Great healthy food begins with great ingredients. While my fridge and fruit bowl are chock full of delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables there are some staple dry ingredients that I always have on hand to help me prepare fresh, organic seasonally based meals. Each week I’ll be telling you about one amazing, incredible ingredient I keep in my cupboards. This week the spotlight is on my most favorite of all: coconut oil.
I am in love with coconut oil. Head over heels. I use it for all my cooking and baking and put it into my raw desserts, smoothies and homemade ice cream. I also use it as my primary skin/hair care product and find it to be excellent as a lotion, moisturizer and hair conditioner. Being someone who is in a pool almost daily I can 1000% attest to its ability to keep my hair and skin feeling soft and healthy.
Because it is a fat, and we are an overly fat conscious society, clients often hesitate when I tell them to start eating coconut oil. Here is my response: FAT IS NOT BAD FOR YOU. Fats are an essential part of our diets and as a Nutritionist I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we include a good balance of quality fats (coconut, flax, olive, avocados, nuts & seeds) in our diet. I’m not promoting excessive fat consumption – but a moderate amount of good quality fat plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function.
Coconut oil is an edible oil that has been consumed in tropical places for thousands of years. Studies done on native diets high in coconut consumption show that these populations are generally in good health, and don’t suffer as much from many of the modern diseases of western nations. While it contains saturated fats research is finding that we need to take into account the size of the carbon chain in the fatty acid. Most of the oils and fats we consume are long-chain fatty acids. Coconut oil is the richest source of medium-chain fatty acids, which actually behave very differently from the long-chain versions and can boost the body’s metabolic rate and promote weight loss. They are broken down immediately in the liver to produce energy and are not stored as fat.
Coconut oil was once prevalent in western countries like the United States as well. With a long shelf life and a melting point of 76 degrees, it was a favorite in the baking industry. But negative government and big food industry campaigns against saturated fats in general, and the tropical oils in particular, led to most food manufacturers abandoning coconut oil in recent years in favor of hydrogenated polyunsaturated oils that come from the main cash crops in the US, particularly soy, and contain trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are toxic to the body so start reading the labels on everything you buy and pull these out of your diet.
Organic, extra virgin coconut oil that is unprocessed is an amazing nutritious food. It is very heat stable and will retain its nutritional value at high temperatures. While I believe a diet containing a variety of balanced fat sources is optimal, I lean towards using coconut oil for cooking and baking because it is so heat stable. My opinion is to leave the olive and flax oil for food that has already been cooked as these oils are less stable and will grant you with their optimal nutritional value if not heated. They are both great for salad dressings and lightly drizzled over veggies, grains, pastas, etc. ( Olive oil can be left out and used at room temperature but make sure you keep your flax oil in the fridge as it can turn rancid quickly in warm temps.)
Health Benefits & Uses
The list of health benefits derived from the consumption of coconut oil is endless. Coconut oil can actually help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, aids in weight loss, increases the strength of your immune system, helps fight autoimmune diseases and aids digestion and metabolism. It is also an excellent source of energy. All of this is due to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid in the oil which hold antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Coconut oil is amazing for aiding in conditions such as Candida, viruses, worms and parasites and can help greatly in the treatment of digestive issues.
Cooking & Baking
As I said above I love coconut oil for cooking and baking and find that it provides excellent moisture in my baked goods – which helps a lot for all the wheat/gluten-free baking I do. When substituting coconut oil in my baking I use slightly less than the recipe calls for. When cooking or heating up foods on the stove top I use a well-rounded teaspoon for a pan of food. Some people can taste it a bit in their food but I find it to be subtle (brand makes a difference) and like the way it compliments the flavor of my meals. If you are someone who occasionally fries foods, this is a good fat to use for doing so as well.
Desserts and Smoothies
You can eat coconut oil by the spoonful but even I, who can handle pretty much anything, have a hard time with that. When I want to eat raw coconut oil I add to my smoothies or shakes or use it in desserts. It’s delicious blended with fresh fruit and maca or I just throw a little into my protein shake in the morning. And it is absolutely amazing as a base for chocolate desserts (here’s a link for a great raw chocolate mousse cake – http://evolvingwellness.com/posts/1068/vegetarian-recipe-raw-chocolate-mousse-cake/).
I’m obsessed with popcorn (GMO free corn of course!) and have to say that the marriage I have created between coconut oil and my popcorn obsession has been a very happy one thus far. To use it this way just put a rounded tablespoon in a pot and wait for it to melt. Then add a little salt (I only use pink sea salt) and cover the bottom of the pot with a layer of kernels. Don’t put the lid on tight – leave some room for the air to come out. Keep the burner on a medium temperature so as not to burn it. Turn it off and remove from heat as soon as you hear a second or two between pops.
To use it as a skin/hair care product I just stick some in a jar and use it after I shower or bathe. A small amount goes a long way. I mix it with a little pure aloe vera gel and use that a facial moisturizer. I vary the balance of the two depending on the time of year and condition of my skin and find that I am never oily or dry. I also put a moderate amount in my hair before and after I swim and once a week I’ll sleep with it in my hair to keep it extra soft and shiny.
Coconut oil has a long shelf life (up to 1 year). You don’t need to store it in the fridge unless you want to – a cool shelf or cupboard is fine. Although it comes in a solid form, in warm weather it will turn to liquid.
Where to Buy
You can buy Coconut Oil at any health food store or in stores like Whole Foods. Because I use so much I purchase my oil by the gallon through a company called Nutiva (www.nutiva.com). I have been using their oil and following their company for a few years now and feel great about their products. You can also get excellent prices on Nutiva Products through iHerb (www.iherb.com)or other online supplement shops. Other good brands are Omega Nutrition and Garden of Life.
Recipes and Links
Find excellent recipes and more great info on coconut oil at the following sites:
http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/ (great list of health benefits!)