Due to the positive feedback on my recent post about gluten, I decided to tackle another food that is very popular right now: coconut oil.
Coconut oil is entering the mainstream at the moment because it has numerous health benefits and is one of the best oils to cook with.
Coconut oil is pressed from the flesh of a coconut. It is a solid, white substance below room temperature and turns into a clear liquid as temperatures rise over 70° F.
The consistency changes because it is over 90% saturated fat. Remember, saturated merely means that it is completely stable chemically. It won’t go rancid when stored or oxidize when cooked. These properties also hold true after consumption – it is the least likely, of all fats, to oxidize in the blood…oxidization being a precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease.
Not only is the fat content of coconut the safe saturated variety, but 66% of it is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
MCTs are interesting because they don’t require digestion to be converted to fuel. Therefore, it is very unlikely they will be stored as fat. They also ramp up the body’s ability to burn calories and fat. For these reasons, MCTs are often used by individuals trying to lose weight.
MCTs aren’t only a useful energy source for those looking to reduce body fat. They also produce ketones which are extremely therapeutic fuel for the brain. Ketones can protect against, and improve symptoms from, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy.
All fats are made up of many different acids. One such acid that makes up most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is Lauric Acid (usually only found in breast milk). Lauric acid helps increase HDL in the body, once again protecting against cardiovascular disease. Finally, lauric acid has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties, thereby protecting the body in many other ways too.
Due to the high concentration of chemically-stable fats in coconut oil, it is the most useful oil for high temperature cooking (above 300°F).
Vegetable and nut oils are predominately polyunsaturated fat, prone to oxidization when heated. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat which is still not optimal for cooking.
Oils that are not very stable (poly and mono fats) will sacrifice their phytosterols in an attempt to prevent oxidization. Since coconut oil is almost purely saturated fat, its phytosterol content will remain even after cooking.
Life cannot exist without sterols – animals have cholesterol while plants contain phytosterols. It is believed that phytosterols improve cardiovascular health and act as antioxidants.
The oil certainly has a coconut-scent but most people find that the flavor dissipates quickly while cooking and has no effect on the taste of the final meal.
Coconut oil is often used as a moisturizer, lip balm, and in soap or other hygiene products.
Coconuts provide many other amazing foods too!
Coconut flour is an excellent alternative for sugar-laden grain flours. Coconut water is a more balanced, natural form of a sports drink. Coconut milk is a perfect substitute for animal milk. You can even buy coconut butter (pure raw coconut flesh) to spread on other foods…although it’s so rich and tasty that I’ve even eaten it straight out of the jar! And of course, you could just buy a whole coconut and make all these products yourself.
Now that we know the value of such a food, it’s time to throw out the rancid vegetable oils, save olive oil for salads, and start using coconut oil for your cooking endeavors!