Coconut oil is now found in most supermarkets, it is no longer a speciality food confined to health food stores.
Its rise in popularity is down to its claimed health benefits.
Coconut Oil has been identified as a possible ‘superfood’. It seems to be a popular choice to add to your coffee in the morning.
So is it really that good for us or is much of it just hype?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat
The evidence around saturated fats is changing.
A recent study looking at all the research studies over the years on fats concluded that there was little evidence to prove it was a main cause of heart disease.
In fact the fats putting us most at risk are trans-fats found in margarine, for years people were told to stop eating butter due to the harmful effects of saturated fats and switch to margarine to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
This was quite wrong and potentially harmful.
However, guidelines have not changed
The British Heart Foundation still advise to find alternatives to saturated fats in the form olive, seed or nut oils.
So where does coconut oil fit in all this?
It is a plant food, not an animal source of saturated fat and it has a different make up to some other saturated fats.
It is a Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) this means it is converted into energy by the liver straightaway after consumption and therefore it has less chance being stored in the body.
For that reason, some small studies have indicated it as being a potential weight loss tool.
However, I don’t recommend relying on it for this and portion sizes of any fat must be taken into consideration.
Cooking with coconut oil
Saturated fats, especially coconut oil are excellent for cooking because they do not produce harmful substances when heated unlike seed or nut oils.
When nut or seed oils like sunflower oil are heated they become unstable and in turn become a trans-fat which can be damaging and inflammatory to the body. Saturated fats remain unchanged when exposed to heat.
Coconut oil contains lauric and caprylic acid, these fatty acids have anti-fungal and anti-viral properties that may help with fighting unwanted bugs.
A recent study showed that using coconut oil as a mouthwash reduced the amount of plaque in women with gingivitis.
Furthermore, as a fat it helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and may also help support energy levels by slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream when eating a carbohydrate.
Coconut oil and Alzheimers
Turning the coin completely on its head with regard to amounts, there has been some interesting research into coconut oil and Alzheimers.
Researchers have looked at the theory of eating a mainly high-fat diet to improve cognitive performance.
One theory behind a possible cause to Alzheimer’s is that when the body is unable to metabolise glucose properly, the brain is starved of fuel to make energy. However research suggests the body can use fat as a source of energy for the brain when you consume a high fat with a very low carbohydrate diet.
So it is not straightforward
I believe it is a healthy food to include into your diet, it is not a superfood and other fats should also be eaten including olive oil and fish oils.
It is excellent for cooking.
Unless for some reason you are following a strict high fat diet (ketogenic) under the supervision of a professional, it should be used sparingly and along with a diet rich in healthy proteins such as: fish, chicken, grass fed beef, pulses, beans and lentils, complex carbohydrates and lots of colour of the rainbow foods.
My top uses with coconut oil
– makes great roast potatoes. Melt in a pan then pour over parboiled potatoes;
– brilliant for pouring over other root veg and roasting in the oven;
– use for cooking scrambled eggs spiced with turmeric and mustard seeds;
– spread on toast, oatcakes or bread. I spread on oatcakes and add some cacao nibs and raisins for a healthy, tasty snack;
– add to porridge to give it a rich creamy texture
– excellent in curries, stir-fry’s and chillis
– use in baking as a replacement to butter and can be used in raw baking
– add to smoothies
– gargle with it when you have a sore throat, but spit out into the bin, as it will clog the sink!
– great as a hair treatment
– excellent moisturiser on skin
Connect with Expert Natasha Alonzi