I get this question a lot! Mostly, when discussing cooking oils. So here are my thoughts on coconut oil. Yes, it is a saturated fat, it is actually one of the few found in the plant-kingdom, and a significant percentage of that saturated fat is composed of Lauric acid, which is (comparatively speaking) quickly and easily metabolised as a very good energy source. This means you are likely to burn the kind of saturated fat found in coconut oil for fuel rather than pack it away as fat, provided you are sufficiently active and it isn’t digested along with something high in sugar to supersede & hijack your metabolism first. An example of this would be vegan treats such as cheesecake where coconut oil is mixed with lots of maple or date syrup and nuts to create the dairy-free cheesecake filling.
Coconut oil is the optimal oil to cook with — if you are going to cook with oil — due to the fact that it holds up (meaning it does not oxidize) better than other oils at high temperatures (translation – less free radicals). It is immune boosting, has anti-infection properties and some studies suggest it aids with the absorption of certain vitamins and other nutrients like beta-carotene and some amino acids.
That said I use coconut oil very rarely in my cooking. In fact, I rub more on my skin than I consume in my diet!
Why, you ask? Because it is still a saturated fat and one that lacks any of those Omega-3’s we’re always trying to get and is incredibly calorie dense, yet nutrient poor. For certain, the medical research debate is still on-going on this topic and before more research is conducted I am erring on the side of caution. So you won’t find me slapping coconut oil onto my vegemite on toast just yet!
But there is another reason why I don’t advocate the regular use of coconut oil in our diets and that’s due to a point we skimmed over earlier. The whole popularisation of coconut oil was founded on the fact that it is a saturated fat that our body can easily breakdown and use as energy. But this is only true IF you don’t have any other energy stores in which to use up in your body at the time you ingest that coconut oil. Meaning your body would have had to work through all the carbohydrate in your bloodstream, then its glycogen stores, before it starts to think about using the lauric acid found in coconut oil as an energy source.
Therefore, the rule of thumb here should be; if you are healthy, active, fit, trim and eat a very clean diet already? Cholesterol & blood tests in check? Then go ahead and consume coconut oil in your diet sparingly, as you might receive all the goodness coconut oil does have to offer.
However, if you are overweight, a candidate for heart disease or in poor health, think twice and consider foregoing the coconut oil because due to the fact coconut oil contains higher amounts of saturated fat it does increase total cholesterol. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you are at an increased risk of heart attack or stroke risk. Total cholesterol is not an accurate predictor of heart disease or stroke. Inflammation is the culprit for most diseases, and coconut oil is highly anti-inflammatory. By combining healthy fats with a no-added-sugar diet, you have an effective strategy to normalise cholesterol while reducing your risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and numerous other chronic conditions. Eliminating refined carbs and sugar and adding adequate omega 3 fats means your problems with saturated fat gets to take a back seat.
The bottom Line:
I say, use coconut oil sparingly in your diet and liberally on your body. Meaning, use a tablespoon once a week or so. Try to avoid eating coconut oil with sugars and keep in mind there are many other healthy good fat options out there.
It is also important to point out that when I say ‘coconut oil’ I am always referring to the extra-virgin quality for the consumption through your diet.
If you are going to use an oil to cook with, choose olive oil. The rule of thumb with cooking with olive oil is to make sure you never re-heat it in the pan after its cooled down.
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