Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food Myths Debunked: Coconut Oil

This is the first of many posts we'll be doing about food myths. We want to let you know about the health benefits of supposedly "bad" foods. I decided to start with coconut oil because it seems to be coming up a lot in conversations I've been having lately. So here you have it: contrary to popular belief, COCONUT OIL IS GOOD FOR YOU!

Coconut oil is classified as a saturated fat which is why it has such a bad reputation, but contrary to popular belief, saturated fats aren't bad for you. In the 1950's, we started being told to avoid saturated fats because they raise cholesterol levels more than polyunsaturated fats (eg. vegetable, soybean oil). There was a lot of emphasis put on cholesterol levels in the medical community as being a modifiable risk factor for heart disease. Unfortunately, the recommendations to eat less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fats were misguided because total cholesterol turns out to be a poor predictor of heart disease and trans fats are the dangerous fats. We'll be doing a post in the future with more details about saturated and other fats, but for this post I want to focus on coconut oil.

Coconut oil is 64% medium-chain saturated fatty acids (fatty acids are the building blocks of fats). Medium-chain fats (MCF's) can be absorbed without being emulsified by bile so are more quickly and easily absorbed than long-chain polyunsaturated fats like soybean oil. MCF's are the favorite fuel for the heart, are the same fats found in breastmilk, can aid weight loss, and have immune properties. The main MCF in coconut oil (49%) is lauric acid which is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Lauric acid kills fat-coated viruses including HIV, herpes, influenza, measles, hepatitis C, and Epstein-Barr. Research done in the last 30 years completely clear coconut oil in any negative role in heart disease and shows that it can raise HDL cholesterol levels, which is protective. Studies of native cultures where coconuts and coconut oil are consumed in large quantities (up to 57% of calories from fat and half of that saturated) find lean, healthy individuals with no signs of unhealthy cholesterol, atherosclerosis (arterial plaques), or heart disease.

Coconut oil is great for baking; because it is solid at room temperature, it makes great cookies, pie crusts, and pastries. It is also great for high temp cooking and stirfrying/deep frying because being a saturated fat makes it more stable and less prone to oxidize at high temperatures. The best coconut oils to buy are virgin oil (made by cold-pressing moist coconut) which retains it's coconut flavor, or expeller-pressed and gently deodorized to remove the coconut scent and flavor. I love the taste of coconut so I use the virgin coconut oil. I like to add a spoonful to oatmeal with flake coconut, sliced mango, macadamia nuts, and a little honey and milk for a tropical breakfast and just last night I breaded shrimp with panko bread crumbs, flaked coconut, lime zest, salt & pepper, and then fried them in coconut oil—very yummy! I also love cooking with coconut milk which is rich with coconut oil—it makes amazing curries and coconut ginger chicken soup is awesome.

I hope this encourages you to give coconut oil a try! I can't wait to see what recipes Chef Brett has in store for us!


  1. Hey everyone! I gave a lecture 2 weeks ago and one of the attendees shared this recipe for "Coconut Margarine" and wanted to share it so here it is!

    My sister and I really did enjoy your seminar and your approachable demeanor! I just wanted to share the homemade Coconut margarine recipe that we mentioned in the class. It is delicious and simple to make!

    A benefit is that there are no added chemicals as most margarines have. I would like to mention
    that it does have a "shelf" life, even in the refrigerator. If it is not used fairly quickly (2-3 weeks),it begins to mold. So, I make the full batch, then put it in small containers (I use glass ones)and then freeze all of them except the one I am using. That way it is a small enough batch that I can use it myself before it is an issue. Also, if someone would like it to be even softer, they could experiment
    with more water or oil. Below is the recipe if you'd like to share it with others. Thanks again, Clara Kelly

    1 c. cold pressed coconut oil
    1 c. olive oil
    1 t. salt (or to taste)
    2 T. liquid lecithin (you can find it at New Seasons) Fearn is the brand name.
    1 and 1/2 T. natural butter flavoring (if desired)

    Blend and slowly add 1 c. cold water.

    The liquid lecithin is VERY thick, kind of like motor oil and will stick to anything you measure it in. So I usually dip the measuring spoon in the oil before putting the lecithin in it. It slides out pretty well then.

    The lecithin is essential in this recipe as it keeps the oil and water from separating.

  2. adding water makes it hydrogenated. good or bad?