Cooking with Coconut Oil The Saturated Fat That's Good for You (Really!)

While coconut trees might not grow in your neighborhood, they do so in abundance in tropical regions. And coconut oil, packed full of good saturated fats, has been used for thousands of years as an external beauty product and an internal medicine.

Saturated fats are essential to living a long, healthy life. According to Teya Skae, author and founder of Empowered Living health and life coaching, “Saturated fatty acids give our cells structural integrity [and they] are needed for the proper utilization of omega-3 essential fatty acids, because omega-3s are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.”   In the modern American diet, however, saturated fats most commonly come from animal sources—cream, eggs, meat, cheese, butter and poultry. Unfortunately, the ecological implications of a diet heavily reliant upon animals is not only bleak for our individual health, but also incredibly draining on the planet. Kerrie K. Saunders, author of The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention: Evidence Supporting the Four New Food Groups (Lantern Books), writes, “Raising animals for food is by far the greatest consumer and polluter of fresh water on the planet, draining off 60% of our continent’s entire fresh water supply.”  Now more than ever our dietary choices have huge sociological and ecological implications, and as the toxins in our external environment increase, we must protect our bodies with the foods we eat.

The Functional Food

Dr. Ryan Shelton of Whole Body Health medical clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, is a proponent of coconut oil for the following reasons: “It is a functional food,” he says. “That is, it is a food that can have powerful medicinal properties if used appropriately. The complex mixture of lipids (fats) found in coconut oil have proven health benefits.  They can serve to increase metabolism and thus assist with energy and weight loss. They can decrease Lipoprotein(a), which is important for cardiovascular disease. They can help protect the liver against damage from alcohol, drugs and other environmental toxins.”

Using even the healthiest organic vegetable oils (including olive oil) in baking and frying creates cell-damaging free radicals because all vegetable oils oxidize, or combine with oxygen, especially when heated. Organic virgin coconut oil resists oxidation, even at high temperatures.

coconut oil

Says Dr. Shelton: “The mixture of saturated fats in coconut milk is difficult to oxidize under normal circumstances, making it an ideal fat with which to cook.”

In addition, nearly 50% of the fatty acid in natural coconut oil is lauric acid, which converts to the fatty acid monolaurin in the body. Lauric acid has adverse effects on a variety of microorganisms including bacteria, yeast, fungi and certain highly-resistant viruses. It destroys the lipid membrane of en-veloped viruses like HIV, measles, herpes simplex virus and influenza. Coconut oil also contains caprylic acid and capric acid, both natural antifungals known to fight yeast overgrowth.

When purchasing coconut oil, be sure to buy only virgin organic oil. Avoid refined oil, as it is sometimes hydrogenated, meaning that high heat has been used in the refining process, destroying many essential nutrients.

Here are just a few ways you can add coconut oil to your diet:

  1. Coconut milk is a great base for smoothies. Blend one banana, one cup coconut milk and one cup orange juice. Substitute the banana for 1⁄2 cup fresh pineapple for a different taste, or simply blend one can coconut milk with a half can of water and 2 tbsp. honey for a refreshing afternoon drink.

2. Whenever you stir-fry, use coconut oil for a tropical, healthy flavor.

3. As a substitute for butter, have multigrain toast in the morning with coconut oil which melts nicely on the warm bread) and organic jam.

4. In salad dressing, you may want to try using equal parts coconut oil and olive oil. A simple, nutritious combo includes: 1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar, 1⁄2 cup coconut oil, 1⁄2 cup olive oil, sea salt and fresh herbs to taste. (These may include garlic, thyme, herbs de province, oregano, etc.)

5. Add coconut milk to tea and coffee as a substitute for milk or cream. You can also try adding a teaspoon or two to warm cider or hot chocolate.

6. For a creative dipping oil, mix 31⁄2 tbsp. coconut oil, 2 tbsp. diced onion, 1 tbsp. diced garlic, 1⁄2 tsp. basil, 1⁄2 tsp. oregano, 1⁄4 tsp. paprika, 1⁄4 tsp. salt and 1⁄8 tsp. cayenne pepper. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool.