Coconut Oil – Friend or Foe?
As with so many things in life this once popular oil has made a comeback. Of course in some parts of the world, coconut oil never fell out of popularity.
This amazing food is extremely versatile…from oral consumption to hair care. The oil is extracted from the meat (white part) of a mature coconut. So what makes it so great? I’m glad you ask…
Plant-based Saturated Fat
Know I know when you hear the words “saturated fat” you want to go screaming into the night but let me explain why this is a good thing (in this case).
You see saturated fats can be classified into three main categories: Short, Medium, and Long-Chain Triglycerides. Most of the saturated fats that we consume are made up of the Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT). I won’t launch into a biology class here but just keep in mind that these types of fat can promote weight gain and build-up of plaque on the arterial walls.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) on the other hand are processed differently by our bodies and are typically used for energy…not the promotion of fat storage. You may have heard of using coconut oil for weight loss. While I don’t think that consuming coconut oil will drop big pounds in and of itself, it certainly won’t hurt.
Another health benefit that saturated fats in general help with is the raising of HDL. This is a good part of our cholesterol makeup. It’s the HDL that helps shuttle the LDL and Triglycerides out of our bodies, minimizing arterial plaque buildup. The higher your HDL number is the better. If you don’t know what yours is, ask your doctor for a fractionated cholesterol test (it’s a standard test). Low HDL can be as dangerous as high LDL/Triglycerides.
In the Kitchen
Now I know what you’re probably thinking – olive oil is the king of cooking. Well here’s the deal…olive oil is great when it hasn’t been heated. On salads or other cold/room temp foods is muy bueno, but the moment you start heating it up the oil starts breaking down and turning rancid. This means lots of free radicals floating around in your food. So my suggestion is to keep the EVOO for your vinaigrettes and whatnot.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, has a high level of stability and can handle higher levels of heat without oxidizing and turning rancid. When you get your container of oil be aware that unless it’s hot in your home it’ll probably be solid. It melts quickly when warmed but saturated fats are solid at room temperature or below.
Here are some options that I personally use:
- Smoothies – Throw a little oil in the blender with the rest of your items and you’ll add some healthy fat and MCTs.
- Butter Alternative – While I’m not anti-butter (that’s another post), I like to use coconut oil as a substitute in/on things like toast, veggies, etc. I’ve also recently substituted coconut oil for vegetable oil in a baking recipe and it turned out great.
Out of the Kitchen
While I’m a big advocate of coconut oil in the kitchen, its uses don’t stop there. Here are some others to consider:
- Moisture/Skin/Hair Care – There are moisturizing and healing properties to the oil so many people use it as part of their daily regimen.
- Wound Care – Coconut oil is the trifecta of healing…it’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral! Of course, I’d keep it limited to minor abrasions. 😉
- Pet Care – All the same benefits apply to our furry loved ones so some folks add it to their food and or apply to their skin/coats.
So you might be asking “If coconut oil is so great then why have I only heard bad things about it?”. That’s a great question so allow me to shed some light. There was a study done back in the ’70s on the effects of coconut oil that were published and the findings weren’t good, to say the least, and it was highly publicized.
However, what wasn’t publicized (or maybe not even fully understood at the time) was that researchers took the coconut oil and partially hydrogenated it. What that means in everyday language was that they made it into a TRANS Fat! They studied a molecularly altered substance…not the way it’s found in nature and bought today.
We all know how bad trans fats are so it’s not surprising that the study cast a negative light on coconut oil. Let me say that one more time…the study published its findings on a trans fat product…not what we’re buying in the store.
When it comes time to buy what I think might be your new favorite oil, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Cost – Be aware that this is going to cost more than your other vegetable oils or butter. A standard jar will probably run you about $8+. Since I use so much of it I like to get the big tub (54 oz) and it runs me about $18 on Amazon (this lasts a long time).
- Words to Look For – When buying your oil look for the words Organic, Virgin, and Cold-Pressed. This will ensure high quality. Most brands today fit the bill but it always helps to be aware.
- Where to Buy – Most grocery stores are starting to carry coconut oil in their “natural” section. If you can’t find it there most health Food Stores will have it, and of course, you can always buy online (you can get ANYTHING online right?).
Wrap it up…I’ll take it!
So there you have it – one of my favorite foods (dare I say “superfoods”) and some of its many uses.
If you need help learning about foods and how to incorporate healthier options into your lifestyle, don’t worry…you’re not alone. Check out my health coaching program and drop me a line.
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