What comes to mind when you think of coconut oil? Tropical breezes or maybe soothing skin lotion products? For many people, the thought of tropical oils in food products brings to mind ultra rich, fat laden, forbidden desserts, but is coconut oil really as "bad" for us as so many people think? For a generation now, coconut oil has maintained a negative reputation as an unhealthy, artery clogging source of saturated fat and, as a result, this perception has caused many people in Western cultures to miss the boat on one of nature's most powerful, natural super foods. A well-known study in the 1960's led health experts of that era to categorize coconut oil as "unhealthy."
Subsequent media reports furthered the negative reputation and reported on the studies of how tropical oils, (including coconut oil) were full of artery-clogging, heart damaging satrated fat, however, all this attention overlooked one key issue of the study– the fact that the oil used in the study was not the extra virgin variety used for years and years by people groups in the tropics but hydrogenated coconut oil, which produces a dramatically different nutritional makeup.
In the years and advances following this study, nutritionists now realize that the process of hydrogenation, which includes artificially adding a hydrogen molecules to oil in order to give it a long shelf-life potential, is the culprit, rather than the actual coconut oil. Hydrogenated oils, including canola, corn, and soy contain the "bad" trans-fats and are processed with toxic hexane solvents that are regularly added to mass-produced, packaged food products. The hydrogenation process increased the financial bottom line for food companies while contributing to the slow decline in the general health of westerners, and is linked with trans-fats and associated heart disease that so many physicians and health professionals warn us about.
Fortunately for us, realizing the context of that old study, we now understand that extra virgin coconut oil is very rich in medium-chain fats, also known as "good fats" that doctors recommend, and is perfect to use as a healthy cooking oil that gives us a nutritious and flavorful advantage as an ideal substitute for butter. Nearly 50% of coconut oil is comprised of one of the "good fats" called lauric acid, a rare medium-chain fatty acid found in mother's milk. Lauric acid is now being shown to have anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties that has researchers believing that, in the future, will become as highly regarded in health circles as Omega-3 is today.
The many uses of coconut, including its oil extract, extend beyond the kitchen to include use for skin care, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, losing weight, enhancing the immune system, maintaining a healthy heart, assisting proper digestion and robust metabolism, maintaining healthy blood pressure, diabetes and cancer prevention, contributing to healthy teeth, hair, and bone strength. These benefits can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties.
For centuries, residents of tropical climates, where native coconut palms are known as "the tree of life", have realized this and have relied upon the coconut for it's versatile benefits, which many attribute to their overall good health. So, how about you? Why not include coconut oil in recipes for use as a healthy alternative to butter the next time you are in the kitchen and give it the opportunity it describes by allowing it to enhance your health?