As the landscape of nutrition changes both in the field of science and our homes, we often take on new ideas about our food and nutrients, and discard old ones. One of these ideas deals with saturated fats. For decades we were told all saturated fat was bad, when today we know that there is a big difference in what the source of that saturated fat is. For example a product like coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat, but also as we know today (and thanks to the ancient experience of other cultures) it is also one of the most healthiest foods for us.
Over the past few years, my diet has changed, and by a lot! Out went the foods that no longer served my body and health, and in came new, nutritious additions to my diet. Two of these incredible foods, which I barely knew about or heard of a couple of years ago, let alone ate, were hemp seeds and coconut oil. These two nutritional powerhouses have today become a regular part of my diet. They taste incredible, have numerous uses and above all are nutritionally dense, packed with numerous vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other health promoting compounds.
For those of you who are already enjoying the benefits of coconut oil, continue on, as its great benefits are many. And for those of you who have not yet heard of, considered, or tried incorporating coconut oil into your daily diet, allow me to tell you more about this nutritious and delicious superfood that you do not want to be missing out on.
Coconut Oil Basics
When most people think of cooking or healthy fats, the last oil they normally think of is coconut oil, when it should be one of the first.
From a practical perspective, coconut oil, being mostly saturated fat, has a high heat tolerance and stability. This is very important when cooking, as the last thing we want to do is denature the oil, making it unhealthy for our consumption. Many oils under high heat, can produce trans fats, or even carcinogenic compounds. (The application of heat is a chemical reaction that changes the molecules of substances. Many of these changes offer undesirable effects for us, hence one of the main reasons, why so many people today are choosing to go more raw with their food. In the case of coconut oil, it is beneficial raw, but can also maintain its properties well one can say, under the pressure of heat.)
Now, as soon as people hear that coconut oil is mostly saturated fat (over 90% as mentioned in the introduction), they cringe and question as to how that can be a healthy food? The thing to understand about saturated or any fat for that matter, is that its characteristics and health qualities are based on the types and numbers of fatty acids. The combination, length and type of fatty acids making up plant saturated foods, especially that of coconut oil, has been found to be beneficial to our health in many ways, unlike saturated animal fats. So not all saturated fat is created equal. Coconut oil is rich in MCT's - medium chain triglycerides, specific ones in fact which have been found to be extremely beneficial for our overall health, as will be described in the next section.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
From a health perspective, coconut oil’s health benefits are attributed to its unique mix of fatty acids – namely lauric, capric and caprylic acids. Unlike other oils, the majority of coconut oil’s fatty acid composition is that of medium chain fatty acids. These get burned up quickly for energy and are not prone to being stored as fat, or clogging artery walls, and adding a risk for heart disease, as is the case with most other fat sources.
Coconut oil also has antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
A quick list of its health benefits include:
- Topical use on skin; moisturizes, nourishes and alleviates various skin conditions
- External use on hair; nourishes, aids proper scalp health and hair growth
- Helps prevent heart disease based on the unique blend of fatty acids
- Helps regulate cholesterol
- Enhances proper thyroid function
- Protect against the incidence of Alzheimer’s, and may actually reverse it
- Enhances proper digestion, helps alleviate IBS and Crohn’s symptoms
- Helps with weight loss based on how it is metabolized and used
- Helps with the absorption of other vitamins and minerals during digestion
- Enhances and maintains a healthy immune system
- Helps fight pathogenic bacteria, fungi and viruses
- Speeds up healing of bruises and infections
- Used as a form of aromatherapy for stress relief
- Contains antioxidant properties to fight free radicals, help against premature aging, etc.
- Easily converted into usable energy for the body, not stored as fat
- Helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, helps in dissolving kidney stones
- Helps in controlling blood sugar and improves the secretion of insulin
- Helps prevent and treat diabetes
- Helps in absorption of calcium
- Helps prevent tooth decay
- Helps boost metabolism
- Alkaline forming
- Helps in boosting energy and endurance
- Excellent source of healthy fats
- Healthy choice for all diets, including vegan and vegetarian
Uses of Coconut Oil
There are so many varied uses for coconut oil. The most common one is to use a tablespoon (plus or minus) for cooking, like stir-frying. But really, whether one is making scrambled eggs, or sautéing mushrooms, coconut oil works in all these cases. Wherever one uses an oil for cooking, coconut oil can take its place and offer a much healthier meal.
Coconut oil is used in numerous raw desserts, smoothies, salads, and sauces. It truly has a multitude of uses, and that is mostly thanks to its delicious taste – that is of course assuming you like the taste of coconuts.
However, to get the true coconut flavor, aroma and benefits, one must pick an unrefined, organic virgin coconut oil. Refined coconut oils are processed coconut oils, devoid of almost any flavor or aroma, and not as nutritionally dense as the unrefined ones. If one is interested in optimal health, an unrefined, virgin oil is the way to go. The scent and taste is often very subtle, if at all noticeable depending on the recipe or meal it is used in.
It is also important to note, that as more and more people begin to learn about this incredible oil, there is no doubt that companies will try to market products made using coconut oil. Be very conscious of reading all labels, as processed or industrial grade coconut oil defeats the health purpose, just like any other processed food. Just because a food is made with coconut oil, does not automatically make it healthy. The real benefits lie in using this oil in its unrefined version. I wrote the following article, I invite you to read for help on picking the best coconut oil. You can also see my specific review of the Nutiva organic extra virgin coconut oil and the Nutiva raw organic coconut oil.
Coconut oil can also be applied directly to the skin or scalp for healing or nourishing properties, or used for massage and aromatherapy purposes.
Coconut oil makes an easy and healthy alternative to butter, as it is solid at room temperature (as long as it is not over about 24 degrees Celsius.)
Coconut oil today is available widely across North America, whether in health food stores, or online stores, including Amazon.com. As for price, yes coconut oil can be pricey, but when it comes to health, it is well worth it. If anything, perhaps it can motivate us to stop cooking/frying our food as much and enjoy more foods in their most natural, nutritiously dense state.
When I open my jar of coconut oil, it is like I have a little piece of the tropics always home with me. I love cooking with it and eating it raw. I have tried various recipes with it, and found it to be a fantastic complement to my meals!
So when it comes to this superfood, it is no gimmick or latest bandwagon on which to get on, only to get off when the mainstream media has changed its mind about what is “in“. This is a powerful food that has been used by many people in the Eastern and Tropical regions, who have been enjoying its health benefits for generations – and now you can too!