Is Coconut Oil Really A Superfood?

On 3/07/2017 | By Chiro One Wellness Centers

Coconut oil—the magic potion. The all-in-one health giant. The superfood. You’ve seen the headlines all over the place the past few years. Things like “90 Uses for Coconut Oil” or “The Best Moisturizer You Never Knew You Needed” or “The One Thing You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen.” But is coconut oil really all it’s cracked up to be or is just another hyped-up food trend? Let’s take a look!

The Versatile Nut

Made from the nut produced by the coconut palm, coconut oil has been used by many different, traditionally tropical cultures and countries across the globe for centuries. It’s well known for its versatility—in India, they call the coconut tree “Kalpravriksha” aka “The All-Giving Tree”—and that versatility is one of the things that makes it such a huge contender for the “Superfood” title. But the question is: how super is it?

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

The thing that makes coconut oil special is its saturated fat content. And we know, we know: “Isn’t saturated fat bad for me?” Yes and no. Saturated fats aren’t all the same—those created naturally are of way more value than the artificial, hydrogenated kind. In fact, good saturated fats are quite healthy, especially the ones found in coconut oil. Why? Long story short: lauric acid. It’s a super rare fat that has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties once it’s in the body, and this fat makes up for about 50 percent of coconut oil’s makeup! As a result, coconut oil has the ability to provide immune system support, absorb vitamins and minerals to enhance energy and, of course, moisturize and restore.

Question the Hype

There are some benefits commonly associated with coconut oil that don’t quite pan out…yet. Some of these benefits are based on theoretical information and not research or studies—such as treating diabetes, improving heart health, preventing stroke, slowing down Alzheimer’s and encouraging weight loss. We just don’t have all the information yet to know for sure. Certainly, as studies move forward, we’ll likely be able to find more benefits! For now, like anything, use it in moderation and always select organic, virgin coconut oil. And beware of packaged foods that boast using coconut oil as if it makes their product better, because chances are? Probably not. It could be just as processed as the next packaged foodstuff. Always read the ingredients.

The Final Verdict (For Now)

While coconut oil definitely possesses healthy properties, it may not necessarily be the all-encompassing superfood the world wants it to be. Make sure you’re not depending on word-of-mouth food rumors to accomplish a health goal. And always remember that health and wellness are a process—it’s highly unlikely that a one-fix superfood has all the answers.

Is Exercise Still Good for Your Mental Health If You’re Forced to Do It?

There have been so many studies demonstrating that exercise helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression that it is hardly worth bothering to ask the question “Is exercise good for your mental health?” any more. The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes.”

But researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder decided to ask the question a different way. They were interested in people who might be forced to exercise – athletes on high school, college or professional sports teams, members of the military, and patients prescribed a mandatory exercise regimen by their doctors. As study leader Benjamin Greenwood asks, “If exercise is forced, will it still produce mental health benefits? It’s obvious that forced exercise will still produce peripheral physiological benefits. But will it produce benefits to anxiety and depression?” These are viable questions because previous research had indicated that a person’s perception of whether or not they are “in control” can affect their mental state.

To answer these questions, the researchers conducted an animal model study on rats. The rats were divided into two groups – one group that exercised regularly using a spinning “hamster wheel” apparatus, and another that was sedentary. The exercise group was then divided in half, with half of the rats being able to run on the wheel as they wanted to, and according to their own schedule. The other half of the exercise group was forced to run on motorized wheels that mimicked the rats’ natural speed, distance, and activity patterns. Once on the wheel, the rats in this final group had no choice but to exercise.

After six weeks, the three groups of rats were placed in situations that increased their stress levels (extreme confinement) for a day, and the next day were tested for their anxiety levels by confining them in a maze they had previously been taught how to escape from. As expected, the sedentary rats who had not exercised exhibited far more anxiety, remaining motionless for long periods of time before finally being able to recover from the anxiety and escape. But both groups of rats who had exercised showed more resistance to anxiety, and were able to more quickly overcome the stress situations and solve the maze.

 

As Professor Greenwood explains the findings, “Regardless of whether the rats chose to run or were forced to run they were protected against stress and anxiety. The implications are that humans who perceive exercise as being forced – perhaps including those who feel like they have to exercise for health reasons – are maybe still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and depression.”

You may be wondering whether the findings from these types of animal studies can be reliably applied to people. Is it true that the mental health benefits associated with exercise occur in humans whether the exercise is voluntary or forced? The short answer is that the jury is still out. While it’s true that other studies have found that simply “not being in control” may actually reduce anxiety and depression in some individuals, it’s impossible to know for sure.

So if your goal in exercising is to reduce stress and anxiety, it may be premature to hire a personal trainer to yell at you and make you exercise (even if it seems to work on TV)!

Does Eating Slower Really Help Us Control Our Weight?

There are decided benefits to eating a meal slowly, as any resident of the countries around the Mediterranean can tell you. The slow, leisurely 2-hour lunch is still sacrosanct there, and their comparatively smaller waistlines may be proof that there’s something to the theory that eating more slowly can help control our weight. However, there are also other factors involved in eating a meal, such as the kind of food you eat and how much you drink while eating. These variables make it difficult to accurately say if the speed of eating has any effect on our weight.

The results of scientific studies designed to measure the effect of eating speed (or eating pace) has on weight loss vary widely. Some find that eating slowly makes a difference in the amount of calories taken in, and others find that it seems to make no appreciable difference at all. For example, there were at least three recent studies that found that eating slower resulted in a lower intake of calories, but all studies were slightly flawed.

For example, one study had a sample size of only 6 participants, which does not make for a convincing conclusion. Another showed a significant increase in the amount of water consumed during the slow meal, so it is unknown whether the pace of the meal made the difference, or if it was the increase in water consumption that made the participants eat less. A third study had a large sample size of over 3,000 participants. However, the pace of eating was self-reported, so the participants may have had the impression that they ate slowly, when in fact they were eating quickly in comparison with other slow-eating participants.

A better-constructed Dutch study performed by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that eating more slowly did not make much of a difference in calorie intake. The study participants were given the exact same amount of the exact same foods and either had two hours to eat (with breaks between courses) or 30 minutes in which to eat the meal.

Researchers measured the participants’ appetite hormones at the end of the meal and found lower levels of the hunger hormones, in addition to greater reported feelings of satiation in those who had eaten the drawn-out meal. However, when offered snacks after each meal, there was no difference in the caloric intake of snacks between the slow eaters and the fast eaters. This suggests that snacking has little to do with feelings of hunger and satisfaction, but is rather a result of social cues. Another factor in this study is that the meal was heavily weighted toward high-glycemic carbohydrates (54% carbohydrate, 14% protein and 32% fat), which quickly raises blood sugar for immediate energy, but leaves you feeling hungry again in a short amount of time.

However, it is clear that there are at least two ways in which eating slowly has clear advantages over quick eating.  The first has to do with increased feelings of fullness and satisfaction. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain chemistry to register that you have food in your stomach, and you may find that after you have been eating for at least 20 minutes you may feel sufficiently full. So consider waiting for 20 minutes after beginning a meal before taking a second helping. The second advantage of eating slowly is a simple one—it allows you to truly taste and savor your food, which increases feelings of satisfaction and makes you less inclined to need treats after the meal.

Good Food Sources of Minerals

We all need minerals, as they are essential for all the chemical processes required for the human body to function properly. In fact, minerals play a more important role in our good health than vitamins! Without minerals, vitamins are useless.

One way to ensure adequate daily amounts of trace and other minerals is by eating the following foods:

Calcium – Milk, yogurt, hard cheeses, fortified cereals, spinach

Chromium – Meats, poultry, fish, whole-grain breads

Copper – Seafood, nuts, seeds, wheat-bran cereals, whole grains

Iron – Beans, lentils, beef, eggs, fortified cereals

Magnesium – Green leafy vegetables, Brazil nuts, almonds, soybeans, halibut, quinoa

Phosphorus – Dairy products, peas, meat, eggs

Potassium – Sweet potatoes, bananas, yogurt, yellow fin tuna, soybeans

Selenium – Organ meats, seafood, Brazil nuts

Zinc – Red meats, some seafood, fortified cereals

How Do the Microbes in Your Digestive Tract Affect Your Health?

Our bodies are filled with microbes, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. The complete collection of microbes in our body is called our “microbiome”. It is unique to us and is believed to affect our health in many different ways.

In our intestines, the most abundant microbe is bacteria. There is currently great scientific interest in whether these bacteria might somehow play a role in either causing disease or preventing it. Michael Snyder, PhD, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine says, “There’s a good chance your microbiome is associated with every disease you can think of. And the area where bacteria have a huge impact is your gut.”

The Role of Gut Bacteria

Gut bacteria are absolutely essential to our lives and our health. Gut bacteria help us digest our food, make vitamins and signal immune responses. Scientists have discovered that everyone’s collection of gut bacteria is unique, and those with diseases often have a different amount or combination of gut bacteria than people without those diseases. The goal of current research is to discover what mix of bacteria healthy people have versus the mix that people with disease have, and to find ways to improve the mix for better health. In this way, doctors might also be able to detect certain diseases earlier, leading to more effective treatment.

Which Diseases May Be Linked to Gut Bacteria?

Scientists are still exploring this question, but studies have shown an association between gut bacteria and obesity, Chron’s disease, colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, and diabetes. One recent study showed that people with more of a certain inflammatory bacteria in their gut and fewer of another kind of beneficial bacteria are more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.

Interestingly, gut bacteria may even be connected with cognitive and psychological disorders such as depression, ADD, anxiety, autism, OCD and Alzheimer’s disease. This connection may be due to the gut microbes’ ability to create molecules that impact brain function.

How Can We Improve Our Mix of Gut Bacteria to Achieve Better Health?

Rigorous research into the human microbiome is still in its infancy. However, it is safe to say that not all types and combinations of intestinal bacteria are created equal when it comes to their effect on our broader health. There is also some evidence that we may be able to influence the mix of microbes in our gut through our food choices.  Just to be clear—this is NOT to say that changing any one particular aspect of your diet—substituting one sort of food for another, for instance—will result in a cure for any particular disease. However, do we know enough about a healthy overall diet and its impact on our body’s function and well-being to be able to recommend lowering sugar intake (sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes) and increasing fruits, vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, etc.). These changes contribute to a healthier nutritional profile, which clearly leads to better overall health and weight maintenance.

Some nutritional experts also recommend eating fermented foods containing live active cultures (such as yogurt, kimchee, kefir, miso, kombucha and sauerkraut) or taking probiotic supplements to support the colonies of “good” bacteria that live inside your gut. If you do choose to take probiotic supplements, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • The probiotic supplement you choose must contain the right strains of bacteria to promote good health.
  • The probiotic supplement must be of a good quality so that the bacteria strains they contain are active when you take them.
  • Your digestive system is a very hostile environment. For probiotic supplements to do any good, enough of the good bacteria in them must be able to reach your intestines alive.

Nutrition can be a very complex subject, and our understanding of it is constantly evolving based on scientific research and clinical experience. If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition and health, please call or visit our office!