meditation and yoga.
In addition to its rich calcium content, coconut milk is abundant in electrolytes that are helpful in treating dehydration. Coconut milk also has antimicrobial properties in the gut. In fact, it is beneficial in healing mouth ulcers or stomach ulcers induced by medications (4).
Much of the buzz around coconut milk is simply because of its rich, creamy and yummy taste. Once a familial ingredient in many a ethnic dish, it now has moved to center stage as a delicious beverage. So drink coconut milk in good health!
- *RP Mensink, “Effects of stearic acid on plasma lipid and lipoproteins in humans,” Lipids (2005);40, no. 12:1201-1205.
- Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB . “Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials” (pdf). Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 77 (5): 1146–55.
- St-Onge MP and Jones, P, “Physiologic Effects of Medium Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Treatment of Obesity” Am Soc Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 132:329-332, 2002
- Neli RO, Woyike OA. (2008). “Antiulcerogenic effects of coconut (Cocos nucifera)extract in rats” Phytother Res. 22:970-972