You’d have to have been asleep (which I know in these dark, wintery months feels tempting) to have not seen how coconut oil is now everywhere! New brands are popping up on our UK shelves with a vengeance, with online stores and high street chains like Holland and Barratt and Planet Organic now also producing their own versions to add to the mix. What started off in specialist health foods stores is now readily available to the mass public via most supermarkets. But Is coconut oil good for you?
Back in the 80s, coconut oil was deemed to be disastrous for health – full of saturated fat that, it was claimed, would send our cholesterol through the roof, clogging up our arteries until they resembled rancid old drains. Did we get it wrong back then or is the resurgence of coconut oil for health just all marketing hype?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff. I’ve been using it in my cooking for years. It’s been instrumental in my healing but is it really going to cure alzheimers and help save our planet from obesity with it’s weight loss claims? I wanted to dig a little deeper…
Fat facts uncovered
All oils are a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The artery-clogging and therefore most damaging fatty acid is saturated fat. The fat in coconut oil is 92% saturated fat. BUT and I say this with a big but there are different kinds of saturated fat. Long chain and medium chain and these different forms have varying effects on LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.
The vast majority of the fats we eat are composed of long-chain triglycerides (LCT). Coconut oil is unique because it is made up of over 50% medium chains (MCT), which are shown to help speed up metabolism, protect from illness and help with digestion. Lets keep digging…
Easily digested and nourishing
Food scientists have spoken for years on the nutritional benefits of MCTs. MCTs from coconut oil are used in hospital formulas to feed young children, the seriously ill, and to help heal those with digestive problems. Its an important component in the solutions fed to patients intravenously because it’s easily absorbed and digested. Really important for those needing to recover from illness or injury. What’s more, MCTs are also found naturally in breast milk and have been added to baby formulas for years as an essential nutrient for growing babies. Even athletes are now using MCTs to improve performance. Unfortunately, not many foods these days contain MCTs. I believe coconut oil is one of the best sources.
I also think it’s important to note that MCTs are digested differently than other fats. Because the molecules in MCTs are smaller, they require less energy and enzymes to break them down for digestion, resulting in less strain on the digestive system. Vital for suffers of digestive conditions like IBS and Chrons, which are becoming increasingly common in the more stressful, chaotic world we tend to live in nowadays.
MCTs produce energy. Other dietary fats produce body fat.
MCTs act more like carbohydrates than fats in that they are absorbed directly from the intestines and go straight to the liver where they burned as fuel and converted to energy – making them less likely to be stored as body fat. Other dietary fats need pancreatic enzymes to break them down into smaller units taking longer to reach the liver and be utilised as energy and therefore more likely to increase body fat %.
Eating foods containing MCT is like putting Shell V-Power Nitro+ in your car! Your brum burns fuel more efficiently and improves its performance. Similarly, with MCTs in your body performs better because it has more energy. The fact MCTs digest almost immediately to produce energy and fire up metabolism means athletes everywhere are using coconut oil to enhance performance.
So it’s easy to see why athletes are using coconut oil as an essential part in their nutrition, but what about the rest of us normal folk? If consumed regularly MCTs can improve our energy levels too, boosting our performance in the gym and general everyday activities.
Thanks to it’s high lauric acid content, coconut oil supports the immune system with its antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic properties. Fabulous Candida fighter.
So is coconut oil really that good for you or is it just marketing hype?
In a (coco) nutshell (sorry bad pun but I couldn’t resist!) I encourage you all to incorporate it into your diet. It seems coconut oil provides many health benefits but like with anything, moderations is key. Be sensible with it, a few tablespoons in cooking is fine, start eating it neat out of the jar like almond butter and i’d maybe back off a bit! It is still a fat after all but remember we need fats in our diet, they’re essential. Check out my post on Why fat should not be feared to see why the bonkersness of the 80s wasn’t just restrained to its fashion codes!
Remember, not all coconut oil is the same. The organic raw extra virgin coconut oil we use in smoothies and cakes today is a far cry away from the partially-hydrogenated, highly-processed fat found in junk food back in the ‘Wham’ years. Make sure you get the organic extra virgin stuff!
My top 10 uses for coconut oil
In baking – Fabulous butter alternative and adds a mild sweetness to cakes. Try my Raw chocolate almond cake mini’s to road test it out.
Spread on toast – Paleo toast of course! A rich, sweeter alternative to butter. Feeling indulgent? Follow with a big dollop of almond butter. Ok so now i’m drooling!
In Smoothies – Gives a silky richness to smoothies to kickstart your morning.
On roasted veg – Amazing on roasted carrots and then dusted with coconut flour.
Stir fried vegetable noodles – Heat resistant to high temperatures, it’s simply the best oil for your courgetti noodles and carrot tagliatelle. Recipes coming soon.
In scrambled eggs – Sunday’s wouldn’t be the same without it.
Crisps – My weakness! It’s something about their salty crispness that makes my willpower crumble. Big brands are catching on with their recent release of sweet potato and vegetable crisps, but they’re not quite there yet with us cool folk who are on the lower starch paleo train. It’s only a matter of time but for now they’re super easy to make at home. Recipes for my Double Sesame Carrot Crisps and Sea Salt and Apple Cider Vinegar Kohlrabi Crisps are coming soon to satisfy your crisp cravings.
Anti-aging body moisturiser – It’s high fatty acid content makes coconut oil a great moisturiser. Thanks to it’s small molecular structure it’s super absorbent on the skin. Fab for stretch marks and safe to use during pregnancy. You don’t need expensive tummy rub oils when you have one of nature’s natural remedies on hand. My top tip is to take a tub into the steam room too and you’ll come out with skin like a babies!
Deep conditioning hair mask – Simply comb through dry hair, leave for 30 minutes and shampoo out. It deeply nourishes the follicles, helping to restore the hair’s structure and will leave your tresses silky smooth. Using it as a pre wash treatment also helps if you suffer with dandruff, giving moisture back to the scalp. Could this be the botox of the hair world?
Fight Candida – Thanks to it’s high lauric acid content, coconut oil supports the immune system with its antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic properties.
Whiten teeth and improve dental hygiene – Oil pulling is the latest craze to sweep the natural health and beauty world to better oral health and make your pearlies shine! Celebrity fans include Gwyneth Paltrow. The idea is that you swill melted coconut oil in your mouth on an empty stomach each day for 20 minutes and then spit it out. It’s an ancient ayurvedic practice said to lower levels of plaque, remove stains from teeth and freshen breath. A much more pleasant experience than a trip to the hygienist so i’ll be giving it a go and will report back soon!