HYDERABAD: If there was one thing that highlighted the identity of my Tamizh household in Gujarat, it was the little blue bottles of coconut oil that could be spotted in every room, especially the kitchen. Like every south Indian family, mine believed that it was the magic sauce to enhance flavours in meals for special occasions. And who could disagree? Certainly not Dr Lakshmi of Gleneagles Global Health City, who concurs, “The taste perception of coconut oil is very good; makes food taste better. If you fry some chips in coconut oil, the flavour is going to be amazing.”
While it is enticing to add coconut oil to every meal — and a rather common practice throughout south Indian states — it is also important to moderate and manage the usage. Rich in saturated fats, coconut oil can increase good and bad cholesterol in the body. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s very important to alternate between sources of saturated fats. It’s not good to eat ghee and whole milk with coconut oil on the same day,” says Meenakshi Bajaj, dietician at the Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital.
Balance is the key; when it comes to fatty acids, as well as sources of saturated fats. When you consider the traditional south Indian (especially Keralite diet), the use of coconut oil is often paired with fish, which is a great source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. For monounsaturated fatty acids, one could use olive oil or gingelly oils. These combinations are important to strike the right proportions. Despite the cautions, coconut oil is still known to serve health benefits for specific groups, as elaborated by Dr Lakshmi and Meenakshi:
Instant energy fix
When you’re on the last leg of a project, say an article, and require that little boost of energy, you may want to opt for a snack made with coconut oil. Take it from the author. Coconut oil contains a high amount of MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) that allows the oil to be digested quickly and give instant energy, explains Dr Lakshmi.
Free from free radicals
It may seem thrifty to save used oil for a later date but you would be doing so at the cost of your health. Reheating oil releases free radicals which can lead to the development of chronic illnesses. Coconut oil has a high smoking point and thus, releases fewer free radicals, indirectly lowering the risk of danger.
Coconut oil is often used to provide MCTs in the form of a ketogenic diet to children suffering from seizures. This can increase the concentration of ketones in the body and is used to reduce the frequency and duration of seizures.
Several advertisements and elders may have you convinced that coconut oil is the solution to haircare concerns but this is only a half-baked truth. Unfortunate for head massage lovers, coconut oil is not to be used on the scalp but makes a decent hair conditioner, according to Dr D Dinesh Kumar, secretary-general of the Association of Cutaneous Surgeons (India). “In contrast to popular belief, it cannot promote hair growth, but if a patient has dry, unruly hair, they could use virgin coconut oil.”