Years ago, it’s unlikely you would ever see either of the Nourishing Gurus downing pints of semi hard white fat (highly saturated, no less) on a regular basis. Lo and behold, here we are in 2014 using coconut oil as one of our premier cooking and baking fats.
When recommending this fat, we get one of two questions:
- Isn’t coconut oil too high in saturated fat? I have high cholesterol and my doctor told me I need to avoid saturated fat.
- Is coconut oil really all its hyped up to be?
First, we would like to dispel the myth that saturated fats are the “enemy.” In fact, saturated animal and tropical fats are not foods to be afraid of or feel guilty about eating. These foods are a necessary and important part of any health building diet, and they are protective substances that humans have been eating for thousands of years.
Yes, saturated fats are good for you!
Every single living cell in our body requires fatty acids for construction and maintenance. All types of fat are needed by the body. This includes monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, AND saturated fat.
All saturated fats produce energy. They also:
- Provide the building blocks for your hormones
- Slow down the absorption of your meals so you can go longer without feeling hungry and maintain an even blood sugar
- Contain the necessary fat-soluble vitamins that include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K
There are varying lengths of saturated fats, including short, medium and long. Coconut oil fits into the medium chain category. The medium chain saturated fats (MCFAs) help to inhibit the growth of yeasts like Candida (found in coconut and palm oil). They are not stored as fat in the body, but actually create thermogenesis, or heat, and boost metabolism.
The Journal of Nutrition published a study where researchers investigated all studies relative to MCFAs that are abundant in coconut fat and weight management. The studies showed that diets rich in fats such as those found in coconut oil prompted a boost in metabolism, increase in energy, decrease in food consumption, reduced body weight and lower body fat mass.
The study authors highly recommend using oils that contain MCFAs, such as coconut oil, as a tool to drop extra abdominal fat, manage a healthy weight, and even as a way to treat obesity.
Other benefits of coconut oil include:
- Brain food: The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source energy or turned into ketones, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
- Anti bacterial and anti viral: Almost 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil is lauric acid. When coconut oil is enzymatically digested, it also forms a monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi.
- Appetite suppressant: The fatty acids in coconut oil can significantly reduce appetite, which may positively affect body weight over the long term.
- Heart smart: When combined with mono and omega 3 fats in the diet, studies in both humans and rats show that coconut oil improves important risk factors like total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol, which may translate to a reduced risk of heart disease.(1,2)
- Thyroid health: The medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil can help in rebuilding cell membranes and increasing enzyme production that will assist in promoting the conversion of T4 to T3 hormones.
- Skin and hair moisturizer: Applied topically, studies show coconut oil to be effective as a skin moisturizer and protective against hair damage. It can also be used as a mild form of sunscreen.
- Mouth/teeth/gum cleanser: Coconut oil can be used in “oil pulling,” a method whereby when you swish oil around in your mouth, the bacteria “get stuck” in it and dissolve in the liquid oil.
- and of course our favorite – digestion! Coconut oil has been found to help digestive disorders due to its antimicrobial properties and its ability to be digested easily. There have been reports of coconut oil helping people with all degrees of digestive issues from irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn’s Disease.
What to Look For
Ideally, look for coconut oil that is organic and unrefined. Many brands will offer this – one we like is Nutiva. This will ensure the highest quality of coconut and least processing. If you don’t like the flavor of coconut, you can find brands that are organic but expeller pressed. This means there was some degree of mechanical extraction. Just be sure there were no chemicals involved.
In the Kitchen With Coconut
We use coconut oil to sauté veggies, in baked goods, and added to smoothies. Here is a fun sweet treat to keep in your freezer!
½ cup coconut oil (unrefined and organic)
2 tablespoons raw honey
¼ cup raw cacao nibs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup pecans
Mix all ingredients into softened (but not heated) coconut oil in a bowl. Place bowl in the fridge for about 20 minutes to let “dough” harden a little. Using a spoon, scoop rounded dollops into mini muffin or candy cups. Freeze.
TELL US: Have you been avoiding saturated fats like coconut oil because you thought they were fattening or bad for your health?