If the craze for coconut oil has left you confused as to whether it’s healthy or not, you have company. Despite the hype, data doesn’t seem to support the idea that coconut oil consumption carries health benefits. Coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, and saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol levels and heart disease.” Having said that, if you are going to eat it anyway, at least eat it in moderation and get virgin coconut oil, rather than the highly processed stuff. Processing pretty much strips coconut oil of the “good essential fatty acids and antioxidants” that come with the cholesterol-raising bad ones
Alongside canola and olive oil on food-market shelves you may spot an array of newer oils and cooking fats. Sales of flavored and specialty oils, from foods such as avocados, coconuts, and walnuts, jumped at natural-food stores by more than 64 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the market-research firm Mintel. And once-unusual fats like ghee are now common at stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Some are said to have special health benefits. But do they?
Proponents claim coconut oil can spark weight loss, prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, and lower cholesterol. It’s a widely used topping for salads, vegetables, and popcorn, and it’s promoted as a healthful substitute for butter in baked goods.
Coconut oil. This oil is a controversial one. A solid at room temperature, coconut oil is a saturated fat — but not all saturated fats are created equal. “This isn’t the same as the saturated fat found in red meat that clogs your arteries,” says Warren. Coconut oil has a high amount of medium-chain fatty acids, which are harder for the body to convert into stored fat, she adds. However, the AHA advises those with high cholesterol to avoid coconut oil. “It would be difficult to get your LDL cholesterol into healthy ranges eating a lot of coconut oil,” agrees Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
Also known as copra oil, this oil is extracted from the meat of matured coconuts. The jury is still out on just how healthy it is (it’s very high in saturated fats at more than 90 per cent) but one thing is clear – stay away from hydrogenated coconut oil, which undergoes a process of extreme heat and pressure and the introduction of hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst (usually a metal) to make the oil more stable and last longer. The process makes the oil more viscous, as it will your blood, making your heart work harder. Virgin or extra virgin coconut oil, on the other hand, is a popular vegan replacement for butter in cooking.
Best use? Its natural sweetness makes it ideal for baking and certain sauteed dishes. A low smoke point (about 175 degrees) makes it not great for high-temperature cooking, such as deep-frying.
Nutritionist’s tip? It’s a good source of lauric acid, which has been shown to increase HDL or “good” cholesterol levels but there are plenty of kilojoules, so adjust your intake accordingly.
The lowdown. More than 90 percent of its fat is saturated. (Butter is just more than 60 percent saturated fat.) “Saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels, which has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., Consumer Reports’ food-testing manager. Small studies suggest that coconut oil’s fats may be less unhealthy than other saturated fats, but that’s uncertain. Swapping it for butter, canola, or olive oil won’t benefit health. But a small amount on sautéed vegetables probably won’t hurt.
Coconut oil: why it’s so good for you and 5 dessert recipes for you to try it
16 JULY 2015
If you’re seeing coconut everywhere at the moment, you’re not the only one. Coconut oil has fast become a staple item in the kitchen for sweet and savoury cooking. It has even made its way into the bathroom as a key beauty product ideal as a moisturiser, hair balm and due to its anti-bacterial qualities, mouthwash.
Actress Jennifer Aniston and model Suki Waterhouse are big fans, the new generation of healthy food bloggers can’t stop talking about it and healthy recipes featuring the on-trend ingredient are all over social media and in many of the latest cookbooks.
What’s making everyone cook with coconut oil? It has been linked to cholesterol level maintenance, weight loss, boosted immune system, proper digestion and regulated metabolism. It’s one of the richest sources of saturated fat you can find, with around 90% of calories as saturated fat. But more importantly, it’s the unique composition of fatty acids that makes it so attractive to those after a healthy living.
These carrot cupcakes are made with coconut oil
It consists almost entirely of medium chain triglycerides, which are fatty acids of a medium length that are metabolised differently to long-chain fatty acids.
These MCTs go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick energy source or turned into so-called ketone bodies, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
Not only is it great for our health but coconut oil is also versatile and delicious
The high amount of saturated fat in coconut oil makes it highly resistant to oxidation at high heats, making it the perfect oil for high-heat cooking methods like frying.
Using it in baking and as an ingredient in sweets like cakes, mousse, snacks and tarts keeps them healthy without losing taste.
Many developing nations share common ground in their very high consumption of certain saturated fats. These saturated fats are found in the coconut and coconut oil they consume. Where western nations display a correlation between the consumption of non-coconut oil saturated fats and ill health, evidence demonstrates that people in the developing world – the South Pacific in particular – could connect their good health with the amount of coconut they consume.
Shore Coconut Oil helps UK residents access the health benefits that come from coconut oil by making a few simple changes to their lifestyle. Coconut oil can replace their traditional cooking oil of choice, providing a natural, non-synthetic base for dishes. Shore Coconut Oil also contributes to a healthy lifestyle from both the inside and the outside – whether through use as a cooking oil, skincare or rejuvenating hair care.
“It’s true that coconut oil is high in saturated fat – but that doesn’t make it an unhealthy oil. It’s different from butter because it contains medium-chain fatty acids. These are the ‘good’ fats – the natural fatty acids that our bodies need to function. Created amid the stunning backdrop of sun, sea and sand, coconut oil is one of the very few dietary sources of medium-chain fats. That’s what makes coconut oil unbeatable in terms of health benefits” says Tim Langford, Director, Shore, a coconut oil business based in the UK, using only virgin-pressed coconut oil from Sri Lanka.
Coconut oils have gained popularity in the past few years, and as a dietitian, I decided to check out the research to see if the oils were worth the hype or not.
Coconut oils are very high in saturated fat, which is why most people (including me) would assume they are not good for you.
Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meaty part of the coconut and can be extracted in several different ways, resulting in a variety of forms of coconut oils on the market.
While coconut oils are a saturated fat, they are about 60 percent medium chain triglycerides, which are absorbed differently than your standard saturated fat. Medium chain triglycerides are easily digested by the body. They are in most baby formulas because of the ease of digestibility and are used as a valuable energy source for patients with malabsorptive issues.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, researchers found virgin coconut oil was associated with lowered bad cholesterol levels, higher good cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels when substituted for other fats, according to the Science Direct website.
The common theme in all of the studies I researched was the type of coconut oil used. This seems to be the key. Some forms of coconut oil preserve the integrity of the oil and others seem to destroy its beneficial properties. The two main methods of extraction for coconut oil are wet and dry.
The dry method is the most common. The coconut meat, or copra, is dried, ground and steamed. Then, the oil is extracted by being pressed with large stone wedges. The oil is then refined, bleached and deodorized for a less fragrant end product. This type of oil will state “refined and bleached” on the label. This is a cheap way to produce products that are shelf stable, according to “Trends in Food and Science Technology.”
The wet method obtains coconut oil from the coconut milk without using heat or refining. This eliminates any heat, solvents, or bleaches, which are all practices that break down many of the properties that provide the suggested natural health benefits. Virgin or extra virgin coconut oils use this method, according to Trends in Food and Science Technology.
Finally, both organic and non-organic coconut oils are available. Organic means the coconut tree was grown without using any pesticides. Non-organic is not on the label. If the product is not labeled organic, one would assume it was probably grown using pesticides.
According to the research, coconut oil does appear to be associated with several health benefits. The research has even gone a step further and tested the benefits based on production methods.
Virgin coconut oil seems to be the better choice for a heart/general healthy diet, however as always, remember the recommendation for fat intake per day is only about 20-35 percent of calories per day (about 44-77 grams of fat per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 117 calories and 14 grams of fat, so this can add up quickly.
You may try using 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil, while cooking, but don’t leave out those good heart healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc.
Balance is key.
Coconut oil may be praised for its countless creative uses, both in and out of the kitchen, but is it really healthier than any other oil?
Nope, not really.
Here’s what’s really behind the coconut oil craze
Coconut oil, not to be confused with coconut milk (made from coconut meat pulp) or coconut water (made from the liquid found inside a whole coconut), is made from the oils pressed from coconut meat, similar to olive oil and other plant-based oils.
Coconut oil has seen a recent surge in popularity, with prices increasing by 20% in April 2016 due to a rising remand. Paleo dieters practically take baths in the coconut grease and beauty trends like oil pulling have become more mainstream, but coconut oil isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. While coconut oil certainly has its seemingly endless practical uses, it’s important not to be blindsided by the actual nutritional data.
Like most oils, coconut oil is plentiful in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol — or low-density lipoprotein — and put you at higher risk for heart disease, each day. Any guess how much saturated fat a tablespoon of coconut oil has? That would be 12 grams. In comparison, a tablespoon of olive oil has about 2 grams of saturated fat and canola oil has 1 gram.
Calorie-wise, coconut oil at 116 calories per tablespoon ranks fairly equally with olive oil’s 119 calories and canola’s 124 calories. Even a tablespoon of unsaltedbutter has only 100 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat!
Is coconut oil even worth it?
The benefits of coconut oil for cooking
Coconut oil’s high smoke point can make it better for cooking foods at higher temperatures and the lauric acid in coconut oil is said to increase good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, in your bloodstream, but that still doesn’t make coconut oil the best of the oils.
“I’d use coconut oil sparingly,” Dr. Walter C. Willett wrote in a Harvard Health Letter updated in March 2016. He continued:
Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don’t really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don’t think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL. Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it “less bad” than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.
What’s really the best oil to use, then?
So what’s the healthiest oil? While limiting saturated fat should always be kept in mind, studies have shown virgin olive oil to have the most health benefits and fewest health setbacks of your edible oil options. Get ready for the olive oil craze to hit Instagram ASAP.
Emica Penklis, nutritionist and chocolatier behind Loco Love, knows how to turn our favourite treats into a healthy snack. Below she shares a recipe for healthy chocolate and peanut butter squares.
“These squares are sweetened with coconut nectar which is derived from the liquid sap of the coconut blossom, a low GI sweetener. It is also low in fructose, unlike agave which is almost 90 percent fructose. Coconut nectar provides slow release energy so it doesn’t spike your blood sugar like other sweeteners.”
“Coconut oil is a great substitute for other harmful vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats found in most processed sweets in a grocery store,” she says. The squares are also free of dairy, gluten and refined sugar, all of which Penklis says can be inflammatory for the body and are common allergens. “This particular treat does contain peanuts so be sure not to eat if you are sensitive to nuts.”
“The raw cacao powder is what I like to call beauty, brain and mood food. It’s the perfect anti-oxidant rich addition to your diet, great for energy, naturally boosting the mood and protecting the cells for oxidative stress,” Penklis says.
Lastly: “Celtic salt is a much better option than regular salt, as it provides an abundance of diverse minerals, and won’t distrust your electrolyte balance like refined sodium can. Celtic salt contains potassium, magnesium, calcium and many other trace minerals that have been removed from refined salt.”
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Squares
Makes 12-18 squares
1/2 cup Activated buckwheat
16 dried or 8 medjool dates
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon coconut nectar
1 tablespoon raw cacao
A pinch of celtic salt (or sea salt)
1 cup dried dates (soak in hot water for 5 mins and then drain)
1 cup fresh ground peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut nectar
A pinch of celtic salt (or sea salt)
1/4 cup cacao powder
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut nectar
1. Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan on a low heat. In food processor place the buckwheat, dates, cacao powder, salt and peanuts. Blend until well mixed.
2. Add coconut oil and coconut nectar and blend until combined into a dough-like texture. The mix will still be slightly coarse. Remove from processor and press into a dish or pan lined with coconut oil and baking paper (to prevent sticking).
3. The mix should be about 5mm thick and evenly pressed. You can use the back of a spoon to smooth the edges. Place in the freezer to set.
4. For the filling, place the peanut butter and soaked dates in the food processor until they combine to form a paste, then add the coconut nectar and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.
5. Remove the base from the freezer and press the chewy mixture evenly over the base. It can be 1cm to 2cm thick. Spread evenly with your hands and the back of a spoon. Place back in freezer and allow to set for at least 10 minutes.
6. Now for the filling: in a small bowl melt the coconut oil, add the coconut nectar and whisk. Be very careful not to get any water near this mix or it will separate. Add the cacao powder, mix until the topping is well combined and smooth.
7. Pour the mix on top of the other two layers. Smooth with a knife. Place in the freezer until hard and then cut with a hot knife into bite sized squares. Serve with a dusting of raw cacao powder straight from the fridge and enjoy.