You may have noticed that a short while ago a certain product was reported to be unhealthy for humans, and then a few years later new research proves that in fact the product offers health benefits. Chocolate was ‘bad’ for you and now it is a good source of antioxidants, so long as you avoid products high in sugar. Sometimes, the change in posture reflects real scientific discovery, and sometimes it is simply the result of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Over the last decade or two, not too many products have experienced the degree of change in public support that coconut oil has.
Coconut oil was listed as a dangerous high saturated fat at a time when the food industry was attempting to convince the world that margarine was a healthier alternative to butter. To be clear, the oil from the coconut that is partially hydrogenated may contain high levels of trans fats that are known to be harmful to human health. Similarly, highly refined oil may be created because of potentially harmful chemical applications to extract the oil from the coconut flesh. The magic, however, lies in the unrefined or virgin coconut oil that is extracted via cold press or other techniques without the use of chemicals or high temperatures that damage the oils.
Virgin coconut oil contains high levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) rather than long chain fatty acids common in other plant oils. MCTs are not easily absorbed and stored as fat on our bodies. Medium chain fatty acids differ from long chain fatty acids in one crucial area; they do not contribute to high cholesterol levels or heart disease. In fact, MCTs may help to lower the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Most long-chain fatty acids, including the soy-based oil that is popular in many processed foods, contribute to lowering good cholesterol (HDL) and raising bad cholesterol (LDL).
The inability of our bodies to absorb MCTs makes the oil a good choice for supporting weight loss and improving body mass by losing more fat than muscle tissue. MCTs also help to improve glucose tolerance, which helps to balance insulin action and reduces the risk of type II diabetes. Coconut oil also tends to supply a slightly lower number of calories per ounce than most other oils. Virgin oil is rich in polyphenol and tocopherol antioxidants, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress on body tissue in laboratory animals.
When shopping for coconut oil, look for unrefined or extra virgin oils. Avoid partially hydrogenated oils for cooking and make sure you look carefully at the labels of packaged foods for products containing these harmful oils. The oil can be a great substitute for butter or other oils used in cooking. The taste of some foods will be enhanced with the sweet flavor of coconut and may take a little getting used to. Stews, curries, salads and baked cookies will all benefit from the addition of the oil. Have fun with it as you discover the magic from the coconut.