Monday, October 31, 2011

Coconut Oil

I’ve become interested in the concept of “functional foods”, that is, foods that offer specific health benefits above and beyond providing our bodies with calories, macronutrients and micronutrients. A great deal of research is being done on a great many functional foods. It’s an interesting field of knowledge.

Coconut oil is one of the new foods in my family’s diet. Up until recently, I’ve used mostly canola oil or olive oil, and occasionally butter when preparing meals. Over the past few months I’ve noticed that several of my favorite food bloggers use coconut oil in their recipes. Most of the food bloggers I follow are interested in healthy foods, so I began doing some research on coconut oil.

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of mature coconuts. There are several means of extracting the coconut oil, and the method used determines the quality of the finished coconut oil.

I’m using organic, extra virgin coconut oil from Nutiva, which is cold pressed and minimally processed so as to retain the coconut’s fatty acids in their natural form. This is important, because it is the type of fats in coconut oil that provide its health benefits.

I did find some conflicting information about coconut oil. Many of the health-related professional organizations in this country recommend limiting the amount of coconut oil in the diet because it is extremely high in saturated fat.

Saturated fat in the form of animal fat has been shown to raise cholesterol levels. Increased cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease. Back in the 1970s, this information resulted in the development of hydrogenated vegetable oil as a substitute for animal fat. It was believed that unsaturated vegetable oils were healthier. Since coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it was considered as unhealthy as animal fats.

Unfortunately, the research done on the effect of coconut oil on health was done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil. We now know that hydrogenating oils results in trans-fats, which are likely worse for our hearts than saturated fats.

I was unable to find any research done with organic extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil that showed adverse health effects. I did find research showing health benefits from coconut oil.

Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which is a fat rarely found in other foods. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that is found in human breast milk. Research is showing that this type of fat has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.

Research on coconut oil has shown that it may aid in weight loss when replacing other fats in the diet. Coconut oil appears to be metabolized a little differently that other fats. If I understand correctly, the fatty acids in coconut oil are more easily used by our bodies as fuel and so less likely to be stored as body fat than the fats and oils we typically consume in this country.

Coconut oil has also been shown to raise HDL, sometimes referred to the "good cholesterol", the one we want to have more of in our blood.

Replacing some of the fat in our meals and snacks is just one of the ways we’re working to stay healthy. We’re growing some of our own food and purchasing much of our produce from local growers. We’re trying to get more exercise, and honestly, I think that this us currently our biggest challenge.

If anyone has any information about coconut oil, I would appreciate hearing it.

Thank you,

Cindy

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