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Is Coconut Oil a Secret Superfood?

Orange Icon  Is Coconut Oil a Secret Superfood?

Orange Icon  Is Coconut Oil a Secret Superfood?

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A note from Isabel: I invited Kareen Turner to guest-write an article for Beyond Diet readers. Kareen has a master's degree in Public Health and is a registered dietitian. Here's what Kareen had to say about the benefits of coconut oil.

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar on healthy living. A registered dietitian (RD) was presenting, and, during the Q&A, another attendee asked about the safe consumption of coconut oil. The RD gave a huge sigh and said that was the one question she was hoping not to get.

Being an RD myself, I could understand how she felt. After all, what was once a strong body of evidence indicating coconut oil as a health risk is now being questioned. Her response to the attendee was expected: "Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and should not be consumed." What I didn't expect was her dismissal of the budding research.

Coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated fat. Research has consistently shown the link between saturated fat and heart disease. So then it must be bad, right?

Well let's talk about that here.

Not all saturated fat is equal, and they each work differently in our bodies. Coconut oil is primarily made of lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid. In our bodies, lauric acid increases our high density lipoprotin (HDL), or good cholesterol, AND our low density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, but in equal ratios. So any negative effects appear to be a wash.

Looking at the original research, coconut oil did lead to increased LDL cholesterol levels. The point of issue, however, is the type of oil involved. Most of the studies used partially hydrogenated coconut oil and not pure extra virgin. Not only does the chemical process of hydrogentation add trans fat to coconut oil but it also destroys its antioxidant properties and essential fatty acids leaving a final product that is a distant relative to the original and truly harmful to our health. Even in small amounts, trans fat is known to raise LDL cholesterol, which is why the American Heart Association recommends as little as 1% of total daily calories come from trans fat.

If you are unsure about incorporating coconut oil into your diet, consider that coconut and its byproducts have been staples on tropical islands for years, and yet obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have not ravaged those countries as they have the United States. If coconut oil is as bad for us as we have been told, these countries would be suffering the same high disease rates as the U.S., and they're NOT. Hmm...something to consider.

Here are 3 easy ways you can incorporate coconut oil into your diet for a health boost:

  1. Switch from olive oil to coconut oil when sauteing your vegetables. The fat in coconut oil is more suitable for cooking, as the fats can withstand higher heat without becoming damaged. The benefits of olive oil are maximized when consumed raw and unheated.
  2. Add coconut oil into water when cooking brown rice, millet, or quinoa. Try one tablespoon per two cups of cooking water.
  3. Flavor your organic coffee or tea with coconut oil for a delicious treat. Start with one half-teaspoon per eight ounces of coffee or tea and increase based on your desired results.

For more coconut oil recipe ideas, be sure to visit the Recipes section on Beyond Diet.