If you’ve been around the real food community much, you’ve heard many references to the benefits of coconut, especially coconut oil. Ostracized by the medical community for it’s saturated fat content, it seems that coconut oil might finally be making a comeback in the mainstream health community.
Coconut oil is the most nutrient dense part of the coconut. It is solid at room temperature like butter. It doesn’t break down in heat or light or become rancid like many oils, and in my opinion has a wonderful tropical smell.
It is a wonderful way to increase the amount of healthy fats in your diet, and is helpful in assimilation of fat soluble vitamins.
For years, “health” advice has warned against consuming saturated fats, and coconut oil has gotten thrown out with the rest without good reason!
What’s In a Coconut?
Coconuts are an excellent source of nutrition and have healthful meat, juice, and oil. The oil is arguably the most nutritious and has many health benefits. Coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat and has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Coconut oil also has antioxidant properties and it helps in the absorption of other minerals.
Coconut oil is an incredible source of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which have been shown to have many health benefits.
Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs)
Most of the fats we consume are long chain fatty acids that must be broken down before they can be absorbed. Coconut oil is high in short and medium chain fatty acids, which are easily digested and sent right to the liver for energy production.
Because MCFAs are sent right to the liver for digestion, no bile or pancreatic enzymes are needed for digestion, making coconut oil a healthy food even for those with diabetes or those who have gallbladder problems.
MCFAs can help increase metabolism since they are sent directly to the liver and give the body an instant source of energy. Most of the MCFAs in coconut oil are the highly beneficial Lauric Acid.
Lauric acid is found in abundance in human breast milk and converts to a substance called monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin has been shown to be useful in increasing immunity and fighting viruses and disease.
Lauric acid in coconut oil in combination with oregano oil, has even been found more effective in fighting the staph bacteria than antibiotics. Lauric acid has also been shown to be preventative against some cancers.
Coconut Oil is over 40% lauric acid, the richest source naturally available.
What About The Saturated Fat?
If you are still concerned about saturated fat, consider taking a second look. Even if you still avoid/limit saturated fats, it is important to note that not all saturated fats behave the same way in the body. Coconut oil, due to its high lauric acid content, is actually beneficial to the body.
It is also fascinating to note that countries like Thailand eat very high amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil and lard, and have very low levels of disease on average.
In fact, people consuming a traditional diet in Thailand have less instance of heart disease and the lowest rates of cancer for all 50 countries studied by the World Health Organization. Diabetes is TEN times more frequent in the United States that in Thailand, despite (or perhaps because of) their high fat consumption.
What do they Thai people eat? A large part of their diet consists of coconut, fermented foods, meat, a variety of vegetables, and rice. If you’ve ever tasted Thai food, you know that they also have bold taste in seasonings and make use of potent herbs and spices like curry, lemongrass, basil, and chilis.
Overall, the Thai people consume very little soy, except for fermented condiments.
Their living conditions are considered to be less sanitary and more difficult, so these factors cannot account for the lower instance of disease.
Other countries, including some in the Mediterranean, show similar trends, even with high consumption of saturated fat. Even here, saturated fat is getting a second look from the medical community.
But saturated fat causes heart disease, right?
This has been the refrain for the last several decades, but history doesn’t back it up. As I have discussed before, there really is no scientific backing to the idea, and in fact, the lipid hypothesis has been largely discredited.
Think about it: Currently, coronary heart disease and related problems are the number one cause of death in the United States. The field of cardiology didn’t even exist prior to 1940, and there has been a 60 fold increase in cardiologists since that time.
Also, coconut oil and other saturated fats were phased out since that time, and has been replaced with “healthy” vegetable and seed oils.
You’d think with all those specialists and the move away from saturated fats , we’d be seeing less heart disease…. except, we aren’t. In fact, rates of heart disease have risen despite doctors best attempts to get us to eat low-fat whole grain diets low in saturated fats (or perhaps because of this).
Saturated fats are necessary for cell function and growth, and have been linked to increased health and even weight loss. Coconut oil is an all-star among saturated fats with many benefits beyond its strict nutritional content.
Over 1/3 of the world’s population depends on coconut for food, and if you haven’t already, you should consider incorporating coconut oil into your diet!
The Many Ways To Use Coconut Oil
If you haven’t already started using coconut oil, there are many ways that you can get this nutrient packed powerhouse into your diet/lifestyle:
- In Cooking: Coconut oil is a stable oil that doesn’t break down easily at high temperatures like other oils do. It doesn’t go rancid easily and has amazing nutritional properties. It is great for cooking eggs, stir fries, grain free baked goods, and practically any other cooking use.
- Skin Lotion: Coconut oil is without question my favorite body lotion. It absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave an oily feeling at all. It makes skin incredibly silky and has wonderful antibacterial/antimicrobial properties. I use it after showering, and on my hands after washing each time I change diapers or do dishes. My hands don’t ever get dry, even in winter. If you want to get really creative, add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil for scent.
- In Smoothies: It’s sweet and nutty taste makes coconut oil a great addition to smoothies. It creates a wonderfully creamy texture and makes smoothies rich and smooth. It also adds a bounty of nutrients and a big dose of healthy fats.
- Homemade Mayo: If you’ve never made your own mayo, try it today! Making mayo is really simple and the taste of homemade mayo beats store-bought versions hands down. By making mayo with a mix of coconut and olive oils, you get a great dose of saturated and monounsaturated fats without the additives and artificial ingredients.
- Great Snacks: Because it is so filling and nutrient dense, coconut oil is a great addition (or base) for healthy snacks. These Chocolate Coconut Clusters are a favorite at my house, and I feel good knowing my kids are getting immune and brain boosting lauric acid! Since coconut oil is solid at cold temperatures, it is great for making no bake cookies and desserts in the fridge or freezer.
- Eye Make Up Remover: Coconut oil is an excellent eye-make up remover that has been reported to help remove wrinkles and help restore elasticity to the skin. Did I mention it also smells great?
- Dandruff Remedy and Hair Conditioner: Coconut oil can effectively get rid of dandruff when rubbed into the scalp a couple times a week. It does make hair oily, of course, but I recommend massaging into the scalp before bed and leaving in overnight before rinsing out in the morning. It also helps strengthen hair and add shine.
- For Shaving: Using coconut oil in the shower as a shaving soap gives a smooth shave with no irritation (speaking from a woman’s perspective here, don’t know about how it would work for guys). I usually rub on before getting in the shower and then shave in the shower. It doesn’t wash off and moisturizes legs while getting them silky!
- Massage Oil: Coconut oil makes a great tropical smelling massage oil. In the rare occasions I can talk my husband into a shoulder massage, coconut oil is definitely my choice.
- In Coffee or Tea: As strange as this might sounds, melting a teaspoon or so of coconut oil in a hot beverage is an easy way to get extra coconut in for the health benefits. I usually add a little to some green tea or herbal tea in the morning. It does take a little getting used to, and is certainly not for everyone, but I like it!
What Can’t It do?
Still working on this one! As if all the above uses weren’t enough, studies have linked coconut oil to the following health benefits:
- High lauric acid content can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It doesn’t increase LDL and helps keep arteries flexible and prevent atherosclerosis
- Studies show that coconut oil may help increase thyroid health because of its unique combination of nourishing properties and the fact that it travels directly to the liver without the need for hormones or enzymes in digestion
- Coconut oil can help boost metabolism. Since it travels directly to the liver, it is used for energy and not stored as fat. It also helps a feeling of satiety and can assist in weight loss.
- Can increase bone strength by allowing better absorption of calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals
- It’s antifungal properties have been shown to help reduce candida and yeast in the body and fight yeast infections
- Can help fight infection and flu due to its antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties
Where to Get Coconut Oil:
I love this organic virgin and fair-trade coconut oil from Thrive Market (which is like Costco online but for healthy products). Their coconut oil is 40% which is the best price I’ve found for it online. (And Thrive Market sells many of my favorite products at 30-50% off normal prices!)
So what’s your opinion? Already a coconut oil user? Still against saturated fats altogether? Share below!