I have to be honest with you from the start. I am obsessed with coconut. Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut water, I use all of them. In fact I can’t get enough of them, which is lucky because they are really good for you. In this post I’m going to focus on coconut oil, give some background information, it’s benefits and how I use it in my diet.
Coconut Oil – Friend Or Foe?
Coconut oil was considered an excellent oil for cooking and baking in the United States, even used for popping popcorn in movie theaters up until the 1950’s. Then things changed, coconut oil was vilified and eventually driven out. But why?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, and beginning in the 1950’s people’s opinion on saturated fat started to change. Due to new research at the time, saturated fat was being linked with bad health. It was believed that saturated fat was the cause of unwanted weight gain, heart disease and many other health related illnesses. So the advice was to cut all saturated fat from the diet.
Strangely as this way of thinking became mainstream and low-fat eating was viewed as the “healthy option”, Americans, and eventually the rest of the western world, started to get fatter and cases of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity, went through the roof!
Why Was Cutting Saturated Fat Having The Opposite Effect?
The reason for such damaging results was due in part to what was used in place of saturated fat. Sugar and vegetable oils. Refined sugar, the form you find in processed foods has many damaging effects on health, which you can read about in my Sugar Is Making You Fat And Sick article, but I’m going to focus here on vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils, or unsaturated/ polyunsaturated fats, are very sensitive to heat and light and easily become rancid. In order to extend their shelf life they are hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated. This process provides a cheaper product that is used in place of saturated fat. Originally the process of hydrogenation was viewed as a positive thing. Whether this was down to ignorance or profit depends on who you believe. However, we now know that hydrogenating oils and fats produces trans fats. Trans fats are not found naturally in nature and are highly toxic. Trans fats are now banned in Denmark, California and New York City.
Saturated Fat – Animal Vs. Coconut
Coconut oil was once believed to cause rapid weight gain if consumed on a regular basis, but as it turns out the opposite is true. The reason for this, and the difference between saturated fat from animal sources, is down to the length of the fatty acids found in coconut oil.
Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids, or medium chain triglycerides also known as MCT. MCT are different from the commonly used long chain triglycerides or LCT, found in animal saturated fat sources. LCT are typically stored in the body as fat, while MCT’s are quickly digested and used for energy, and are not readily converted to stored fat.
Evidence of MCTs effects can be seen in tropical cultures like the Philippines, where the people’s traditional diet is very high in saturated fat from coconut and yet these people are slim, healthy and obesity and heart disease is virtually unheard of. This is due to the MCT ability to stimulate the metabolism, of which the highest concentration is found in coconut oil. Interestingly, many of those who have moved to cites and adopted western eating habits in place of their own traditional diet have fallen victim to the same health problems we are familiar with in our society.
The Return Of Coconut Oil
Thankfully coconut oil has been enjoying a comeback recently, steadily gaining recognition as a healthy and nutritious fat, far superior to the damaged fats and oils that have been dominating the market.
More Health Benefits From Coconut Oil
As if fat burning potential wasn’t enough to convince you to start using coconut oil, the fatty acids within coconut oil also contain other health giving properties. Caprylic acid and lauric acid help to support the immune system and have anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties.
Some Reasons We Need Healthy Sources Of Saturated Fat
- Saturated fats make up at least 50% of our cell membranes. Part of the reason unsaturated fats were unsuitable for us.
- Saturated fats are needed to properly utilize essential fatty acids (omega oils). Omega 3’s are also better retained in our bodies when the diet is rich in healthy sources of saturated fats.
- The fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on it’s reserves of fat in times of stress.
Coconut Oil And Cooking
When vegetable oils are heated to high heats for cooking purposes they become damaged, which is bad for our health. Saturated fats like coconut oil tolerates heat much better as it has a higher melting point. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature whereas vegetable oils are already liquid at room temperature.
I use coconut oil for all cooking, in place of butter or vegetable oil. Also don’t heat olive oil. Olive oil is an excellent, healthy oil but should not be heated at high temperatures as it will quickly become damaged. Save it for salads instead and stick with coconut oil for any cooking needs .
Buying Coconut Oil
When buying coconut oil there are many brands to choose from, just make sure it is cold pressed virgin coconut oil. Not refined, deodorized or bleached and that it is chemical free.
Other Uses For Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can also be of benefit:
- to nourish dry or damaged hair
- and as a moisturiser for dry or prematurely aging skin.
As you can see, coconut oil has excellent health giving properties and is well worth trying.