Sometimes the world of nutrition seems to be one trend after another, some good, some not so good, but all get a lot of attention and are tried by many. There was the low-carb Atkins phase, then everything became low-fat and sugar-free. Right now gluten-free is big, and we see food companies all over the place coming up with gluten-free breads, crackers and cookies.
Another big “trend” right now is coconuts. Not just real coconuts, but also coconut milk, coconut water, coconut oil, and coconut-flavored bars and cookies. Some of you may be wondering if this is just another agave-type craze: we all buy into the health benefits of coconut, only to realize a year later that it’s not as great as we were once led to believe (read more about agave here).
I have done a lot of research on coconut and I believe it really is a powerful food, particularly the coconut oil. Per tablespoon, coconut oil has 125 calories and 14 grams of fat, most of it saturated. Nothing else – no carbs, no protein, no fiber, no cholesterol, no sodium. Many of you are probably cringing right now at the fact that it’s full of saturated fat. Would you be even more shocked if I told you that coconut oil is often used (successfully) in weight loss?
The fats in coconut oil are mainly medium-chain fatty acids, which are digested, go into the liver, and are immediately available for our body to use as energy. Therefore, they are used up rather than being stored as body fat. The types of fats that can be stored as fat more easily include long-chain fatty acids as well as trans fats or hydrogenated fats. Coconut oil is much like olive oil in that quality is very important for maximum health benefits. Low quality coconut oil = refined fats, which means you lose the weight loss benefits. If you buy high quality coconut oil, it will be unrefined and free from bleach or deodorizers. Look for words like “virgin,” “organic,” and “cold-pressed” when deciding which coconut oil to buy. The oil should be a solid at temperatures below 75 degrees F. It does not need to be refrigerated.
So what makes coconut oil so great?
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which works wonders inside the body. Lauric acid helps rid our digestive tract of bad bacteria, yeast, viruses and fungi. It is the same type of fat found in breast milk that protects the baby from getting sick while they are so young. The oil is anti-microbial (similar to the raw honey) and makes our immune systems stronger. Anyone with digestive tract issues or discomfort, such as cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, may benefit from a few tablespoons of coconut oil throughout each day. It will help to restore the beneficial intestinal flora and rid your body of toxins and bad bacteria. When you first start using coconut oil, you may experience some diarrhea as the coconut oil detoxifies your intestines. The fats in coconut oil also increase your absorption of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Replacing your refined vegetable oils with coconut oil promotes weight loss for a few different reasons. Coconut oil, because of its fat makeup, has fewer calories per gram of fat. The fats are treated like carbohydrates (because they are medium-chain) and used as energy rather than being stored, like the refined, hydrogenated or trans-fats of other oils. Coconut oil increases your metabolism, allowing you to burn calories more quickly. Also, since coconut oil cleans up your digestive tract and improves digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, your body becomes more balanced. This balance will lead to more optimal function of all of your organs and systems, which allows for weight loss.
An additional benefit of coconut oil is that it’s a very stable oil, so it can be used for cooking or baking without worrying about altering the fats such that they lose their health benefits. I use coconut oil for almost all of our cooking and I’ve used it in baking as well. And, it doesn’t make our meat and veggies taste like coconut. I know someone who doesn’t like the taste of coconut but has cooked with it and claimed he couldn’t even tell the difference between coconut oil and olive oil.
Other great uses for coconut oil: used as a butter substitute in baking; spread on toast, baked potatoes or vegetables; mixed into smoothies; rubbed over cuts to prevent infection; or even rubbed onto your skin to relieve dry skin! Coconut oil can help with dry or aging skin – it’s fats help refresh the skin and it’s 100% natural so you don’t have to worry about toxins (I think coconut oil would rate very well on the Skin Deep website I talked about yesterday). It has also been used successfully to treat skin problems like psoriasis and eczema. Another great use is a hair conditioner – it can make your dandruff disappear in a heartbeat, or just use it as a natural conditioner if your hair is looking dry or brittle.
Have I convinced you yet that this should be a staple in your kitchen (or, bathroom)? I love using coconut oil and have experienced some of its benefits firsthand. One thing I will say is to be careful of what you find in the stores. Since it is such a big food right now, there are coconut oils popping up that are refined, not 100% natural, and not organic. I buy ours online, either from Amazon (South Pacific Trading Company brand) or from Wilderness Family Naturals, which is a brand my teacher recommended and allows you to buy in bulk to save some money.
Coconut waters, milk and other products are another topic for another day… maybe tomorrow?