Coconut Oil

I have a recipe for next week’s post for delicious gluten free, dairy free and sugar free carrot zucchini mini muffins (wow thats a mouthfull!) but I wanted to write about coconut oil first, which is one of the ingredients for the muffins.

Natural, unprocessed, coconut oil is one of those up and coming healthy food items.  Some people already know about it and use it often.  Some people have never used it before and are unsure about how to use it and why they should use it.

Natural coconut oil is more widely available in grocery stores, whereas just a few years ago I could only find it at a health food store and sometimes at bulk food stores.  It is more expensive than regular refined oil, but it is worth it and in most recipes a little will go a long way.

It is a saturated oil, which makes the FDA, WHO, and various heart and nutrition associations, advise against the consumption of large amounts.  Unfortunately, their views may be based on studies that looked at coconut oil in its hydrogenated form.  Any hydrogenated oil is NOT a good thing, whether it comes from olive oil (like the olive oil margarine that is marketed to be a natural alternative to regular butter or margarine), soy, dairy, coconut, etc, etc.  Hydrogenated oils and trans fats are very toxic to the human body and should be avoided.

Studies have shown that unprocessed “virgin” coconut oil is a very healthy oil to consume in the regular diet.  It is a plant based saturated oil, which behaves differently in the body than animal based saturated oil (like from bacon).  Many studies have shown that, although it is a saturated fat, natural coconut oil does have a very different health profile than saturated fats from animals and is not concerning when included in the diet in appropriate amounts.

There is a great article that was written in the New York Times by Melissa Clark in March of this year.  She explores the science and art behind using coconut oil in Once A Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World. 

Some of the heatlh benefits include:

– Nourishes skin

For those of you who read my post on “Belly Butter” you might remember that I used coconut oil on my ever expanding belly during my first pregnancy and found it to be a great moisturizer.  🙂  Moreover, when it’s eaten (e.g. added to a smoothie) it can really help to nourish skin from the inside out.

– Protects the heart

Despite the concern from the established associations about how coconut oil may impact cholesterol levels, coconut oil is made up of 50% lauric acid, which is a component to healthy oils that have been shown to be protective of the heart.  The body does need good fats, especially for the cardiovascular system.  Good fats from plant sources (like flax, walnuts, olive oil and coconut), in addition to fish oil, helps to keep vessels flexible, supports the repair of injury and inflammation in the body and keeps vital organs protected.

– Supports metabolism

A misconception is that all fat should be eliminated when trying to acheive weight loss goals.   However, we need good fats to support the creation of hormones related to metabolism.  Hormones are fats!  If we have good fats in our diet, the body will have what it needs to make the hormones necessary for metabolic functions.

What does coconut oil look like?  How can I use it in cooking?

Coconut oil is actually a solid at room temperature.  Because of this consistency it can be used as a substitute for butter on toast.

Other uses:

– added to smoothies

– melted and added to recipes that call for oil

– used to grease baking pans or in frying pans instead of crisco, butter, margarine or other oils

– on the baking pan, veggies can be roasted with it

– use it to sauté vegetable in a pan with a little water

– added to desserts – there are many raw vegan desserts that are absolutely delightful that utilize natural coconut oil because it adds delicious flavour, it can help hold the treat together, it’s a wonderful essential component to raw vegan chocolate sauce (which I’ll post about someday), and it’s a healthy oil for our bodies.

How much coconut oil is ok to have everyday?

If you are using straight coconut oil (e.g. added to a smoothie or toast) I’d recommend anywhere between 1/2 to 1 tablespoon.

When using coconut oil in baking or cooking, just substitute the amount of oil called for with the coconut oil.  Also, I’ve found that at times I even used a little less coconut oil than what was called for because coconut oil can be a bit denser than regular liquid oils.

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