Coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat and a great addition to most diets. Over recent years the media have been inundated with positive studies on the many health benefits of this oil, ranging from enhanced athletic performance to assistance with weight loss. And yet for some there are still lingering concerns over the value of this fat based on inaccurate information published many years ago.
Misconceptions about the safety of coconut oil began in the early 1980s when the US, followed by Canada, became concerned with high-fat diets and the possible link to ever-increasing coronary heart disease. Coconut oil was vilified, along with all saturated fats, as one of the culprits. In fact, the US government, followed by others, released research papers to prove that the saturated fats in coconut oil were detrimental to the population due to their potential role in heart disease.
However, what many people do not realize is that follow-up data released by Harvard scientists and other reputable doctors in the field disproved many of the findings from these tests that were based on hydrogenated coconut oils and therefore not applicable to regular coconut oil.
Furthermore, there is plenty of historical documentation that indicates coconut oil has been used safely for thousands of years worldwide as both a food and medicinally with no documented ill health effects.
In fact what more recent studies have shown is that not only is coconut oil not a menace to our health, but when consumed in moderation, as with all oils, it is actually a healthy fat option that can promote better health for most people.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but it is a unique form as it contains about 60 per cent medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These fats are easier for the body to digest, especially for people who have compromised fat digestion. MCTs are quickly processed by the liver to provide a long lasting energy source, and due to their rapid digestion are used as a preferred fuel source rather than stored as fat.
The MCTs in coconut oil also help to increase metabolic rate and balance blood sugar levels. Often elite athletes include this fat in their diets to utilize these performance-enhancing effects.
Coconut oil contains many different components such as lauric acid, also found in breast milk, that have incredible immunity-building capabilities. It also contains caprylic and capric acids with anti-microbial and anti-parasitic actions that can help fight yeasts in the body.
Best yet, this fat is versatile. It is easily stored at room temperature and unlike other oils such as olive, it can be used to cook or fry foods at high temperatures without converting to a trans-fat. It can also replace butter or margarine in baking at a 1:1 ratio.
The following is a recipe for a coconut chocolate treat for those who want a guilt-free, tasty and yet healthy indulgence. It is easy to make and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Chocolate Truffle Ball
3 tbsp raw cacao
3 tbsp melted extra-virgin coconut oil
3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
2-3 tbsp pure maple syrup to taste
Pinch of sea salt to taste
To be creative, add in chopped dried fruit, nuts, herbs or spices.
Melt coconut oil over low heat until clear. Pour into a small bowl and add in the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. Let it set till it starts to firm up slightly. Use a teaspoon and scoop onto parchment-lined plate or pour into a mould. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Store this treat in the refrigerator as it will soften at room temperature.
Sheila Ream, CNP, is a certified nutritionist in the Beach