Coconut Oil: the healthy and ecological saturated fat

A sustainable and renewable resource, coconut trees are abundant in the tropics and while not a local food source to most of mainland North America, it is a renewable one with coconut trees growing abundantly in tropical regions.  Polynesian women have been using coconut oil for thousands of years as an external beauty product and an internal medicine.

Saturated fats are essential to living a long, healthy life.  According to Teya Skae, author and founder of Empowered Living www.empowered-living.com.au,“saturated fatty acids are what gives our cells structural integrity, so the cell walls are not weak and can protect the inside of the cells.  Saturated fatty acids are needed for the proper utilization of omega-3 essential fatty acids because omega-3’s are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.”

In the modern American diet however, saturated fats most commonly come from animal sources-cream, eggs, meat, cheese, butter and poultry.  Unfortunately, the ecological implications of a diet heavily reliant upon animals is not only bleak for our individual health, but incredibly draining on the planet.  Kerrie K. Saunders author of The Vegan Diet: as Chronic Disease Prevention, writes, “raising animals for food is by far the greatest consumer and polluter, of fresh water on the planet, draining off 60% of our continent’s entire fresh water supply.”  Now more than ever our dietary choices have huge sociological and ecological implications, and as the toxins in our external environment increase, we must protect our bodies with the foods we internalize.

Dr. Ryan Shelton of Whole Body Health in Overland Park, Kansas is a proponent of coconut oil for the following reasons:  “It is functional food,” he states.  “That is, it is a food that can have powerful medicinal properties if used appropriately.  The complex mixture of lipids (fats) found in coconut oil have proven health benefits.  They can serve to increase metabolism and thus assist with energy and weight loss.  They can decrease Lipoprotein (a), which is important for cardiovascular disease.  They can help protect the liver against damage from alcohol, drugs, and other environmental toxins.”  He adds, “One lipid in particular has potent anti-viral properties, making it important for strengthening our immune system against viruses.  The mixture of saturated fats in coconut milk is difficult to oxidize under normal circumstances, making it an ideal fat with which to cook.”

Using even the healthiest of organic vegetable oils, including olive oil, in baking and frying creates free radicals because all vegetable oils oxidize, especially when used in cooking.  Organic virgin coconut oil does not oxidize even at 170 degrees celsius.  In addition, nearly 50% of the fatty acid in natural coconut oil is lauric acid, which converts to the fatty acid monolaurin in the body.  Lauric acid has adverse effects on a variety of microorganisms including bacteria, yeast, fungi, and enveloped viruses. It destroys the lipid membrane of such enveloped viruses as HIV, measles, Herpes simplex virus, influenza and cytomegalovirus.  Coconut oil also contains caprylic acid and capric acid, both natural anti-fungals known to fight yeast overgrowth.

When purchasing coconut oil, be sure to buy only virgin organic oil.  Avoid refined oil as it is sometimes hydrogenated.  High heat is used in the refining process which destroys many essential nutrients of the coconut.

Sidebar:

Here are just a few ways you can add coconut oil to your diet:

1.  Coconut milk is a great base for smoothies.  Blend one banana, 1 cup coconut milk, and one cup orange juice.  Substitute the banana for ½ cup fresh pineapple for a different taste, or simply blend 1 can coconut milk with a half can of water, and two tablespoons honey for a refreshing afternoon drink.

2.  Whenever you stir fry, use coconut oil for a tropical, healthy flavor.

3.  As a substitute for butter have multi-grain toast in the morning with coconut oil (which melts nicely on the warm bread) and organic blueberry jam.  In addition, substitute coconut oil in pancake batter, cookies, muffins, and cakes.  Try adding coconut oil to your popcorn instead of butter.

4.  In salad dressing, you may want to try using equal parts coconut oil and olive oil.  Then add other ingredients.  A simply nutritious combo includes: ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ½ cup coconut oil, ½ cup olive oil, sea salt and fresh herbs to taste.  (These may include garlic, thyme, herbs de province, oregano, etc.)

5.  Add it to tea and coffee.  This is a great substitute for milk or cream.  You can also try adding a teaspoon or two to warm cider or hot chocolate.

6.  For a creative dipping oil, mix 3 ½ tbsp. coconut oil, 2 tbsp diced onion, 1 tbsp diced garlic, ½ tsp. basil, ½ tsp oregano, ¼ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper.  Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the mixture begins to simmer.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Use this as a dip for bread, a topping for pasta or veggies, or as a salad dressing.

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This article was previously published in “E/Environmental Magazine.”

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