If you've been reading my blog and paying attention to the recipe ingredients, you have probably noticed that I use coconut oil a lot in my recipes. I first encountered coconut oil when I bought the cookbook Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. All of their recipes called for coconut oil. According to the authors, they preferred to use coconut oil in recipes because "when you heat most oils at high temperatures, you change their molecular structures, [and cause] free radicals" (page 14). I took the skinny bitch's word for it and used coconut oil in their recipes, but didn't really start substituting yet.
The next cookbook that I came across coconut oil was babycakes, a vegan, gluten-free, and (mostly) sugar-free book that features recipes from a New York bakery. Here's what its author had to say about coconut oil: "Our favored fat in the bakery, coconut oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids (these are healthy!), is packed with lauric acid, stores in your body as energy and not fat, and supports the proper function of your thyroid, thus stimulating the metabolism" (page 21). This bit of information stimulated my curiosity and caused me to do some further research on coconut oil. I am definitely not a scientist, but will do my best to explain the health benefits of coconut oil as I have come to understand it.
Back in the day coconut oil was given a bad rap because its fat content is 92% saturated fat, which as we all know has been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. What wasn't taken into consideration, however, was the type of fatty acid. Most saturated fats, and all fats for that matter, are comprised of long-chain fatty acids. The fat in coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids. Our bodies are better able to metabolize these types of fatty acids, which is why they are used as energy more readily rather than stored as fat. Animal studies have shown that animals with diets consisting of primarily medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) rather than long-chain fatty acids (which are found in all animal fats) had less fat cells, smaller fat cells, and lower body weights.
Half of the MCFA found in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is the most essential fatty acid that helps boost our immunity. Lauric acid is anti-viral, anti-microbal, and anti-fungul. Talk about amazing health benefits! The only natural sources with high concentrates of lauric acid are tropical oils and breast milk. No one can argue the healthiness of breast milk, right? If it's in breast milk, it's safe to assume it's good for you.
You can also reap the benefits of coconuts through consumption of its water or milk. As with anything, you don't want to overdo it. Because coconut oil and milk are high in fat, you want to make sure they replace other fats in your diet, not add more.
Unfortunately, there is a down side to coconut oil. This stuff is expensive. Good health ain't cheap, that's for sure. When I was at the farmer's market this weekend, one of the farmers had this sign on his stand: "Pay the farm now or the pharmacy later!" I have embraced this philosophy for a while now. Eating well isn't going to save me any money. I've had to make sacrifices in other areas in my life in order to accommodate an increased budget for healthy food. It is totally worth it for me and my family's health. You can't put a price on that.