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The hippest fat on the block… Coconut oil

coconut

It’s all the rage right now, and there are many tasty recipes that it has become a key ingredient in. Everything from smoothies to desserts, to an oil for sauteing eggs and veggies in. Coconut oil is at the forefront of the health food world. You have probably heard the health claims all over facebook these days about this tropical oil. But are the health claims proven at this point? The answer is… not just yet.

Now don’t get me wrong! I love me some coconut oil. I use it at home myself. I will NEVER forget my first coconut oil cookie in whole foods cooking in grad school. They were our teacher’s lemon raspberry thumbprint cookies. Our lab group was instructed to make these cookies with coconut oil instead of butter. Holy DELICIOUSNESS! All of sudden you have this aromatic tropical flavor on your tongue which complimented the fruit and the sweetness of the cookie wonderfully! It was love at first bite. We also learned in that class how coconut oil is a very handy oil to have on hand to season your cast iron cook ware. Since it is solid at room temperature you can put your cast iron cook ware away with less oily residue then when you might have used a liquid at room temp oil. They have found some anti microbial and anti fungal compounds in coconut oil which is another reason I like using it to season my cast iron cookware. I began experimenting with coconut oil at home and I found that I especially LOVE it when I am cooking an asian style dish. The flavor it provides your stir fries for example always brings my memory to one of my favorite thai restaurants in the whole world…yummy.

The health claims regarding coconut oil are many. There are claims that it helps people loose weight, improves cholesterol and heart disease, and cures alzheimer’s. While some individual cases claim these results with coconut oil, the evidence from research in humans is lacking. One reason that kept people away from coconut oil for many years was that it is a VERY saturated fat. 92% saturated. Butter is 63% saturated, and olive oil is only 15% saturated. Remember please from Tuesday’s blog that saturated fat can turn into cholesterol.

What else makes coconut oil unique? Well unlike other oils it contains a high amount of medium chain fatty acids or MCFAs. More than half of coconut oil fatty acids are MCFAs.Why does this matter? Well MCFAs are actually metabolized differently. To make a long story short, instead of hanging out in the blood circulating all around the body before they go to get metabolized (like long chain fatty acids), they go straight to the liver (in most cases) and get broken down quickly. Long chain fatty acids (LCFAs) on the other hand are the ones that circulate around a bit before metabolism, which makes them more likely to be deposited into fat tissues. So that is the theory behind coconut oil helping people loose weight. However there are no studies YET at least that show this to be the truth. Not that I know of anyways.

There has been a little more evidence to support the use of Medium Chain Triglyceride oil  or  MCT oil. Please note that I said a LITTLE more evidence which is still not much.This is a specially formulated oil that often times extracts the MCTs out of coconut oil to produce a 100% MCFA oil.

So how do we now eat coconut oil in a healthy portioned manner? Until we have more evidence showing it to be safe for everyone all the time, I would recommend treating it like butter or any other saturated fat. Enjoy it! Have it in the house and cook with it on the occasion. Just not at every meal please. Try it in cookies sometime! I would recommend the “cold pressed” or “virgin” coconut oils since they are less processed. The highly processed conventional coconut oils are processed using high heat and chemicals to refine it. That likely will result in an oxidated oil product which will likely make your cell membranes angry! Please do not make your cell membranes angry! They want you to be healthy.

I hope this was helpful, and have a healthy Wednesday!!