Coconut oil is currently one of nutrition’s most controversial topics — I’m often asked how a saturated fat could ever be healthy. The media and medical community once warned that coconut oil is fattening and damaging to the arteries, but I’m here to tell you that this approach doesn’t consider the full picture of this food.
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat — the white lining inside the shell — of mature coconuts. The coconut oil that we do need to avoid is the hydrogenated version found in processed foods. That coconut oil is definitely unhealthy, because the hydrogenation process changes the delicate nature of virgin coconut oil into trans fats, which are linked to high cholesterol and artery hardening.
The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in unprocessed coconut oil, on the other hand, actually aids digestion, protects against infection, and boosts energy levels and metabolism. One study in the journal Diabetes linked coconut oil to protection against insulin resistance, which is tied to adult-onset diabetes.
Coconut oil does contain saturated fat, but plant-based saturated fats are different from animal-based ones that have cholesterol, which is tied to heart disease. The saturated fats from animals are long-chain fatty acids, which are harder for our bodies to break down, so we are more likely to store them as fat. However, the fatty acids in coconut oil are shorter and more easily broken down for energy. I recommend reading the book The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife for more research and further information.
Five unexpected facts about coconut oil:
1. Coconut milk, meat and oil contain lauric acid, which is naturally antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal. Lauric acid is also associated with the production of HDL — or “healthy” — cholesterol.
2. Coconuts are great for your skin, which is why so many moisturizers and cosmetics use their byproducts as a base.
3. Coconut oil provides a nutritional jolt and boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
4. Coconut oil helps to balance blood sugar, improves digestion and aids in the absorption of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
5. Coconut oil has no cholesterol and its energy can be burned efficiently by the body because its fat content is more likely to be burned as energy — and therefore not stored — than other types of fat molecules.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be afraid of this wonderful,delicious fruit; use it whole, or use its water, butter or shell. There are endless possibilities! I make wonderful recipes with coconut oil and it is one of my favourite ingredients because it’s free of dairy or gluten but full of delicious flavour. Coconut can also be heated to high temperatures in baking, used for stir-frying, or mixed raw into smoothies and desserts. You can even drink the water straight from the coconut and use it as an energy drink before, during or after exercise!
I will leave you with my recipe for shortbread-like jam dot cookies. Coconut oil is the perfect replacement for butter in these delightful little treats.
1 cup almonds, ground to a fine meal
1 cup spelt flour (or whole-wheat flour)
1 cup rolled oats, ground to a fine meal (or oat flour)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup melted pure coconut oil
½ cup maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
Strawberry or raspberry jam (fruit sweetened or no sugar added)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, combine almonds, flour, oats and cinnamon. Mix well to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, blend oil, maple syrup and sea salt. Add to nut mixture and stir to combine.
4. Roll mixture into walnut-sized balls, place on baking sheet, and press down with thumb.
5. Fill indentation with jam and bake for 15-20 minutes — until bottoms are golden brown.
6. Remove from oven, cool on a cooling rack, and enjoy!