Picture this. You are walking along the soothing beaches of Oahu. Like at most beaches, there are people caught up in different forms of recreation around you - jogging, swimming, surfing and hiking. And as you enjoy the sights of the beach, it suddenly occurs to you that you can easily tell the difference between the locals and tourists. With their abundant energy and great health, the locals appear to simply be in better shape than the tourists! More importantly, none of the locales seems to be sneezing, coughing or suffering from a runny nose.

And now suddenly, you're puzzled about this discovery and you struggle to understand what the secret might be. Is it the sun? Or their relatively stress-free lifestyle? The salt air? No. Not really. Oh sure, those things definitely do help, but the real secret lies within the world's biggest seed.

Coconut: A Tropical Powerhouse...

The Malaysian and Polynesian cultures have revered the coconut for centuries. Many people underestimate the importance of coconuts. This is a mistake. Coconuts are known to contain almost all of the essential nutrients which the body will need. Coconuts do not just provide nutrients. They are also richly filled with minerals and vitamins such as manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin B2. And as incredible as these healthy nutrients might be, coconut oil contains even more. It also contains 90 percent saturated fat, which puts it right smack in the middle of the great fat debate.

The Saturated Fat Controversy...

Coconut oil is derived from the dried flesh of the coconut fruit. It is also a source of plant-based saturated fat, the very fat doctors and nutritionists alike have been telling us to avoid like the plague. What many people are unaware of is that more than half of the disputed saturated fat content is instead made up of lauric acid - a health medium chain fatty acid that is broken down by the body into monolaurin. Also found in breast milk, Monolaurin offers infants invaluable protection by boosting the strength of their immune system. Its actions are also effective in enhancing the healthy growth of the bones and brain.

And yet, despite these many health benefits, there are many who still argue against the use of coconut oil as a healthy part of a diet. Many people believe that it is unhealthy to eat the saturated fat which is found in animals that have been raised on an unnatural diet of corn and soy while housed in conventional feedlots. However, the fat content found in coconut oil is made up primarily of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Medium-chain triglycerides are digested and metabolized very quickly giving you an excellent source of energy.

The way medium-chain triglycerides are used by the body varies from its use of other fats. Most fats are stored in your body's cells. However, instead of storing the fat content in the body's cells, medium chain triglycerides are metabolized by the liver to produce energy. To put it even more simply, while you are likely to carry residual fat from your breakfast of eggs and bacon, that same thing wouldn't happen with coconut oil because the 'coconut fat' is used almost immediately by your liver.

Another Look at Those Advantages...

Let's take a closer look at the supposed health benefits. Coconut appears to be useful in the following roles:

* Anti-inflammatory
* Anti-pyretic (it reduces fever)
* Anti-fungal
* Anti-bacterial

During a pharmacology study, it was discovered that rats suffering from inflammation could be treated with the use of virgin coconut oil. Also discovered during the study was the fact that coconut oil could be used in reducing the symptoms of fever (anti-pyretic) and pain in rats suffering from induced hyperthermia. With these results, the researchers were able to conclude that - when it came to the benefits of virgin coconut oil - there was suitable evidence that it possessed applicable "....anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic properties." People could therefore rely on the use of coconut oil in treating symptoms of inflammation, fever and pain. Great news - for the rats. The results would be even better if an actual study was done on humans.

To study the antifungal properties of coconut, samples of coconut oil were used in treating a fungal infection. The results were then compared to a similar treatment with the use of fluconazole - a known antifungal drug. Fifty-two different isolates of Candida were taken from clinical specimens. Out of this sample, the isolate Candida Alibicans was the most commonly used. It is important to note this because Candida Albicans is the most common cause of fungal infections such as thrust, vaginitis and diaper rash. All isolates were tested to see how susceptible they were to both virgin coconut oil and the antifungal drug. The results of the test showed that while strains of Candida Albicans could be treated with as low as a 1:4 dilution rate with coconut oil, researchers required twice as much (1:2) to achieve the same results with Fluconazole.

In summary: A lot more of the drug was needed to fight the fungus. Even with its high approval rating, fluconazole was not as effective as coconut oil. A testament once again of the triumph of nature.

In a similar study designed to test the antibacterial effect of virgin coconut oil, it was discovered that it could - in fact - be used in fighting off skin infections. Researchers performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 26 people who had atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that often includes painfully dry skin that is highly susceptible to a nasty bacterium called Staphylococcus Aureus .

Half of the participants of the study were required to apply coconut oil twice a day to two uninfected areas of their body for 28 days. The other half were requested to use virgin olive oil while following a similar routine. At the start of the study, 76% of the participants were found to be positive when tested for Staphylococcus Aureus. Once the study was completed it was discovered that amongst the olive oil users, 50% of them still possessed strains of the bacteria while only 5% tested positive in the group who used coconut oil. Users of coconut oil also saw a reversal in their problems with dry skin.

Drawing conclusion from these studies, researchers agreed that the use of coconut oil showed great potential for the treatment of viral, fungal and bacterial conditions. While we agree, we'd like to see this type of gold standard study repeated with a larger participant pool, as well as with a variety of bacteria strain, just to be sure.

Heart and Fat Burning Advantages As Well...

Advocates of coconut oil point to its cardio-protective and fat-burning properties in addition to its antibacterial benefits. According to a population study of about 2,500 people from the Polynesian islands of Tokelau and Pukapuka, high coconut oil intake has no effect on cholesterol levels.

Investigators tracked folks who consumed a high-fat diet derived primarily from coconuts - every meal contained coconut in one form or another. None of the participants were discovered to suffer from any uncommon health or cardiovascular conditions as a result of their high coconut oil diet. In fact, even though these people were consuming high amounts of saturated fat in the form of coconut oil, they did not seem to have high cholesterol. This included the fact that more than 90% of the subjects had no records of ever suffering bowel disorders, colon cancer or any form of coronary disease. The results of the tests showed that the high saturated fat content from coconut oil did not, in any way, affect the health of the people who consumed them - a fact confirmed by the lead researcher, Dr. Ian Prior.

This conclusion seems right, and then some. As well as being safe for use, coconut oil also offers a number of important benefits such as enhanced gastrointestinal health. This view can, however ,not be conclusively proven without a valid test which considers the participant's entire diet. It is interesting to note that despite the widespread view to the contrary, the high presence of medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil is what makes it so effective in weight loss. The presence of these medium-chain triglycerides means that coconut oil is almost immediately metabolized by the body as energy and not stored as fat. In this way, those medium-chain triglycerides are thermogenic - meaning that they actually speed up your metabolism, burning more calories and giving you more energy.

A notable example supporting this view is a case in the 1940s where farmers who tried to fatten their livestock with coconut oil found that they only became leaner and more active. Although this example cannot be confirmed by any credible source, we did discover a human study that appeared to back it up. In a study of people in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where coconut is a staple food, researchers found that their metabolic rate was an average of 25 percent higher than people in the U.S. This study however, like the farmer/livestock example, cannot be properly substantiated. Both appear to be perpetuated by the same author, who never cites the studies he is pulling from.

Although there was sufficient reason for us to reach a conclusion on the relationship between medium chain triglycerides and weight loss ( based on the obvious signs), we chose to ignore it because the data was yet to be proven clinically. And then we stumbled across an insightful study involving a randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind research in Brazil. 40 women (within the 20-40 age bracket) were treated with coconut oil for clinical abdominal obesity. Half of the group received a daily dose of either soybean oil or coconut oil for 12 weeks. The women were also requested to carefully follow a prescribed low calorie balanced diet and take 50 minute walks during the period.

At the end of the study period, those taking the coconut oil had a statistically greater loss of waist circumference that those taking the soybean oil. The coconut oil users also had a statistically higher level of HDL (good) cholesterol and a lower LDL/HDL ratio than the soybean oil group. All the women recorded reductions in their body mass index. So, those using the coconut oil lost weight, lost inches around their waist, increased their levels of good cholesterol, and improved their bad to good cholesterol ratio. Not bad for a big seed!

The Right Way to Use Coconut Oil...

At the very least, it is clear that coconut is not bad for you and that there is a significant difference between the saturated fat in coconuts and the saturated fat in animals.

There is also the very possible likelihood that those who consume coconut oil are able to benefit from its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral features. It has also been shown to have only beneficial effects on people's weight loss and heart health efforts. We therefore encourage the use of coconut oil and not just for its taste. Most cooks enjoy using coconut oil in cooking because of its high smoking point - 350 degrees for the unrefined oil and even higher for refined oil. This is a culinary way of saying that you can saute and bake with coconut oil and not worry about it turning into a trans-fat before your eyes. Plus, coconut oil is very stable. It has a two-year shelf life and won't turn rancid, even in warm temperatures.

So give coconut oil a try. Be sure however to only pick organic virgin oil that is unbleached, unrefined and has been proven to be free of processing chemicals. And after a week of trying it, you'll be so excited with the results that you'll probably be making it a permanent feature in your life!