Coconut Oil: A Healthy Saturated Fat

When it comes to diet and health, sometimes it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Beliefs about what foods are “good” and what ones are “bad” are deeply ingrained. Take saturated fats. There is a widespread belief that saturated fats such as found in whole milk, butter, red meat and tropical oils, are unhealthy. Yet if saturated fats are so bad why is it that in the last 100 years while consumption of saturated fats has steeply declined, both obesity and heart disease have skyrocketed?

It turns out that the vilification of saturated fats may be a case of mistaken identity. Today, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that polyunsaturated vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats are way more harmful than saturated fats. Research suggesting fats are harmful fail to differentiate between naturally saturated fats and these highly refined and/or chemically altered fake fats.

Today, saturated fats are enjoying something of a comeback. If you are a regular reader of this column, you have heard me extol the virtues of butter, especially organic butter from pastured animals. Another saturated fat that is gaining attention for its health promoting properties is coconut oil.

Coconut oil was branded back in the 1990’s as a diabolical “hidden” ingredient in movie popcorn. However, its accusers didn’t do their homework. They assumed that because it was saturated it had to be bad, despite coconut oil’s long history of use by people who enjoy low rates of heart disease and exceptionally good health.

Coconut oil has been called the “queen” of saturated fats. One of its unique properties is that it has abundant medium chain fatty acids. Medium chain fatty acids are easier to digest than longer chain fatty acids, so they are easier for your body to deal with, especially if you have digestive problems. Not only that, but medium chain fatty acids use up energy when they are metabolized, which means they promote weight-loss because they burn more calories than they provide!

One of the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid is an immune booster. It is an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent that is found in significant quantities in mother’s milk. Coconuts are nature’s richest source of lauric acid.

Today, increasing numbers of health conscious people are using coconut oil both for its health promoting properties and its versatility for cooking and baking. It has even become the basis for some diet programs, including one described in an excellent book called Eat Fat Lose Fat co authored by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig.

When choosing a coconut oil, it is important to avoid products that are overly processed and extracted with chemical solvents. Look for coconut oil that is mechanically pressed or centrifuged rather than chemically extracted.

Coconut oil works great in baking, and can be substituted for unhealthy, partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening in any recipe that calls for it. Here is a basic banana bread recipe.

Coconut Banana Bread

½ cup coconut oil
1 cup granulated sweetener of your choice
2 cups unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ cups mashed bananas
½ cup grated coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour a loaf pan. Combine coconut oil and sweetener in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients except coconut until thoroughly combined. Alternate adding dry ingredients and mashed banana to the oil mixture. Fold in the grated coconut. Pour into the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Recipe from Coconut Oil for Health and Beauty by Cynthia and Laura Holzapfel